STEVE BRUCE today returns to Hull City for the first time since his abrupt departure two summers ago admitting the Yorkshire club’s plight saddens him.
The Tigers won two promotions to the Premier League under the Aston Villa manager and reached the FA Cup final.
I look back now and wonder, ‘Will Hull ever see that quality of team again?’ I just don’t know. We had some special times together.Steve Bruce
Hull also competed in the Europa League for the first time in their history during Bruce’s four years at the helm.
Since his exit a little over 20 months ago, however, Hull’s fortunes have dipped markedly with last May’s relegation from the top flight having been followed by another season of struggle back in the second tier.
Just six points separate the East Riding outfit from the relegation zone ahead of Bruce’s return to the KCOM Stadium with Aston Villa.
“I have watched the struggles from afar and it has been sad to see,” the 57-year-old, who quit following a breakdown in his relationship with vice-chairman Ehab Allam, told The Yorkshire Post.
“I am being perfectly honest here when I say that is something I have definitely not wanted to see.
“I had so many extremely happy times at Hull and it has not been nice to see things fall away. A lot of hard work went into getting the club into a decent shape.
“Ehab and myself, unfortunately, had run our course. When the trust between two people breaks down there is no way back.
“For the sake of the football club in that sort of environment, there has to be a break. Us two being at loggerheads meant the club would always suffer. So, it was best for everyone that I left.
“He had a way of doing things that I didn’t agree with, but, at the end of the day, it is his club or his family’s club, I should say. But we couldn’t go on as we were so a break was needed.”
In contrast to his old club, Bruce’s Villa are upwardly mobile. Shock recent defeats against Bolton and QPR have hit hopes of clinching automatic promotion, but Easter offers a chance for Bruce’s men to eat into the significant points cushion currently enjoyed by second-placed Cardiff City.
Hull also need a win at the other end of the table, but that is unlikely to prevent the home fans rising as one to welcome back Bruce shortly before the tea-time kick-off. Such warmth is reciprocated.
Bruce added: “First and foremost, I enjoyed my time at Hull City. If I can have four years at Aston Villa that are anything like what we enjoyed at Hull then I will be happy.
“Maybe not the relegation, of course. But, even then, we bounced back. So, they were happy times. It helped having a very, very good team. That is shown by how some of those lads have gone on and done really well with England, Scotland, Liverpool, whoever.
“I look back now and wonder, ‘Will Hull ever see that quality of team again?’ I just don’t know. We had some special times together. Not just me, either, as there is a few going back this weekend.
“Robert Snodgrass, (Ahmed) Elmohamady and James Chester all did their bit in my time at Hull, as did staff such as Aggers (Steve Agnew), Gary Walsh and Stephen Clemence.
“Same with the fans, who were very good to me throughout my time at the club. They played their part as well.”
Bruce called time on his reign in the East Riding just a few weeks after leading Hull to promotion via the Championship play-off final.
Even allowing for the stress he was under amid that breakdown in relations with the club hierarchy, Bruce remains proud of that 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
“It is difficult dropping out of the Premier League and takes some turning around,” he said. “That was definitely the case when we went down at Hull.
“People think, ‘Oh, they will smash this league’. But it doesn’t work like that. Hull and Sunderland show us that much.
“For me, one of the most difficult times I have had in management came when newly relegated from the Premier League. Getting back on track is not easy.
“I had it at Birmingham and then again at Hull. Everyone is on a downer and needs lifting. Players also have to leave, often for financial reasons or because they don’t want to play in the Championship.
“At Hull we kept most of the squad together and managed to get back up. Okay, it was via the play-offs, but those big players we managed to keep hold of all delivered at Wembley.”
Match preview: Page 2