AS Steve Bruce today prepares to return to the scene of his first rejection as a teenage footballer, the Hull City chief has heaped praise on George Boyd for the manner in which he has battled back from his own career setbacks to reach the top.
The 29-year-old will line-up against the Tigers for the first time since his £3m move to Turf Moor towards the end of the summer transfer window.
Boyd spent 18 months at the KC Stadium and so impressed Bruce as a person that the Hull manager admits: “George is the sort of lad that if your daughter came home with him, you would be delighted.”
Bruce’s fondness for Boyd is understandable, with the two men having suffered similar early setbacks in their careers before fighting back.
For Boyd, that meant overcoming being released by Charlton Athletic as a youngster and having to combine playing part-time in non-League with a spell working in a sweet shop to eventually reach the Premier League and appear in an FA Cup final.
Such a circuitous route to the top echoed that of Bruce, who was rejected by Burnley as a 15-year-old after four years on the Turf Moor club’s books. The news left Bruce devastated but, in a similar fashion to Boyd, he battled back from such an inauspicious start to enjoy a glittering career at Manchester United.
“When I was rejected by Burnley, it was hard,” said the 53-year-old in an interview with The Yorkshire Post. “Especially with it being the first one. I had been there three or four years, signed schoolboy forms, but then they didn’t want me.
“They said, ‘I don’t think you will ever be big enough or strong enough’. Which is ironic when you look at me now.
“But that episode taught me a lesson. I thought, ‘I will show you’. I did, eventually, as it took me a long time to get where I wanted. But I got there in the end.
“George was the same and I have to say he is a wonderful, wonderful lad.
“He is such a great lad and a really, really good person. After the Cup final last season, he came up and shook my hand.
“He said, ‘I never thought I would ever get anywhere near a Cup final, can I buy you a beer to thank you?’ Things like that say a lot about George.
“George was a good player, too. I was tempted to keep him when the offer from Burnley came in. He was a dream to manage.
“But, equally, I had to think of him and his career. I had a similar conversation with Stephen Clemence when I was manager at Birmingham.
“He was one of my favourites and I wanted to keep him. But Stephen had an offer from Leicester. He was about the same age as George and they were willing to offer him a three- or four-year deal. I had to let him go and it was the same with George.”
Bruce’s own journey back to the top following his rejection at Turf Moor took him to Gillingham via a week’s work experience at the Swan Hunters shipyard in his native north east that led to the offer of a job as an apprentice plumber.
Thankfully, the Gills stepped in and, after five years in Kent, Bruce moved on to Norwich City and then Old Trafford.
Looking back on those days at Turf Moor, Bruce recalled: “I spent my 11th birthday at Burnley, staying in the Nelson Hotel. That is how long ago it all was.
“Burnley had a big north east scout at the time and got a lot of players from the area. Ray Hankin was one of the first and I got sent down there after being spotted (playing for Wallsend Boys’ Club).
“We are talking early Seventies, at a time when Leighton James and Brian Flynn were in the side,” he said.
“Burnley were a big team at the time and my job seemed to be to sweep the corridors. They still need a good clean now.
“I remember in 1974, I was on Burnley’s books and they drew Newcastle United in the FA Cup semi-final.
“I was delighted to get two tickets until I turned up and realised I was in the Burnley end. I was the only one who jumped up when Supermac (Malcolm Macdonald) scored (as Newcastle won 2-0).
“It wasn’t long after that game that I was told I wasn’t good enough to get an apprenticeship. I was devastated but it taught me about life.
“There is a humbleness that stays with you from being rejected like that rather than being the other way and someone who gets carried away with themselves. That can be difficult.”
Bruce’s focus today will be extending the Clarets’ winless run in the Premier League to 11 games. In the process, Hull, who sit two points clear of the dropzone despite losing only three of their own 10 matches, can do themselves a big favour by taking all three points off the Lancashire club.
Not that Bruce believes it will be easy. “It will be muck and nettles at Burnley, especially with the weather forecast being what it is,” he said.
“We have to have people ready for that challenge because it won’t be a game for the faint-hearted. It never is at Burnley.
“Obviously, they are yet to win this season. But I still see Burnley as dangerous. I can’t stress that enough to the players. They are full of life and have not given up.
“They have a great attitude and with the manager they have, I never expect they will give up.
“The Premier League is hard. Last year, for example, Burnley will have got to Christmas and probably had 45 points from 20-odd games.
“Whereas, you have to win 10 in this division, which is an average of one a month. They just need one to get off the mark and we have to make sure that is not against us.”