During his playing career, Steve Bruce was a centre back who played for five English clubs: Gillingham, Norwich City, Manchester United, Birmingham City and Sheffield United. While at Norwich City he became known for his energetic, “rampaging” play. Bruce wasn’t a player who was blessed with natural ability, but he made up for it with his bravery, and by staying calm under pressure. While at Norwich City, Bruce began to attract interest from larger clubs before eventually signing for Manchester United.
While playing for United, his readiness to take knocks from opposing players and play through injuries made him the “heart” of their defense. After missing several weeks due to a hernia operation, he returned to the 1991-92 team on short notice and led United to their first-ever League Cup.
Red Devils supporters will always remember Bruce for the two late goals he scored against Sheffield Wednesday in 1992-1993 which helped United win the league for the first time in twenty-six years. He was also captain of the Manchester United side which won the “double-double” (league title and FA Cup) during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.
Bruce was respected throughout his career for being able to galvanize a team. He was the ultimate team player who understood his role and limitations. He was able to lead because it was in his character to put the team before himself.
After his playing career, Bruce embarked on his life as a football manager. He has managed seven clubs prior to his time at Hull City. His managerial advocates regard him as resilient, with an ability to seize a club’s potential and lead them to, or keep them in, the Premier League. His résumé features two prior top flight promotions with Birmingham City (2001-02 and 2006-07).
The last time Hull City was in the Premier League they avoided relegation during their first season. Phil Brown, the manager at the time, was able to keep the club in the top flight for two years before they fell back into the Championship. The Tigers spent the past three years in the lower division before earning promotion on the final day of the 2012-13 regular season (under the leadership of Steve Bruce).
For those who witnessed the opening minutes of Hull City’s 2013-14 season at Stamford Bridge, the early images weren’t good. It would be safe to say that more than a few Tiger supporters were already worried for the club’s immediate future in the Premier League.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce was certainly not hiding his club, he wasn’t “parking the bus”, as he sent Sone Aluko and Yannick Sagbo racing forward in support of Danny Graham. But Chelsea dominated early possession and blitzed the newly-promoted team with two goals in the opening 25 minutes. During that time, Hull City could barely get a touch of the ball as the Blues literally had the Tigers chasing shadows. The team looked disoriented and overwhelmed by the speed, power, and precision of its top flight competitors.
Instead of folding up shop and following the script of most freshly promoted clubs, something suddenly clicked for the club. Almost as soon as the second goal had gone past Hull City keeper Allan McGregor, it seemed as if the Hull City players realized they belonged in the Premier League. They suddenly regained their grit and determination. For the remaining sixty-five minutes of the match, the Tigers took the fight to Chelsea. They outmuscled the Blues and created the better scoring chances before eventually ending up on the wrong side of a 2-0 defeat.
During Bruce’s post-match interview, he paid a great deal of respect to the Chelsea players while reassuring Hull City supporters of the task before the club: “We had a rampant Chelsea who simply in the first-half we weren’t good enough against. There’s no shame in that, we understand that, that’s why they play for Chelsea and they’re top, top players.” He went on to say, “Our season will be defined against the teams who are going to be at our end of the table and that are where we’re going to have to pick up the points.”
As of this moment, things are going accordingly to Bruce’s plan.
Two of Hull City’s opening three matches were against Chelsea and Manchester City on the road. As expected, they dropped all six points from those matches. But wins over Norwich City, Newcastle United, and West Ham (as well as two draws) have seen the Tigers collect eleven points from their other five league matches.
Players such as: Robbie Brady, Stephen Quinn, Liam Rosenior and George Boyd are literally fighting to prove that they are Premier League players. They sacrifice and play with the same combativeness their manager showed during his playing days.
Robbie Brady, a product of Manchester United’s youth academy, mirrored his manager while playing despite suffering from the effects of a hernia. Disregarding the pain, he scored the only goal of Hull City’s 1-0 win over West Ham before deciding on surgery, a procedure which will see him miss three to four weeks of the season.
Opposing managers have described Hull City’s early displays as: “determined”, “gritty”, “resilient” and “poised”. These were all terms used to describe Steve Bruce over the course of his playing career. This particular group of players are playing in the image of their manager. That is all any manager could hope for.
And for the supporters and ownership of Hull City, nothing could be better than their having their players follow in the footsteps of Steve Bruce.