Dark days now in past as father and son get ready for Wembley

Alex Bruce celebrates a Hull City goal against Manchester United.
Alex Bruce celebrates a Hull City goal against Manchester United.
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TWO years ago, both Alex and Steve Bruce were in the doldrums.

Alex was counting the days until his Leeds United contract ended after 12 months that even now he describes as “horrific”, while his father was out of work after having been sacked by Sunderland midway through the 2011-12 season.

Perhaps, inevitably, the pair were prone to feel a bit sorry for themselves. “My poor Mum got it from both angles,” recalls Alex, now able to laugh about what was a deeply unhappy time for father and son.

Today, of course, things have changed dramatically. Not only is Steve back in work as Hull City manager but he is about to lead out a team at Wembley that could well include Alex.

History, therefore, beckons with no previous FA Cup final having had a father manage a team for which his son played.

“It is incredible how things work out,” said 29-year-old Alex. “Two years ago, things were looking bleak for both me and my dad.

“I was unhappy at Leeds. My second year was a nightmare. In 2010-11, I’d played quite a bit in a team that should really have qualified for the play-offs. But then, after that, (then manager) Simon Grayson completely dismissed me.

“That really hurt, and I was quite bitter about it, to be honest.

“At the same time, Dad was going through something similar because he had been sacked by Sunderland. Rejection is horrible, whether you are a player or a manager.

“So, we were both down in the dumps.

“But maybe what happened gave us both points to prove. And, after what dad went through after Sunderland, I will be delighted to see him walk out at Wembley as manager of a Cup finalist. I want to win the FA Cup more for him than myself.”

Bruce junior was a late signing during the summer that brought Steve to the KC Stadium. He had been expected to join David Beckham in the United States after receiving an offer from LA Galaxy.

But the move fell through, leaving Alex needing to find a new club after having been released on a free transfer by Leeds.

While the defender mulled over a number of offers, he asked Steve if there was a possibility of joining the Hull squad at a pre-season training camp in Portugal.

Steve, ever wary of accusations of nepotism, left it to the rest of the Tigers’ coaching staff to decide if a contract offer should be made to his son.

Sixty one appearances later – including 20 in the Premier League this term – and whoever did make that final decision on Alex has been proved right.

“I came to Hull with the bit between my teeth because of what had happened at Leeds,” said Alex, who made just eight starts in the 2011-12 campaign for the Elland Road club.

“I realise it is someone’s opinion and that is what football is about. But I felt I was good enough to do a job and yet he (Grayson) didn’t fancy me at all.

“Of course, that is how football is, and much better players than me have been rejected in their careers. It is how you deal with it that matters and I think I have dealt with it okay.

“Simon made a lot of changes. When you look back at that first season when Leeds were in the top six more or less all season, he chopped and changed it towards the end.

“Maybe he looks back on that now as a mistake because we had some very good players at the club back then.

“Coping can be difficult. I would drive into Thorp Arch (Leeds’s training ground) and think, ‘What is the point?’ Psychologically, life was tough.

“People go on about money that footballers earn and whatever, and how because someone earns ‘x’ amount of pounds, then they must be happy.

“But when you are a footballer, you live to step over that white line on a Saturday. To have that taken away kills you. It is a nightmare.

“I even had to spend Saturdays getting dragged around the shops, and no one wants that.

“It was horrific but probably something that most people go through at one time or other in their career.

“I had some pretty dark days towards the end at Leeds. I know just how short a player’s career can be and I just wasn’t playing. It was tough, very tough.

“It can make you, too, in a funny way. For me, it put fire in my belly. I would be thinking, ‘I am going to prove to you that you are wrong’.

“He had only signed me the previous year and that gave me a real point to prove. I came to Hull and used that as a motivational tool.

“In that respect, I can’t quite believe how well it has gone for me at Hull. I was close to going elsewhere when I left Leeds.

“LA Galaxy wanted me and, obviously, that appealed. There were also a couple of Championship clubs showing interest. Plus a team in Greece called PAOK.

“They were really keen, to be fair. But then the opportunity arose at Hull and I jumped at the chance. It felt right and I do feel I made the right decision.

“Things have gone really well and I am proud of that. How can it be better than how it has gone so far?”