Steve Bruce is looking forward to his first FA Cup final as a manager. Richard Sutcliffe talks to the Tigers manager about a day he has waited 16 years for to arrive.
SOME Cup final traditions are perhaps best allowed to fade away.
Take the Cup final song that each finalist used to make and then perform awkwardly on ‘Top of the Pops’. For every ‘Blue is the Colour’ or ‘Marching On Together’, songs that quickly passed into the terrace songbook and are still given a weekly airing today, there is an Anfield Rap or some dirge involving Chas ’n Dave.
And then there was ‘Come on You Reds’. Written by Status Quo and featuring the Manchester United squad, the 1994 song included such catchy lines as, ‘Just keep your bottle and use your heads, for 90 minutes we’ll let them know, it’s Man United here we go’.
It also gave a name check to the entire United team, which is how the manager of Hull City came to not only perform on a No 1 record 20 years ago but also have his own name sung by pop-pickers everywhere.
“All I will say to anyone who takes the mickey,” starts Bruce in response to a cheeky enquiry from The Yorkshire Post as to whether he had been tempted to return to the microphone once the Tigers had booked their own trip to Wembley last month. “Is that to get a No 1 hit today, you need something like 35,000 sales.
“We got north of 500,000 with ‘Come On You Reds’.
“It was actually good fun to take part in and sing. Back then, it was part and parcel of the day. The world has changed since then, though. You don’t buy records for a start. It is all downloads.
“So, there is no song this time. In fact, we were lucky to get a new suit.”
Bruce is smiling, as well he might after steering City to the best season in their history. A first Cup final appearance is obviously the headline achievement but that should take nothing away from the 16th place finish Hull managed in the Premier League, an improvement on the previous best of 17th in 2008-09.
Hitting the high notes may have been largely beyond Bruce and the rest of the Red Devils squad when recording their No 1 two decades ago but the Tigers, even allowing for such a poor end to the league campaign, have certainly done it in a footballing sense this term.
No wonder, therefore, that Bruce is in a happy mood ahead of tomorrow’s Wembley showdown with Arsenal. He knows his team but is yet to pass the details on to the City players. Nor will he before the day itself, just as his great mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, did ahead of the four FA Cup finals that United contested during Bruce’s time at Old Trafford.
Bruce played in the first three, earning a winners’ medal in 1990 and 1994 but losing in 1995 against Everton. He missed the 1996 final with Liverpool and the memory of that day is why the 53-year-old will know just how upset those City players who miss out tomorrow will be.
“I didn’t make the 1996 team and it hurt,” said Bruce, the smile gone from his face momentarily. “So, I know what those who miss out will be going through. And that will make it the hardest part of the entire week for me.
“I had expected to play (against Liverpool), too. I had played 34 games that season and missed just two or three weeks. I was also captain of the club.
“But I think it was Sir Alex’s way of saying, ‘Steve, thanks very much but your time is up’. I look back on it now and respect that. He was the manager and gets paid to make decisions like that. Now that is me.
“No matter when I name the team – be it on a Tuesday or a Saturday – it will hurt. I have said to the older players often enough that the hardest part is picking an 11.
“How did I react to being dropped? No, I didn’t do a Gazza. But I felt like it. I was told on the pitch before the game by Sir Alex.
“There is a method in that, too. If you tell people on a Tuesday, for example, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday those boys who missed out are going to be absolutely distraught.
“Whatever way you tell them, you have to tell it how it is and be as honest as you can. And you hope the respect they have for you will make them understand.
“I know for those 11, it will be one of the greatest days of their lives. For the other 12 or 13, though, there will be disappointment. And I am the man who will disappoint them.”
It is not just the announcement of his starting XI that Bruce intends to ape his managerial mentor when planning for tomorrow’s Wembley visit.
He added: “Like most managers, the one thing Sir Alex stressed was for the need to be relaxed. Motivation shouldn’t be needed.
“If a player can’t get himself up for a Cup final then he has no chance. So, as a manager, he would be relaxed and hope that made us relaxed.
“And stress to the players that they have to enjoy it. A final can pass in an instant so you have to revel in it. And make sure you win, which is how he always finished his team-talks.
“He is right as to really enjoy a final you have to win. That approach didn’t change as we went along at United. It was the same approach for each final, mainly because he realised you don’t need big Churchillian speeches before games like a Cup final. You don’t need to wind anyone up.”
Hull’s favourite musical sons, The Housemartins, may once have released a debut album titled ‘London 0 Hull 4’, but a repeat scoreline tomorrow is unlikely. A Tigers victory, though, cannot be ruled out, as Bruce looks ahead to the pinnacle of a coaching career that began in 1998.
He said: “It has been 15 or 16 years of management to get to this point and, as we saw with the semi-final, Wembley is a wonderful day out. But a final will be better.
“I am out to enjoy it, as best I can. But we are up against one of this country’s biggest clubs – a really good side who have just hit a bit of form and got their best players back.
“Leading the team out and all the pomp is what the FA Cup is all about. When you do walk out of the tunnel, it is usually red hot and days like that are what you are in management for.
“I am determined to enjoy the entire day. Who knows? Is it our year? Can our name be on the Cup?”