Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce reveals his Aston Villa anguish – going bust, getting the sack & THAT cabbage incident
Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce will return to Aston Villa tonight – the scene of the now infamous cabbage incident that proved a precursor to his Villa Park sacking.
Roll the clock back to October 2018, with Villa on a run of nine without a win Bruce endured chants of “We want Brucie out” during a 3-3 home draw with Preston – and a bizarre protest in which a fan launched a cabbage at the Geordie and assistant Stephen Clemence.
Bruce explains: “I thought it (cabbage) was a ball to begin with, it was a big old thing. How he got it into the stadium I don’t know. Stephen Clemence miscontrolled it when came in. It didn’t miss me by much, it fell at my feet. I thought it was a ball, the size of it. The fans can throw some things, but a cabbage?
“I went the next day so I didn’t have time to get angry. It was one of the most unsavoury times of my career.”
United fans hardly rolled out the red carpet to welcome the Wallsend Boys Club graduate back 'home' in the summer, following on from world-renowned Rafa Benitez, but slowly he seems to be winning the Magpies faithful over. Results matter, of course.
The reception he received and job he walked into may have been tough, but not even in the same ballpark as the Villa "mess" he inherited.
“It was a mess, they hadn’t won away from home for something like 20 months,” he said.
“They’d won four games or something. When I took over they hadn’t won many in the Championship. The players all had the pet lip because they had lost half their money. It was really really difficult, the morale was really low, they had hardly won a game. We brought 25-30 million starting with Rudy Gestede to Middlesbrough, we got a lot of players out within six to 12 months.”
Given his Birmingham history, Villa and Bruce was never a natural fit.
Bruce, though, believes the perception of his time at Villa Park does not match the reality.
“I got criticised, yes, but for that 18 months only Man City scored more goals than us. It was always brought up as my style of play. They are a very difficult lot,” he said.
“Great club, great support with great history, but it was in a mess. It was arguably my most difficult job, even more difficult than this.
“I remember sitting down with Steve Round after two days and going if we’re not careful here, never mind not getting promoted we’ll be lucky to stay up in the Championship the way there were.
“It was a big struggle but when you walk away from it, I like to say I did well at Wigan, at Birmingham and down the road. I knew how difficult it was but we very nearly got there. We were poor int eh first half of the play-off against Fulham but to get there, on what we did and what we had, we had.”
Swimming against the tide. That's the feeling you get when discussing the Villa experience with Bruce, particularly when it comes to finance.
He continued: "It was the worst and probably the most difficult six weeks after the play-off game, it unrivalled from where we were. To be fair to the chief executive at the time he had kept it quiet for three or four months.
“We were aware we couldn’t bring anyone in but financially we didn’t realise we didn’t realise the enormity of it until he got the sack and then Steve Round got the sack. It was a really difficult time.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get paid in the May and June. It was practically close to the wall. In that summer we had to sell. Jack Grealish nearly went to Spurs. James Chester nearly went to Stoke and then within July and going back to work the new owners came in and everything changed, very, very quickly.
"If they (new owners) hadn’t come in so quickly I would have feared for a great club the way it was because we were practically bust.”
While Bruce is scarred by the Villa experience, it was not the worst sacking he has ever experienced. His exit from the Stadium of Light in 2011 tops that.
“Down the road (Sunderland)," Bruce said when talking about his worst sacking.
“The worst sacking was Sunderland in terms of abuse, I had to have a police escort home. I had motorbikes round the car.”