Many thanks to A Love Supreme for accepting our invitation to set out the reasons behind Steve Bruce’s tenure at the Stadium of Light, his failure and eventual sacking. We’ll leave it to you to decide if there are echoes now at Newcastle United ….

Steve Bruce came to Sunderland in the summer of 2009 after leaving Wigan Athletic. His knowledge of the Premier League and understanding of the north-east led to many fans thinking we had found the right man to take us forward, and for a while it looked like we had. Despite being from Wallsend and a boyhood Newcastle fan Bruce was welcomed by the Sunderland faithful. After his sacking Bruce blamed the Sunderland fans and his Newcastle links for his dismissal. However, comments made in his first press conference at Sunderland make for interesting reading:

“Managing Newcastle has never been my dream.”

“This opportunity at Sunderland has everything I want – the infrastructure, the fanbase, an ambitious chairman and an ambitious new owner.”

“I don’t need anything else – I have everything here. Everything you look for as a manager is here at Sunderland.”

In his first transfer window Ellis Short backed his new manager and Bruce made some marquee signings. The arrivals of Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole, John Mensah, Frazier Campbell, Michael Turner and Darren Bent, for a club record £10 million, were a cause for excitement and optimism amongst fans.

Bruce made an instant impact. Darren Bent hit the ground running, Cana and Turner looked sturdy and wins over Arsenal and Liverpool had us in the top eight. However our strong start soon turned into a mid-season slump, from November 2009 to March 2010 we endured a run of 14 games without a win. Our form did pick up before the end of the season and we finished 13th. Darren Bent ended the season with 24 league goals but still didn’t make the England World Cup squad for South Africa. Whilst it was progress not being in a last day relegation battle, finishing 13th was a bit underwhelming considering our start to the season.

In the summer of 2010 Bruce again was backed by Short and made a host of new signings. Elmohamady, Mignolet, Welbeck, Onuoha, Bramble, Riveros and Da Silva all arrived, as well as World Cup star Asamoah Gyan who signed for a club record £13 million. Like the season before Sunderland had a great start and were 7th in October. However the Halloween horror show at newly promoted Newcastle was a low point and it affected Bruce personally. In an interview after his sacking Bruce stated that the derby defeat instantly turned the tide on Wearside against him. According to Steve Bruce, he felt his failure to win the Tyne–Wear was the reason the Sunderland fans turned. In reality that wasn’t the case. Yes, the derby defeat was awful but it was largely forgotten about after a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge a few weeks later. Sitting 6th in January 2011 most Sunderland fans were ecstatic and right behind Bruce.

Like the season before a mid-season slump occurred in the New Year. The January departure of Bent and a run of eight defeats in nine games in the new year saw us drop down the table. Three wins in the final five games saw us go from 15th to 10th, giving the season a shiny look. We were extremely fortunate to finish 10th, a miracle in the last ten minutes of three other games, including Newcastle throwing away a three goal lead at home to West Brom saw us jump into the top half. In reality we should have finished 13th just like the season before. The signings made in the summer of 2010 didn’t make much of an impact and were lacking in quality compared to Bruce’s first season.

Bruce’s third season did not have the same strong start as his first two. The loaning out of Gyan combined with the average signings of O’Shea, Brown, Larsson and Vaughan did little to improve the team. After two wins in the first 14 and 2-1 home defeat to former club Wigan, Bruce was sacked with Sunderland 16th in the table. After the sacking Bruce refused to accept responsibility for a downturn in form citing that never being accepted at Sunderland was the reason for his dismissal. That is far from the truth. Bruce was backed and well-liked by most of the Sunderland faithful. From January 2011 to November 2011 Bruce’s league record was played 28, won five, drew seven and lost 16. Combine that with poor signings, including an inexperienced Conor Wickham to replace the fire power of Bent and Gyan and you get the reason for his sacking, not because Bruce is from Wallsend. In November 2011, speaking to 5 Live, former striker Kevin Phillips said  the players should take some of the blame for Bruce’s dismissal:

“At the end of the day the players need to look at themselves,” he said. “Steve has brought in a lot of players for a lot of money and they haven’t responded for him.

“The fans have got frustrated and taken that out on Steve and ultimately it is the manager who always pays the price.”

Fast forward eight years and Bruce was appointed Newcastle manager to replace Rafa Benitez. The decision was met with horror by Newcastle fans with the infamous reaction of “I’m from Wallsend, he’s from Wallsend”. Bruce labelled the job as his ‘dream job’ which is quite the contrast from what he said in his first Sunderland press conference.

Benitez finished 10th and 13th in the Prem with Newcastle, Bruce matched the 13th place finish in his first season. However he is still subject to heavy criticism from Newcastle fans. Newcastle’s form this season and a current run of six defeats in eight has led to calls for him to be sacked. After a defeat to winless Sheffield United Bruce labelled his side as ‘absolutely shite’, rather than criticise his managerial style and a lack of a plan B. Bruce has not yet blamed his time at Sunderland for his unpopularity on Tyneside. However Kieran Dyer has. Speaking to 5 Live Dyer believes the stick comes from a much deeper foundation:

“I am an Ipswich boy, born and bred,” Dyer said.

“I would never in my lifetime play for Norwich City. They could offer me millions and millions of pounds and I wouldn’t do it.

“I am starting off on my coaching journey. If I was offered the manager’s job at Norwich City, I wouldn’t do it.

“Steve Bruce comes out and says he is a Geordie but he has managed Sunderland. So Newcastle fans are already upset with you managing Sunderland.”

Bruce’s loyalties have clearly changed over the years and it will be extremely interesting to see what his excuse will be for his eventual sacking at Newcastle. He can’t blame the fact he’s from Newcastle this time, and he can’t blame a failure to win a Tyne-Wear derby because it’s unlikely Sunderland and Newcastle will be facing each other any time soon.

DANIEL HUNTER, A Love Supreme, Sunderland Fanzine.