fuck Steve Bruce

An old one that I wrote on a train journey in 2015.

A lot of people who don’t support football teams don’t understand many of the guiding passions of the fan: irrational love, petty grudges. Even other football fans don’t understand why a large proportion of Sunderland AFC fans hate Steve Bruce in a way that transcends the usual petty grudge. I despise Steve Bruce, and this is why.

Steve Bruce was appointed Sunderland manager in June 2009, and was photographed — in a pretty cynical PR exercise by the club — by the statue of Bob Stokoe outside the Stadium of Light. Stokoe grew up a Newcastle fan, and spent the majority of his playing career at the club, but was revered on Wearside for managing Sunderland to their last major honour — the FA Cup in 1973. Sunderland fans had been stung a couple of times in recent years by Geordies at the club. Lee Clark, a Sunderland player at the time, had been photographed supporting Newcastle at an FA Cup Final wearing a “Sad Mackem Bastards” t-shirt. Michael Chopra was universally despised, specifically for passing up a great chance to score for Sunderland at St James’s Park, and more generally for the utter piece of shit he is. But the message was clear: Bruce might be a Geordie, but so was Stokoe.

Bruce’s first season was the usual mediocrity: a 13th place finish, featuring a run of 14 games without a win. His second was about the same, a 10th place masking the fact that we moved up four places on the final day, partly due to a hilarious Somen Tchoyi hat-trick for West Brom at Newcastle. We only pulled away from the relegation zone with a few decent results from late April onwards after yet another horrendous run of form of 1 point from a possible 27 prior to this. While we’d generally started reasonably well in his first two season in charge, the third started appallingly: two wins and 11 points from the first 13 games, a home defeat to a Franco di Santo-inspired Wigan, a cacophony of “you fat Geordie bastard, get out of our club”, and Bruce was gone. I keep this section on results short, because it’s almost beside the point. Bruce’s record in charge of us was barely any worse than anyone else who has managed us since Peter Reid (although it was worse than most), and what came next was hardly stunning. Martin O’Neill was appointed, kept us up, then was sacked. Paolo di Canio was appointed, kept us up, then was sacked. Gus Poyet was appointed, kept us up, then was sacked. Most of these subsequent managers (as well as Roy Keane before Bruce) are generally pretty popular at the Stadium of Light — yet an immense amount of vitriol is reserved for Bruce. Why?

Bruce’s time in charge of Sunderland mirrored in large part his time at his previous clubs, and his subsequent time at Hull. The longer he stays, the more he ruins the squad. While greed on the part of some was undoubtedly a factor, Bruce failed to properly manage, and subsequently failed to replace, a succession of strikers. Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan, and a genuinely good 2010-vintage Kenwyne Jones all left or, in the case of Jones (after Bruce suggested his best position was centreback), were forced out. His scattergun transfer policy had left us with a squad full of midfielders — to the extent that we stuck eight of them in a starting eleven for a League Cup game at Brighton — no leftbacks, and three strikers (plus Nicklas Bendtner, who fancied himself as more of a playmaker) with one top flight goal between them. A squad that had the makings of a top 7 or 8 side had been comprehensively disassembled within a year, and replaced with mostly dross. Steed Malbranque, probably the most talented footballer I’ve seen at the club, was replaced with Craig Gardner.

His perception as a football dinosaur didn’t help, either. While Bruce constantly bemoans this as an image problem, this was completely and utterly deserved. At Sunderland, Bruce had boasted that he couldn’t use a computer, that he “didn’t do tactics”, that didn’t practice set pieces. When Assem Allam proposed changing the Hull City’s name to Hull Tigers, Bruce’s reaction was to say “if he wants us to play in pink fairy dresses he is entitled to”. Nice. Even on one of the supposed old-school qualities — motivation — Bruce seems singularly useless. At Sunderland, he was frequently seen on the touchline, head in hands, eyes to the heavens, or just staring blankly at the ground. It was depressing just to see him on the touchline, even as a fan. One of the curiosities of Bruce as a manager is his constant complaint that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, and that his fans or the media are constantly on his back. One of Louise Taylor’s reliable post-sacking attacks in the Guardian aside, scarcely a word of criticism has ever gone his way.

But all of these things are mostly beside the point. He’d been pretty poor overall: a mediocre job in terms of results, and a terrible one in terms of transfers. He’d received a great reception from our fans when he took over. The chanting of his name at Bolton in his first game was thunderous. Even the terrible runs of form that had characterised every season he’d had at Sunderland had generally not led to calls for his dismissal. Most perceived him as a limited manager, but an honest man. When the axe came, he could hardly complain. While there had been rumblings against him — there always are — the songs that came immediately prior to (and possibly partly brought about) his sacking were more-or-less an isolated instance of concerted abuse aimed at him. His Geordieness was little more than a lightning rod for this. Bruce received no less — if anything, more — patience than any manager who had gone before or after.

In his latter days at the club, Bruce complained about the fans putting too much pressure on him: “We’re Sunderland and let’s not try to get above our station here. The expectation is ridiculous”. What stuck in the craw most was, from this point onwards, his relentless attacks on the club and our fans — fans who, again, had done little but support him for two and a half years. He’d not been given a chance because he was a Geordie. The fans were on his back from the start. “We finished 10th” — the repeated refrain. Perhaps he was trying to rebuild a managerial career that seemed in ruins after he left us, and was happy to throw our fans under a bus if this helped. But when he got a job at Hull, he was still at it: “Looking back, it was probably a mistake because, in some people’s eyes there, I could never win”. Even when he met a 92-year-old war veteran as part of a Barclays advertising campaign, he was too self-contained, and had Sunderland buried too deeply in his psyche to forget to mention us: “I hope I look like that when I’m 92 but somehow I don’t think I will be, especially after what happened to me at Sunderland”. He got an uncritical reception for all of this rubbish: interview after interview passed — still passes — with nobody pointing out how terrible he’d been for the 12 months prior to his sacking. And all of this has passed into conventional wisdom now: sacked because he was a Geordie, finished 10th, never got a chance because of where he’s from, finished 10th. He finished 10th. Steve Bruce finished 10th. The top half. A 10th place position. Tenth. He never got a chance: a Geordie, you see.

And then the bastard kept beating us with Hull: when Nikica Jelavic put Hull 3–1 up at Sunderland on Boxing Day last year, I tried to scream something, anything, at him. I was too angry, I couldn’t even let out an incomprehensible scream properly. He drives me to distraction. I quite like Hull City, but little brings me greater pleasure these days than to see Brucey guiding them to yet another defeat. Sunderland is often a sad, sad city — a beautiful one, in many ways, but sad. Economically depressed, forgotten, repeatedly fucked over by government after government, even the punchline to some trolling right-wing think tank’s proposals to shut down Northern cities. It’s hard to imagine a place in the country where a football club’s success means more to their fans, a place where even a small crumb of success for the football club provides a fleeting moment of dignity. And Steve Bruce was happy to shit all over that, because he’s a cunt.

When Steve Bruce’s Hull beat us yet again at the Stadium of Light last season, Bruce said “We’ve done the double over Sunderland. Ha, ha”. I’m sure I’m in the minority of Sunderland fans here, but god help me if I don’t want him relegated over Newcastle. By 5pm on Sunday, he might just have done it. Fuck Steve Bruce, fuck his 10th place finish: fuck off down to the Championship, you absolute cunt. Ha, ha.

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