When every Newcastle fan tucks into their Christmas dinner this year, they will be doing so thinking of that magical moment from Miggy, and looking forward to a trip to Old Trafford on Boxing Day for a game we genuinely can win. There won’t be many of us who envisaged this situation. I certainly didn’t.
When Steve Bruce was named Newcastle manager, I was honestly the angriest I’ve ever been in my 38 years as a fan. A combination of being heartbroken over Rafa leaving, sheer disappointment of the failed takeover attempt by BZG (which I stupidly was convinced would happen) and anger over appointing a man who I have described more than once as a proven failure meant my football related anguish reached boiling point.
“I’m done” I told more than one person. I’d never not support my team or not watch the games, I live in Japan and wake up at unholy hours to watch our games, but I vowed I was going to spend less time following Newcastle United. Less time refreshing NewsNow every hour to check if we’ve ordered some new corner flags, less time boring my wife with detailed analysis on why Florian Lejeune makes us a different prospect, less time writing things like this, and not letting a defeat turn me into a grumpy grouch for the subsequent 2-3 days. Any football fan, friend or stranger in the pub who crossed my path in the month or so after Bruce’s appointment had to put up with my expletive ridden and vitriolic assessment of Steve Bruce. “Give him a chance?!? Why? He’s been crap for 20 years man” was a standard response.
I’ll put my cards on the table, and also admit I’ve never liked him as a bloke, he’s just been one of those people who annoys me for no reason. Sean Dyche falls into that category for example, he’s never done anything to me but he makes my teeth bleed. On top of this and more importantly, I’ve always thought he was a poor manager.
Yet here we are, just before Christmas, 9th place in the Premier League, 10 clear of the drop zone and closer to the Champions League than the Championship. Significantly closer.
It hasn’t all been wine and roses, there have been shocking performances, and the football isn’t great to watch, but it wasn’t under Rafa for long periods.
Rarely does a professional football club prepare so badly for a season than we did last summer. It was a car crash. Everything had been left so late, the usual incompetence from the board room once again undoing any previous positive work from last year, no time for the new manager and new signings to settle in, and a fan base so angry that the club seemed set to self implode. For Bruce to have guided the team through that and us to be in this position is nothing short of a minor miracle. He deserves all the praise that is currently coming his way. It was once said Rafa Benitez was the glue holding this insane football club together, well the same could be said for Steve Bruce, and what he’s achieved this season. There are still challenges ahead, his career shows a pattern of good starts then some nosedives, but he’s living his, and many of our dreams and coming up trumps at the moment.
The players are clearly playing for him. They seem to genuinely like and respect him, and not just because of results and endeavour. You only have to look at the embrace between him and Almiron after the game yesterday to see the genuine warmth and togetherness between the squad and coaching staff. I’ve even found myself warming to him personally, such is the fickle nature of the football fan. I even called him Brucey the other day.
So, let me be the first to raise a glass of festive cheer to Steve Bruce, and the job he’s doing. Humble pie has never tasted so sweet.
Merry Christmas everyone!