UTD Unscripted: My dad, the legend
When I think back to my childhood, I always have the same thought…
Being Steve Bruce’s son, I didn’t have what anybody would call an average childhood. Of course, I didn’t really realise that at the time. Everything that happened to me and around me was just natural and was just part of the environment I was brought up in.
I was five or six when I first went to Wembley in 1990 and United beat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final. At that stage, I was just starting to know what football is all about. To take in these huge matches, while going to watch my dad play in them, was just amazing.
I wasn’t the only lucky kid in my area, either.
When Peter Schmeichel signed for United, Dad was captain, so he brought Peter round for a bit of dinner in the first week after he’d signed. There was a ‘for sale’ sign across the road, and as soon as he saw it, Peter just said: "I want that house.” He got that, his family came over and that was the first time I met his son, Kasper.
From that point on, after school, our life was just outside as Kasper and I blasted balls at one another. We’d pull the goals out from the side of the house and put them at the top of the street. When a car came, we had to move the goals, pick the ball up and wait on the kerb. As soon as the car had gone, it was game on again. We used to get young kids walking past the estate and they would ask to join in, and we’d end up having games, two v two, three v three or whatever.
I think our dads used to like seeing it. Obviously, they couldn’t resist a kickabout and they would come and join in with us.
As all United fans know, Peter had a massive throw. We’d be egging him on, saying: “Go on, show us your throw,” and we’d go stand at the bottom of the estate. He’d stand at the top of the estate, hurl the ball all the way to us and we’d just be amazed at how he could do it.
That was just what we knew, and it was the same for Tom Ince and Raphael Cantona, who also lived close by.
Despite the size of Manchester United, it was a real family club. We’d constantly badger our dads, especially in the half-terms and school holidays, to take us into training with them. While we’d obviously never get in on the important days, if they were going in on a Sunday morning to have a cool-down then we’d go in and have a kickaround with the squad.
Can you imagine that? We were kids, playing football with all these superstars.
It was such a small training ground, The Cliff, so we’d play with them, have lunch with them, and then, quite often, Lee Sharpe would lob us in the big bath. He took us under his wing, but he was also the joker and loved to chuck us in there when we least expected it.
Stuff like that was commonplace. Looking back, it’s crazy, but there was a time when Ryan Giggs was helping me do my homework. I came home with this work to do, and my mum and dad were like: “We’ve not got a clue what this is.” Giggsy was in the area at the time, I think he was at Incey’s, who lived just around the corner, and Dad rang him and asked him to come round and help. He must have been trying to think of somebody young enough to help! Next minute, I’ve got Giggsy looking over my shoulder, helping me with my homework.
There were people round at ours a lot of the time. When I was a bit older, around 14 or 15, Becks came round with Victoria and brought me a pair of his Predators, just after he’d signed his deal with adidas. I’ve still got them in the garage somewhere. They had the tongue with the elastic round, and nobody had really seen that before. So I went into school the next day with these Predators, proper ones.
Everyone at school was just like: Where the f*** have you got them boots from?!
(They were even less happy when I told them that one of the Spice Girls had been in our kitchen the night before!)
There were a lot of perks to being my dad’s son. One of them included having the house turned into a film set while he made the Captain’s Log documentary, which I’m sure everybody remembers.
We were like the Osbournes for a bit. The producer was called Alistair Mann and he was in our house for bloody ages. He’d be walking about the place with this huge camera – and they were huge back then – and it was mad to be a part of. At the time, no-one had been behind the scenes in a dressing room, for example, so for the fans to get the footage of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team-talks, it must have been unbelievable for them. The viewing figures were phenomenal.
They picked the right season to do it, too. The first season of the Premier League.
Of course, I remember the Sheffield Wednesday game in particular. My dad had played with Chris Woods, the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, at Norwich, and they always remained quite good friends. His wife, Sarah, was at the game and we were sat next to her. I think there were a few of us, maybe me and his kids too, with my mum on the other side. I remember it being a big game late in the season, the league almost depending on it, and United went 1-0 down but needed to win. I remember it being eerily silent.
Dad scores a header. 1-1 with a couple of minutes of normal time left.
I remember the elation in the ground. Thank God for that. At least we can take a draw.
Then, when he scored another deep into injury time… that was just bedlam. Absolute bedlam.
I remember looking down the line at my mum after the second one went in, and she was just stood on her seat going wild. We both were. After the first goal, we were a little reserved because we were mindful that Dad had just scored past Chris and his family were next to us.
When the second one went in… nobody gave a s***. We were jumping over Sarah to celebrate!
That was an amazing day. The euphoria around that game… Dad’s face was everywhere at the time, which was obviously quite mad for me as a kid. People look back on that game now and see it as the game that started two decades of dominance for United.
I vividly remember us clinching the league a few weeks later. Aston Villa against Oldham was on the telly, a couple of the lads were round at our house watching the game. Kasper and I were out in the street playing football and then we knew something must have happened because Mum, Dad, Peter and his wife at the time were all out in the street celebrating.
What’s going on?
United have won the league!
Suddenly the football outside was interrupted. Game over. Before we knew it, there were fans everywhere. We had television crews arriving, all the players were round at ours within a couple of hours and a big party was going off. Kasper and I were sent off to Peter’s house with the babysitter. We were both on his window ledge peering out at my house, trying to see what was going on. Obviously it was a big party, as you might have seen on Captain’s Log, which went on until the early hours of the morning, but me and Kasper were across the street asleep at his! I remember the house the next day was wrecked, and United had a game that night against Blackburn. It’s a good job Alex Ferguson didn’t come to our house that morning because there would have been hell to pay!
That’s when the snowball started, winning that league. Once the snowball started, it didn’t stop during Fergie’s time.
Of course, there are bad times too. A year later, we were back at Wembley again for the Cup final. This time United lost against Everton, Dad pulled his hamstring in the first half, and that was a s*** day. I remember the house being miserable that summer. That was during Captain’s Log 2 and is probably the reason why there wasn’t a Captain’s Log 3!
A year later, we had another bad day at Wembley. Dad had scored in the Cup semi-final win over Palace, but he pulled his hamstring in the last couple of weeks of the season, sat out the league decider at Middlesbrough and then the whole family went to Wembley to watch the final against Liverpool. We were in the foyer having a drink and my grandad went up into the seating area to see the teams warming up, to see if Dad was on the pitch. He came down and just said: “He’s not up there, he’s not playing. Doesn’t even look like he’s on the bench,” and we were devastated. United won the game, which was great, but for us as a family it was sombre. He’d never not been involved before, so that was a big shock for all of us.
After we got to the hotel, we went downstairs to the party, he had a couple of beers and it was like it was his leaving do. He wished everybody all the best, gave a speech in front of the squad and basically said he’d done his bit at United now, it was time for the young lads to carry on the mantle. Go and achieve what we’ve started. That was it, done. He left the party that night, went to Birmingham that summer and it was finished. That’s what football is. Up one minute, down the next.
I experienced the same things as a player.
As a kid, I played a lot, got quite good and United took me into the youth system. I loved that, but obviously there were other things that went with the territory.
“You Steve Bruce’s son?”
“I’ve been told to kick you today.”
Things like that.
Wayne Rooney’s a good mate of mine, and when he used to play against us for Everton we would kick lumps out of each other. He openly tells me now that when we were kids, they used to look forward to playing us.
“There’s Steve Bruce’s son. Let’s kick s***e out of him.”
This was when we were 11, 12, 13 years of age. I’ve got the scars from that little Scouse scally!
Now, even Wayne can tell you that football has its ups and downs. Even him and Ronaldo, who have had the best careers you can even imagine, have had bad times. For me, one of the worst was when I was released by United when I was 16. It was heart-breaking for me because I’d been brought up by the club. I couldn’t understand it because I felt like I had as much ability as anybody else in our youth team at the time.
Phil Bardsley, Kieran Richardson, David Jones, they were all in my year. We had a decent youth team and more or less everyone else was kept on and I was pushed aside. I don’t know why it happened, but looking back now, it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I might have been on easy street. It was a foregone conclusion in my mind that I was going to coast through the youth team, through the reserves and into the first team. I’d be lifting trophies like my dad in no time.
Football doesn’t work like that.
I should say that I was and always will be a huge United fan, and I have great memories of watching the club play home and away down the years. There’s nothing better than watching us win at Anfield or the Etihad, in particular. I didn’t make the grade at United as a player, but I’ve got my sights set on moving into coaching in the future and, being ambitious, I would love it if my career led me back to Old Trafford in some capacity.
Getting released by United as a teenager, although it devastated me at the time, probably gave me that fire in the belly that I needed. At the time, though, that was my first taste of the other side of football, that first taste of rejection. It made me want to prove everybody wrong. I went to Blackburn and things went really well for me there. We won the youth league, did well in the cups, I signed a contract to become a professional for the first time, then I went on loan at Sheffield Wednesday and my career started taking shape.
Dad signed me for Birmingham from Blackburn. There were some political issues over that signing which I won’t get into, but I basically joined Birmingham while I was out on loan at Wednesday. I played a couple of games and did quite well, so people could see I was playing on merit, rather than because I was the manager’s son, but then Ipswich made a bid for me. It wasn’t an easy decision for anyone, but I think Dad agreed to the deal to get me out from under his wing and let my first-team career really get started. He’d done his job by signing a defender when he needed one, and he’d taken me out of a difficult position at Blackburn. If I’d been a bit older things might have been different. Looking back, it was definitely right for me.
I was at Ipswich for four or five years and had a great time. I worked under Roy Keane in my final year at the club, and he was great, very kind. He’d give you a b********g if you needed one, of course, but if the lads went out for a meal to create a bit of team spirit, you’d go to pay at the end and he’d have already got the bill without being there. You don’t really hear about that side of Roy, but I always found him really fair. I felt bad because he made me captain, but after a year, I felt like it was time for me to leave. I’d met my wife, I wanted to be closer to my family and think about starting a family of my own.
So I left there, went to Leeds and teamed up with Kasper again. The club was in a bit of turmoil at the time so, after two years at Leeds, I was available when Dad got the Hull City job. He needed a defender, I’d proved myself as a decent player at Championship level and I was at a good age, about 27 or 28. It was a good opportunity to link up with him again and it was probably the best time of my career. We had four or five great years together, got promoted, reached the FA Cup final, had two years in the Premier League and played in the Europa League. To do all that with a team like Hull was fantastic.
It’s a tricky balance, working for your dad. Because we were successful, it was easier. If we’d have been losing every week then it might have been different and the knives might have been out for both of us, but there weren’t really any times like that at Hull. We won more games than we lost and when we were in the Premier League it was always a fight to stay there and the Hull supporters were happy with that. We did that for a couple of years, beat Liverpool, gave everyone a good game. Everyone knows he was successful in his period at Hull, and it was a lot easier for us than it could have been. I have to say, the Hull lads were great with me, we had a great team spirit and, although it was awkward having the manager’s son in the building – as it would be in any walk of life – I think the lads kind of liked it because if we ever wanted a day off or anything, it was easier to send me in.
Go on, ask your dad for a day off.
Nine times out of 10 I’d come out with what we wanted, as well! You can speak to your dad how you want, can’t you?
He’s manager at Sheffield Wednesday now and, while a lot of people know that he had a hell of a year in 2018, I don’t think people fully realised just how tough it was for him.
At the time, he was managing Aston Villa, who had huge expectations, and he was trying to get promoted to the Premier League with them. So there was a lot of pressure in the job anyway. Then, out of the blue, he lost both parents within the space of a few weeks.
My grandad, Joe, was 84. He was quite old but fine, because my granny, Sheenagh, was great and always looked after him. She was mobile, she was marvellous for an 81-year-old. She was the fit one, she looked after him and cared for him. She’d been out in town doing the shopping, as she always did, but then a couple of days later we were stunned when we got the call to say she’d had a stroke.
It was a bad one.
Dad’s life was turned upside down. He was back and forwards between Birmingham and Newcastle, taking training, getting back on the road up north, sleeping at her bedside in hospital, and it soon became clear that that she wasn’t going to come out of hospital.
We told my grandad a few days later that she wouldn’t be coming home. We told him we’d need nurses to come in and look after him, which he didn’t want.
He passed away in his sleep that night.
It was such a tough time, so sad, and really, really hard for my dad. Looking back now, I think he would have wanted a few extra years with his mum because she’d looked after my grandad. He could have taken her on holiday. She was physically able to do all those things, whereas Grandad couldn’t. It would have been nice to have a couple of years where we could have looked after her, taken her on holiday.
Instead, she died a few weeks later.
Then, not long after, Sir Alex had his illness as well. They still have a great relationship and they speak as often as they can, so when he fell poorly, Dad was like:
F****** hell, is anyone else going to get ill as well?
To have so much happen so close together was really tough, while trying to manage a club like Aston Villa in the midst of all that.
On top of it all, he had a couple of health issues himself towards the end of his time at Villa. Things which men of his age get and need sorting out, just a couple of lesions on his skin which were dangerous and needed cutting out. One under his eye which was quite nasty.
So when he took the Sheffield Wednesday job earlier this year, he’d just had these procedures and didn’t want to be going into the training ground at his new club looking like he did. He was in no fit state physically or emotionally, and he needed a few extra weeks of holiday to get himself right and ready for work again.
Not many people knew the full story, and not everybody understood why he didn’t join up with Wednesday straight away after taking the job. It got under my skin when he was criticised on Match of the Day for being on holiday while Wednesday were facing Chelsea in the FA Cup. I went straight on social media and set the record straight as to why Dad needed a break. In fairness to him, Danny Murphy came out and apologised, which was big of him.
Dad’s quite a private person and probably wouldn’t have told people the real reasons, but when he was getting so much stick for not going straight into another job, I thought it was important for people to know the real reasons. Once they were out there, people took a step back and eased off a bit, which I was pleased about. It was uplifting to see the reaction and the goodwill for him.
He’s done alright so far at Sheffield Wednesday. He’s been around the block at that level, got a lot of experience managing in the Championship. It annoys me that people think he’s a Championship specialist – he’s got four promotions, and so on – but if you look at how he did in the Premier League with Sunderland, Birmingham and Wigan, compared to where they are now, he’s proven himself as a top-level manager. Championship specialist is a bit disrespectful.
For me, I’ve long since made peace with the fact that I’m known as Steve Bruce’s son. I like to think I’ve done alright for myself, been a professional footballer for 18 years, played international football, all off my own back. Ultimately I’ll always be known as Steve Bruce’s son and that’s just the nature of the beast because he’s such a successful person in the profession I’ve gone into. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I’ve spent being called Steve when I’ve joined a new club.
It’s something to be proud of too. I’m so happy to be his son. He’s always done the right things by us as a family. I had a privileged upbringing, watching him win big games and pick up trophies, looking up to him and learning from him all the time. We’ve got all the old photos at home and I enjoy looking back at them. To this day, I still see them and think the same thing…
What a lucky kid.
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