Vastly experienced as a player and manager, Steve Bruce was appointed first team manager by Hull City’s owner Assem Allam in June 2012 and was charged with the task of taking the promising squad assembled by his predecessors Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby, and return the Tigers to the Premier League. It was a task he achieved with some aplomb, then took the club a whole lot further again amid some considerable turmoil on the terraces. Overall, Bruce did an incredible job of using Allam’s investment wisely on players that accrued value, while at the same time generating massive incomes from being in the Premier League. Alas, when the flow of money was halted by Assem’s son Ehab in 2015, Bruce found the job harder and walked away.
The squad that Bruce inherited from Barmby was full of youthful vigour and plenty of skill. Bruce added experience to that mix in his first summer of transfer business, signing Senegalese centre-back Abdoulaye Faye plus Ahmed Elmohamady and David Meyler, two international players who had played for Bruce at his previous club Sunderland. He also signed his son Alex Bruce, a decision that looked rather odd at first but proved a masterstroke in some of the high profile fixtures to come. Bruce’s side started the 2012/13 season well and four consecutive victories in the weeks before Christmas propelled his side to second in the championship table. Encouraged by this form, the Tigers invested again in the January transfer window and signed loan deals for winger George Boyd plus two Egyptian internationals, striker Gedo and midfielder Ahmed Fathi. Gedo and Boyd both contributed important goals as the season wore on and from mid-February 2013 onwards the Tigers were locked in second place behind leaders Cardiff City. The Tigers stumbled over the line, failing to win any of the last four League games but a chaotic draw at home to Cardiff on the final day of the season, coupled with a late draw between Leeds United and Watford that kept the Hornets at bay, saw Bruce’s Tigers win a return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Further squad reinforcements were needed and Bruce’s plan was to focus on quality – centre-back Curtis Davies, midfielders Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone, goalkeeper Allan McGregor and striker Yannick Sagbo were all signed from top flight clubs and the Tigers were able to compete in exalted Premier League company. A four match unbeaten run of League games in September 2013 lifted the Tigers to 7th place, and a 6-0 demolition of Fulham three days before the dawn of the New Year maintained the Tigers’ place in the top ten. In January 2014 Bruce invested again in his squad, upgrading his striker options with the acquisition of Irish international Shane Long and Croatian international Nikica Jelavic. Long and Jelavic both contributed goals that kept up the Tigers’ momentum in the Premier League, while the side also embarked on a run in the FA Cup run for which both Long and Jelavic were ineligible. With reserve forwards McLean, Proschwitz, Sagbo and Fryatt all contributing goals, the Tigers swatted aside Middlesbrough, Southend United and Brighton & Hove Albion to set up a Sixth Round tie against Bruce’s former club Sunderland. Three goals in ten second half minutes secured a victory and Hull City were FA Cup semi-finalists for the first time in 74 years – and when the semi-final draw, made in the moments following the Sunderland win, paired the Tigers with League One side Sheffield United a Wembley final and possible European qualification beckoned. It didn’t go entirely to plan, the Blades took a 2-1 half-time lead at Wembley Stadium before the Tigers roared back to win 5-3, setting up the club’s first FA Cup Final against Arsenal. In the weeks between the semi-final and final the Tigers concluded their League season, losing six of the last eight games to drop from 12th to 16th place – still the club’s highest League finish in its history. On 17th May 2014 Steve Bruce led out his Hull City side at Wembley for the FA Cup Final, seeing his side rampage into a two goal lead after eight minutes before being pegged back in normal time and defeated 2-3 in extra time – a disappointing end, but a fabulous journey delivered by manager Steve Bruce.
Faced with a Premier League campaign and the prospect of a run on the Europa League, Bruce again reinforced his squad in the 2014 close season, signing attackers Abel Hernandez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass, defenders Andy Robertson, Michael Dawson and Harry Maguire (who had impressed for Sheffield United at Wembley three months earlier) plus midfield prompters Mohamed Diame and Gaston Ramirez. But his plans were soon in tatters as weak performances in the Europa League saw Bruce’s side eliminated by Belgian side KSC Lokeren, a season-ended injury denied him any input from Snodgrass and both Ince and Ben Arfa failed so show any of the form they had demonstrated at their previous clubs. City were back in the top eight of the Premier League by early October 2014 but then a winless run of ten matches saw the Tigers tumble into the bottom two by Christmas. Two wins in three festive matches saw a modicum of recovery and City hovered above the relegation zone for several weeks, rising to 15th place at the end of April when Liverpool were beaten 1-0 at the KC Stadium. But three defeats in early May sealed the Tigers fate and Bruce’s side were relegated from the Premier League, 12 months after appearing in the FA Cup Final.
Bruce’s side consolidated in the Championship during the 2015/16 season, retaining most of the club’s high profile signings and adding youthful work rate in the form of Sam Clucas and Arsenal loan striker Chuba Akpom. But it was the Premier League squad that kept the Tigers afloat as the Allam family’s continued attempts to change the name of the club to Hull Tigers, which followed a 2013 spat with the City Council over ownership of the stadium, soured relationships with the club’s supporters. Bruce’s side competed in the top six of the Championship table for practically the whole season although a run of just one win in seven League matches during February and March 2016, interspersed by two FA Cup Fifth Round ties against Arsenal, saw any chance of automatic promotion fade away. The Tigers ended the regular season with a 5-1 drubbing of Rotherham United to secure fourth place then progressed past Derby County in the play-off semi-final – smoothly at first with a 3-0 win a Pride Park then with considerable nervousness after the Rams pegged City back to 3-2 on aggregate in the return leg. The Tigers had reached the Championship play-off final for a second time in eight years, this time against Sheffield Wednesday, and while the weariness caused by the Allams’ constant battles with supporters and the football authorities meant many supporters didn’t attend the Wembley final, City prevailed in comfortable fashion thanks to a solitary goal by Mo Diame. The euphoria of a third promotion to the Premier League was tempered by the petulant actions of the club’s owners, a conflict bought into sharp focus when the City fans booed an image of the owner’s son Ehab Allam when it flashed up on the Wembley jumbotrons.
During the subsequent weeks it became clear to Steve Bruce that he was to be denied to resources required to build a squad ready for a Premier League season – with owner Assem Allam absent through ill-health it fell to his son Ehab to manage the club day-to-day and it was clear that Ehab and Steve did not see eye to eye. After a rumoured refusal to sign Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell, who had been on loan at the Tigers during the 2015/16 season, and a resulting volley of effs and jeffs between the two men, Steve Bruce resigned from his post in July 2016 leaving a threadbare squad to his successor, assistant manager Mike Phelan. It was an unfortunate end to what had been a largely thrilling and success-laden four years.
Steven Roger Bruce was born in Corbridge, a Roman town in the Tyne Valley, and raised in the Newcastle suburb of Wallsend by his English father and Northern Irish mother (it was his grandmother’s lineage that years later allowed Steve’s son Alex Bruce to play international football for Northern Ireland). He was a member of the famous Wallsend Boys Club football team during the mid-1970s but was turned down by both Newcastle United and Sunderland at 16 and had accepted a job as apprentice plumber at the Swan Hunter dockyard in North Shields when he was spotted by Gerry Summers, a former Hull City player now manager of Kent-based Division Three side Gillingham. He joined Gillingham on apprentice terms in the summer of 1977, converted from a midfielder to a centre-back and signed his first professional contract in October 1978. During 1979 and 1980 Bruce made eight appearances for the England Youth team and made his Gills first team debut in August 1979 against Luton Town, netting his first two senior goals in a League Cup tie against Division One side Norwich City in September 1979. By the end of the 1979/80 season Bruce was an important part of the Gills’ first team, a role he maintained for the next four seasons as the Kentish side twice finished just short of promotion to Division Two. He broke his leg in April 1983 after a clumsy challenge on veteran Newport County striker Tommy Tynan but returned to action in October 1983 and continued to shine, attracting scouts from several top flight clubs. Having refused a new contract beyond the summer of 1984 it was inevitable that Bruce would leave Gillingham at the end of the 1983/84 season, by which time he had scored 38 goals in 237 senior appearances for the club.
In August 1984 Bruce joined Division One side Norwich City in return for a £125,000 fee. He scored an own goal only two minutes into his Canaries’ debut against Liverpool in August 1984 but went on to forge a regular first team berth as Norwich battled unsuccessfully against relegation while also lifting the League Cup, eliminating local rivals Ipswich Town in the semi-final before defeating Sunderland 1-0 in the Final that saw Bruce named man of the match. Steve was an ever-present in the League during the 1985/86 season as Norwich bounced back immediately, lifting the Division Two title and returning to the top flight, and he remained a key part of the Canaries’ defence for another season and a half as the side competed in the top six of the First Division. When Bruce left Norwich City in December 1987 he had scored 21 goals in 180 appearances for the club.
In December 1987 First Division giants Manchester United paid £800,000 to sign Steve Bruce, pairing him with Irishman Paul McGrath and later Teessider Gary Pallister in the heart of the Red Devils’ defence. After finishing second in the First Division at the end of the 1987/88 season, Manchester United had two mid-table finishes though Bruce did win an FA Cup winners medal in May 1990 when the Red Devils defeated Crystal Palace after a replay. This Cup win heralded a run of six seasons when Manchester United, with Bruce a key part of the first team, finished in the top six of the First Division/Premier League and won several trophies. Steve won three Premier League title winners’ medals in the 1992/93, 1993/94 and 1995/96 seasons and lifted the European Cup Winners Cup in May 1991 when Manchester United defeated Barcelona in the final played in Rotterdam. He won a League Cup winners medal in April 1992 when Nottingham Forest were defeated, then added a second FA Cup winners medal when Chelsea were beaten in May 1994. He also played in two Cup final defeats, a League Cup final loss to Aston Villa in April 1994 and an FA Cup final loss to Everton in May 1995. Steve made his final appearance for Manchester United against Leeds United in April 1996, by which time he had scored 52 goals for the Red Devils in 417 senior appearances. He missed the FA Cup Final in May 1996, denying him a third winners medals in that competition.
In June 1996 Bruce left Manchester United and signed for League Division 1 side Birmingham City, whose manager Trevor Francis immediately handed Steve the captain’s armband. In two seasons at St Andrews he scored three goals in 84 appearances, then in July 1998 he left to join League Division 1 rivals Sheffield United as player-manager, amove that commenced a 24 year second career in football management. He led the Blades for 56 matches during the 1998/99 season, also making ten senior appearances before hanging up his boots. Bruce left Bramall Lane in May 1999 to take the reins at League Division 1 rivals Huddersfield Town, in the 1999/00 season the Terriers narrowly missed out on the play-off places but a poor start to the 2000/01 season and a boardroom bust-up with the Huddersfield chairman led the Bruce’s sacking in October 2000 after 66 matches in charge. After a six month pause Bruce was appointed manager at ambitious League Division 2 side Wigan Athletic in April 2001 but after defeat to Reading in the play-off semi-final he left the Latics after just nine matches in charge, choosing to take the reins at League Division 1 side Crystal Palace. His tenure at Selhurst Park lasted only six months and 18 matches before he resigned in controversial circumstances in November 2001 to take the manager’s role at League Division 1 rivals Birmingham City.
Bruce led the Blues to promotion via the play-offs at the end of the 2001/02 season, defeating Norwich City in the final, then led Birmingham to three mid-table Premier League finishes. In the 2005/06 season Bruce led the St Andrews side City to relegation but the Blues stuck by him and he piloted the club back to the Premier League after one season in the Championship. After a poor start to the 2007/08 season and a lengthy contract dispute Bruce was allowed to leave Birmingham City in November 2007 – he managed the club for six years and 269 matches. He returned immediately to Wigan Athletic, now in the Premier League and ambitious for success, and Bruce led the Latics to two mid-table Premier League finishes despite repeated interest in his services from his boyhood club Newcastle United. Bruce left Wigan in June 2009 after 68 matches in charge but it was at Wearside rivals Sunderland, not Newcastle United, that he took the managerial reins. Bruce led the Black Cats for two seasons, finishing 13th and 10th in the Premier League, but a poor start to the 2011/12 season led to his dismissal at the end of November 2011 after 98 matches in charge. He had been out of frontline work for seven months when he accepted the manager’s role at Hull City in June 2012.
Bruce left Hull City in July 2016 but was soon back in work, in October 2016 he was appointed manager at Championship side Aston Villa. He led the Villains to the Championship play-offs at the end of the 2017/18 season, eliminating Middlesbrough in the semi-final before his Villa side, replete with ex-Tigers James Chester, Ahmed Elmohamady and Robert Snodgrass, lost to Fulham in the Wembley final. Bruce stayed at Villa Park at the start of the 2018/19 season but was sacked in October 2018 after a winless run of three games and being the target of a well-aimed cabbage launched by a dissatisfied member of the Villa fanbase. He led Villa for 102 matches.
After recovering from the death of both his parents, Bruce took up the managerial reins at Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in March 2019 and his Owls side lost only three of his 18 matches in charge. In July 2019 Bruce’s dream job finally emerged and he was appointed first team manager at Newcastle United. Despite the offer to lead the Magpies being impossible to refuse, he took over a squad starved of proper investment by owner Mike Ashley and for two seasons Bruce was the lightning rod for fan disapproval as his side twice finished in the lower half of the Premier League table. In October 2021 Newcastle United were bought out by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund and Bruce’s services were dispensed with a few days later – he led the Magpies for 97 matches. Some may have thought that Bruce would call it a day after his experience at Newcastle but in February 2022 he was lured back to management one more time, taking the reins at Championship side West Bromwich Albion. His arrival was not enough to stimulate a run to the end of season play-offs and after a poor start to the 2022/23 season Bruce was dismissed in October 2022 after just 32 matches in charge of the Baggies. In total Bruce was first team manager for 1,032 senior matches in his 24 year managerial career, adding to the 929 appearances he made as a player. A truly remarkable 45 year career.
Date/Place of Birth: 31 December 1960, Corbridge, England
Appointed by Hull City: 8 June 2012; 51 years, 160 days old
Left Hull City: 22 July 2016; 55 years, 204 days old
Tenure: 1,505 days
Sheffield United (1998-1999), Huddersfield Town (1999-2000), Wigan Athletic (2001), Crystal Palace (2001), Birmingham City (2001-2007), Wigan Athletic (2007-2009), Sunderland (2009-2011), Hull City (2012-2016), Aston Villa (2016-2018), Sheffield Wednesday (2019), Newcastle United (2019-2021), West Bromwich Albion (2022)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 201, Won 82, Drawn 44, Lost 75, Goals For 248, Goals Against 230
Achievements: 2nd in Championship, 2012/13 season; 16th in Premier League, 2013/14 season; FA Cup Final, 2013/14 season; UEFA Europa League Play-Off Round, 2014/15 season; 4th in Championship and Play-Off Winner, 2015/16 season