Steve Bruce reveals how he plans to reunite Newcastle United – and win over fans
Steve Bruce says his biggest challenge at Newcastle United is to reunite the club – after a fractious and divisive summer on Tyneside.
Bruce – whose side take on his former club Norwich City at Carrow Road in the Premier League this afternoon – succeeded the popular Rafa Benitez at St James’s Park a month ago.
And the 58-year-old knew when he walked through the doors at his boyhood club that he would face an uphill battle to win over a fanbase which chanted Benitez’s name week in, week out.
Thousands of supporters, angry at Benitez’s departure, boycotted the club’s 1-0 opening-weekend defeat to Arsenal at St James’s Park in a protest against owner Mike Ashley and what they feel has been a lack of investment over the past 12 years. The official attendance of 47,635, which included non-attending season-ticket holders, was well short of capacity.
Bruce, however, hopes, in time, the club will again be united in more than just name.
“Absolutely (the club is best when united),” said Bruce. “The supporters were right behind Rafa. Given time, I hope (it’s the same). I’ve said many times, I know I’m not Rafa and I’m not many people’s cup of tea. Hopefully, I can give them a team which, eventually, they will come round.”
Bruce says the job, so far, is as he had expected when he left Sheffield Wednesday last month to return home more than four decades after leaving the region to start his playing career at Gillingham.
“It is what it is,” said the 58-year-old. “Just what I expected, and I understand that. Coming to manage Newcastle was never going to be easy, that’s for sure.
“There was never a side to me that thought ‘oh no, I don’t want that’. I could just have stayed where I was, and it would have been quite easy to do that. I understand that big interest that makes this club unique.
“There’s no club like this that has the interest that the Geordie people have towards their club.”
Bruce, born in Corbridge but raised in Wallsend, believes that his upbringing on the banks of the River Tyne “steeled” him for the challenge ahead of him.
“I’m from here, so it steels you,” said Bruce, who joined Gillingham after being rejected by Newcastle as a teenager.
“You have to be tough at school, otherwise you get picked on. Your whole upbringing from the North East gives you that determination.
“Certainly, the lower divisions give you a determination to succeed. I’ve never had it easy. I’m prepared to work hard and have a go – that’s always been my philosophy. I’ll have a go, have a crack – and won’t be frightened of anything.”
United’s fans were patient with Benitez last season when the team failed to win any of its first 10 league games.
“I don’t think I will be entitled to that,” said Bruce. “The 10 or 11 games which he was afforded, there wasn’t a murmur from the ground. I don’t think I will have that luxury, so I would like to win (against Norwich) if I possibly can, then a nice easy one at Tottenham next week then at Liverpool two weeks later.
“But that’s why I’m here. To be in the Premier League, and compete against big clubs.”
Newcastle competed against Arsenal for 45 minutes last weekend. However, a promising performance unravelled after the break, and a goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave the visitors a 1-0 victory.
Bruce has had better Mondays.
“I’m always worse on a Monday,” said Bruce. “It’s a reflection after a defeat, and that’s, always, the difficult part for me. It’s getting over the disappointment of getting beaten, but we know that is going to happen in the Premier League. so it’s important I keep myself on an even keel and try not to beat myself up too much nor get carried away too much.”
Bruce was left to rue the first-half chances missed by Joelinton and Miguel Almiron against Arsenal, who took advantage of an error from substitute Jetro Willems to score.
“The big thing was we had a good opportunity,” said Bruce. “Afterwards, I can’t remember my goalkeeper being so quiet.
“So, we did a lot of things well in the first half, but it’s fair to say we ran out of juice, the intensity dropped.”
Bruce is philosophical about the reaction on Tyneside to the defeat, adding: “That is something I have come to understand very quickly, and it’s always going to be the case.
“Look at all the people around me here (at his pre-match press conference). It’s quite unique. Unless you are one of the top six or seven clubs, I wouldn’t think many managers sit here on a Friday morning with this number of press sat here.
“That is what makes it a great club – the huge interest in it.”
Fans have been critical of Bruce on social media, but he hasn’t encountered any hostility on the streets.
“Not one comment has been negative,” said Bruce. “They’ve all come up and shook my hand and wished me the best of luck.”