Steve Bruce and son Alex bond over English FA Cup final
There is a challenge for the son of any famous father, especially when he follows him into the same line of work: how to accomplish something in his own right, something no one else in his family has done. When that father is Steve Bruce, former Manchester United captain, serial winner of trophies in his playing career and an accomplished manager, that scope for original achievement is further reduced.
Yet Alex Bruce has not only found an area where he could outstrip his father, the Hull City centre-back has positioned himself in the comparatively select group, including Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano and Diego Costa, who have switched international allegiances and represented different countries.
Bruce senior was the finest uncapped English player of his generation. Alex, though Manchester-born, has played for the Republic of Ireland and now Northern Ireland.
“It’s a way of getting one over him, so I thought I might as well get as many international caps as I can for different countries,” he said with a laugh.
The Bruces are separated by their international experience, but united by much else. On Saturday, they will become the first father-son pairing in an FA Cup final since Nottingham Forest’s Brian and Nigel Clough in 1991.
Hull are looking to break a 110-year drought without a major title and Steve is seeking the first cup crown of his 16-year managerial career, which will bring overdue recognition.
“If we win, his stock will go through the roof,” his son said. Alex, who spent seven seasons in the Championship before Hull’s promotion in 2013, could cap a personal renaissance with a place in the starting 11 at Wembley.
It is not a certainty, though. James Chester, the regular partner for centre-back Curtis Davies, is recovering from a hamstring injury.
Alex, who has already recounted his memories of the 1996 FA Cup final, “a bad day”, when he expected Steve to skipper United against Liverpool and discovered he was not even on the bench, knows he will not benefit from any inside information about the Hull side.
“I don’t think I’ll know until everyone else finds out,” he said. “That’s the way it should be.”
They are manager and player, father and son and housemates: it could be an awkward position, but the Bruces seem content to abide by their unofficial rules.
“He just treats me like everyone else,” Alex said. “He is very good at it. He comes in every morning and walks straight past me like he probably does with most of the players. I have just seen him half an hour before at home.”
Home for men who both own residences nearer to Manchester is “a little rented house. Me and my missus and my little girl Ava spend most of the week here. Dad ‘toshes down’ with us every now and again.” There the emphasis is on relaxation.
“If you take your work home with you, you get no respite,” Alex said. “He wants a rest when he goes home. So do I. I don’t ask him about what is going on at work. I feel a bit uncomfortable.
“It is not really in my makeup to start asking questions and if I did, he would probably tell me to sod off and mind my own business.”
Football, of course, is the family business. Alex’s childhood memories of “a very privileged upbringing” include going to work with his dad in the school holidays when “work” consisted of playing for United.
He thought he would follow in his footsteps, too, until he was released from the United academy at age 16.
Thus began a journey around English football. He was at Blackburn Rovers until the appointment of Mark Hughes, the teammate who denied his father a goal in the 1991 Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup final victory over Barcelona.
“I remember being gutted,” Alex said. “I wanted to go and tell my pals at school that he had scored the night before”.
Relations were strained between the former colleagues after Bruce senior sacked Hughes’s ally, Mark Bowen, and the Welshman bid for Birmingham’s midfielder Robbie Savage.
Alex ended up at St Andrew’s as a makeweight in that deal, where he suffered the stigma of being seen as the manager’s son.
He moved on to Ipswich Town, catching the eye of Serie A clubs until another of his father’s old friends intervened.
“Roy Keane came in [as manager],” Alex said. “He was my hero and I thought: ‘I am not going anywhere now.’ He offered me a new contract, I signed, and he gave me the captaincy.”
After Ipswich came Leeds and then his father beckoned him to Hull.
“It was an ambition for him to get back into the Premier League, so to be part of that and meet my desire to get into the Premier League, it fitted pretty perfectly,” the younger Bruce said.
It was a reunion after six years apart, but thoughts will be cast back further today: Steve’s first FA Cup final, at the second time of asking, yielded Sir Alex Ferguson’s first trophy as Manchester United manager.
To his frustration, the five-year-old Alex wasn’t there to see his father triumph in 1990.
“I didn’t go to the replay because I had school the next day,” he recalled wryly.
He was present in 1994, however, when Steve lifted the FA Cup as United captain after a 4-0 win over Chelsea.
“He always reminds us about getting beaten by Everton [in 1995],” he said. “That sticks in his throat.”
The younger Bruce has more vivid memories of 1996, of arriving at Wembley late, of trying to find out the team on the Wembley concourse.
Then came the discovery that his father, promised a place in the side by Ferguson, had been omitted altogether.
“It was Fergie’s way of saying: ‘Your time’s up’,” Alex said. “Dad announced he was leaving that night.”
That is Wembley, a place where dreams are found and lost. Now the Bruce family are back, dreaming again.
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Published: May 17, 2014 04:00 AM