There are times, half joking whole in earnest, when it can often be quipped that being in a wheelchair can have its (relative) advantages. Unfortunate case in point most recently when yours truly had to go for yet another Covid-19 test having felt like I’d been backed over by a tractor and tri-axel trailer load of wheat. On arrival at the testing location, an attentive and very helpful parking attendant got me in out of the cold and seen to quickly.
Then, fitting in with a pattern that seems gloriously never ending, of course somebody from Dunboyne was encountered within who made the unavoidably uncomfortable procedure (I will never again scorn a heifer for making a hasty exit from a crush gate!) a little bit more palatable. In terms of work, though, being a writer is as near as one will get to partaking in sport. Or farming for that matter.
The other, and for me the biggest attraction – apart from writing about any and every sport or other topic under the sun – has always been the ability and/or luxury to not only get closer to those who had long been heroes beforehand but to have many of them – and their families – become treasured friends.
The down side to being that close to people of – in some cases – very high profile – is when things go wrong and sh** hits the fan. Not that you for a second lose faith in or fondness for them. If anything, times when they were getting the rough end of the stick only solidified feelings for those involved and determination to back them to the hilt.
Now, getting stick from involved or alligned with opponents is, as vile as it sometimes can be, is to be expected. Only once did I blow a gasket when a Meath player was getting barracked from the stands. That instance being further inflamed by the fact the match was being observed in the company of the player’s wife.
Witnessing players being subjected to verbal blle from our own ‘supporters’ is sickening on a whole different level though. We’re not talking about your ‘regular’ ” Ah for f*** * sake” rev up here either. These were highly personal, cutting jibes, which would’ve been hard enough to hear at any time but whilst watching the match in the company of the family of the individual the bile was being aimed at was harrowing and enraging all at once. That said, nothing will ever be as disgusting as to hear our own ‘supporters’ cheer when the substitution of a player was announced in an U-21 match.
Consider that all of the above irritating incidents took place in the context of an ‘amateur’ sport – in name at least – and now stop and think of what it’s like in the cauldron of professional sport. Even allowing for that, however, it gives some indication of the horrendous dung flung at Steve Bruce prior to his disgraceful defenestration by the incoming ownership that a plethora of other managers have openly spoken in defence of the affable former centre back. It should be Exhibit A in a sporting world gone toxic.
Bruce, to the one seeing eye here at least, is the quintessential old pro. Certainly everything you’d want in a captain and leader. Hard as nails, not disposed to giving up and a damn good footballer who never got the credit he deserved in that department. For me, the best centre back in my lifetime not to be capped by England. And, just from observing the man over a long number of years, a genuinely decent guy.
So he’s not in the same class as a manager as, say, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp or Thomas Tuchel or Jose Mourinho. Very few are in the modern game. But neither are those he was in charge of top notch either. Nowhere near it. The problem here is two fold – you’ve people running clubs (off the pitch) that wouldn’t know a football if it hit them in the face. And then you’ve people connected to clubs – former players and in particular fans – who have this notion that theirs is a ‘Big Club’ even though history and statistics demonstrably indicate otherwise.
I’m sorry, but if you’re going back to the days of Jackie Milburn, the dying embers of Kevin Keegan’s playing career and one decent shot at a title in a lifetime – which they blew themselves in one of the greatest games played since the inception of the Premiership – against Liverpool at Anfield – you have more notions of bigness than you have anything of substance with which to prove such inclinations.
Steve Bruce might not be in the upper echelons of the order of managers but there is a niche market for somebody like him and he should absolutely be held in the highest regard in that sector. He has the record to prove it too. At that level. The level where Newcastle find themselves at. Which brings me to the nub of the issue here – replacing the manager won’t change their standing in the game. No matter how much they try to dress it up.
Granted, the infusion of money into the club probably will attract new talent into the Toon Army but for now two pivotal questions remain unanswered – Will any such recruitment operation be enough to get them where they wan to go? And will their current standing make them an attractive enough proposition for intended targets?