A Low Key Return to the Game for Steve Bruce
Today we welcome back regular contributor Phil Ascough. Here, he provides his reaction to Steve Bruce’s arrival and early weeks in the job at Hull City.
One of the best things about following football is that it gives you the chance to butt in on disputes that are none of your business.
So when Sunderland fans sang: ‘Where were you when you were skint?’ to their Manchester City visitors last season, I didn’t hesitate to tweet.
I simply asked why City fans didn’t respond: ‘Where were you when Bruce was here?’ Not out of any sympathy for the future champions, but purely out of curiosity at the anti-Bruce sentiments coming out of Wearside.
It got a couple of re-tweets but I never really gave it another thought until Hull City sacked Nick Barmby and Steve Bruce’s name appeared on the media’s shortlist.
Another of the best things about following football is that you can write an update/progress report/analysis of something even when nothing of note has happened.
That’s not to say Bruce’s appointment at the KC Stadium is not noteworthy but he’s been here a month now, pre-season training started this week and he hasn’t signed anyone.
And when the fixtures came out for the new season the Hull Daily Mail didn’t even have a quote from the new boss as they perused early matches against relegated and promoted teams and returns for the manager later in the season to former employers Birmingham City and Huddersfield.
Amid such inertia I sought the views of @Matty, a Twitter acquaintance, young, passionate about football, devotee of the Black Cats but not of Steve Bruce. I asked Matty for a summary of his concerns. He sent me 1,000 words with a caustic footnote: ‘Use what you like. I just vented my anger!’
Some of that anger is out of bounds for this site but the picture it paints is of a manager who wasn’t wanted when he got the job and who accused fans of holding his Geordie roots against him, yet who overlooked the many other reasons why they wanted him out.
‘He only has to look at the manager of our 1973 FA Cup winning side, Bob Stokoe, who played for and supported Newcastle, to see that his theory was a load of…’
Bruce’s signings were welcomed — among them Darren Bent, Lorik Cana and Asamoah Gyan — and the team finished 10th.
‘But we were in sixth place for three months. It’s okay signing good players but if they don’t want to play for you and they fail to perform then the whole thing is pretty pointless.’
Matty’s deepest frustrations came from ‘mind-numbingly boring games’, home defeats against lesser sides and ‘tactical ineptitude.’
‘He had no Plan B and his Plan A rarely worked. His tendency to select players out of position became a joke.’
And the sharpest pain came from derby defeats and by a ‘we’re only Sunderland’ quote which fans say underlines a willingness to roll over.
Well, we’re only Hull City. The radar was invented so we could fly under it. And notwithstanding the presence of half of Yorkshire’s other Football League clubs in our division we don’t have a proper derby.
We hate Leeds of course. Everybody does. But they’re 60 miles away and are about to start their ninth consecutive season outside the Premier League. Of the last five seasons, three were spent in League One.
When Barmby got the boot from Hull, along with Head of Football and Hull City legend Adam Pearson, the voices of reason amid the uproar emphasised the importance of the next move by the owner Assem Allam and his son Ehab.
The new manager’s first job would be to keep the squad of players that took Hull so close to the play-offs last season, and then secure the additions to make promotion a realistic prospect.
Well none of the Tigers’ stars have left yet, although speculation is never far away from the likes of Robbie Koren, James Chester, Liam Rosenior, Cameron Stewart and Matty Fryatt.
And nor has anyone come in, but rumours of loan deals for Manchester United youngsters suggest that the hotline to Old Trafford remains open. And when Bruce says he hasn’t had any contact with Emile Heskey it reminds City fans of the similar denial by Bruce’s agent two days before the manager joined the club.
So the Allams certainly did their bit. Fans will argue among themselves whether the club should have gone for another name from that quite long shortlist. Up-and-coming tips included Karl Robinson, Lee Clark and Greg Abbott. Fallen hero Phil Brown was there, along with other ex-Premier League bosses Gary Megson and Mick McCarthy. I’ll have to ask Matty what he would have made of that one.
And even though we’re only Hull there were the usual calls to bring Glenn Hoddle, George Graham and Graeme Souness to the club that as a Premier League outfit didn’t quite manage to entice Juninho, Michael Owen or àlvaro Negredo.
By and large those fans seem happy with the appointment of a manager who has spent most of his touchline career in the top flight, and with the notion that Heskey, so often pilloried in the Premier League, can do a good job if Bruce can bring him into the Championship.
But the most important aspect of Steve Bruce’s appointment at Hull City is what it says about Assem and Ehab Allam.
They were accused of penny pinching when Hull failed to make the transfer window signings last season that could have paved the way to promotion, but Steve Bruce won’t have come cheap and neither will his shopping list.
If Bruce has money to spend and if he buys the right players Hull will be in a good position to build on last season’s progress. @Matty will no doubt say they are pretty big ‘ifs’, so here’s one more — if it does work out and Hull get back to the Premier League I’ll buy him a pint at the Stadium Of Light, but I doubt whether Steve Bruce will.
Phil is the author of Kissing The Badge and The Armchair Olympian, both published by Bloomsbury and he can be followed on Twitter at @audaciouschip. @Matty is a passionate and prolific tweeter about all things Sunderland.