A PENNY for the thoughts of Steve Bruce this morning. Actually, £5m for them, which is one of the more remarkable aspects of a saga that, even by Newcastle United’s barely-believable standards, has stretched the bounds of credulity to their limits.

Bruce’s departure from Sheffield Wednesday has provoked an understandably furious reaction from the supporters of the club he is walking out of, sparking accusations of treachery given that the Hillsborough hierarchy held the job open for him in January as he took time out to recover from skin cancer surgery and mourn the death of both of his parents.

Yet almost uniquely in a footballing context, the anger inflamed by Bruce’s departure from one place is nothing compared to the scale of the reaction that is about to be unleashed when he arrives at another. A traitor for leaving Sheffield Wednesday, Bruce will be called all that and more when he signs on the dotted line at St James’ Park later this week.

Whether he likes it or not, Bruce’s decision to replace Rafael Benitez will be interpreted amongst large swathes of the Newcastle fanbase as an undisguised show of support for the Mike Ashley regime. Bruce will be portrayed as Ashley’s latest patsy – a Geordie Alan Pardew – so desperate to secure a return to the Premier League that he is willing to sign over his soul to the devil, or at least the figure that plenty of Newcastle supporters regard as his closest relative.

Sources close to Bruce insist he is aware of what lies in store for him when he takes up his new position, and is confident he can ride out the initial storm. Leading Newcastle has always been his dream job, and having twice turned down the opportunity to take over on Tyneside when he was in charge of Birmingham City, he is not prepared to pass up what will almost certainly be his final chance to lead his boyhood team.

That’s fine, but while previous boycotts and demonstrations have proved to be something of a damp squib, the anecdotal evidence is that the current mood on Tyneside will not be reversed by a couple of early-season victories.

Social media, an admittedly unscientific gauge of public opinion, has been engulfed by negative reactions to what has been happening at Newcastle this summer, and the fact that a host of different supporters’ groups have joined forces to promote a boycott of the opening home game against Arsenal underlines the depth of the frustration that has been brewing since the second half of last season.

Earlier this week, Newcastle put their remaining season tickets on general sale, with their website revealing that 12,083 were unsold. At a similar stage of last summer, the number of unsold season tickets was hovering at just above 5,000, tangible proof of a hardening of the mood against Ashley and the current regime.

Bruce will have to come up with a way of countering that, but he is starting from a position of immense weakness given that he is not Benitez. In light of the rumours that were sweeping around at the start of the summer, it does not help that he is not Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger either.

Instead, he is someone who has not managed in the Premier League for the last four years. Forget the suggestions that Bruce will not be accepted at Newcastle because of his status as a former Sunderland manager, that is a complete red herring. Bruce always felt his Northumberland upbringing prevented him from getting a fair crack of the whip on Wearside – something most Sunderland supporters would strongly dispute – and he will not be ostracised on Tyneside just because he spent two years at the Stadium of Light.

Instead, he will be on the back foot from the off because of his track record, and his image as something of a managerial dinosaur in a world where the next generation of bosses are already making their mark. Having been heavily linked with the likes of Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard and Mikel Arteta, it feels as though Newcastle are having to settle for second best when they are appointing someone whose two previous jobs prior to joining Sheffield Wednesday saw him suffer relegation with Hull City and fail to win promotion with Aston Villa.

Bruce will no doubt point out that, at 58, he is actually eight months younger than Benitez. It feels as though he belongs to a bygone age though, and whereas Benitez had a Champions League victory on his CV as well as spells at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Bruce’s biggest managerial successes came when he won the Championship play-off final with both Birmingham and Hull. From the Champions League to the Championship, it is easy to frame a narrative that suggests that is how Newcastle are now happy to set their sights.

Unfair? Perhaps. Bruce is taking on a job that plenty of people have balked at, and in a different set of circumstances, it is possible to envisage Newcastle supporters welcoming someone with a lifelong affinity to their club. The brutal reality, though, is that Bruce is walking into a firestorm. If he can survive unscathed, he will have achieved something that currently looks beyond him.


SUNDAY was a historic day for English cricket, but it was also another landmark moment in the history of Durham CCC.

Ben Stokes, England’s match-winner with the bat, joined Durham’s academy at the age of 15 and was nurtured into one of the best players in the world under the watchful eye of the talismanic Geoff Cook. Liam Plunkett, who starred with the ball, also spent his formative years in Durham’s academy, and played for the first team for almost a decade before moving on to Yorkshire.

Mark Wood, another key component of England’s World Cup-winning line-up, made his Durham debut at the age of 21 in 2011, but the Riverside influence on events at Lord’s did not end there.

It has been somewhat lost amid the drama of the final, but two members of the New Zealand side are also indebted to Durham for a big chunk of their cricketing development. Tom Latham spent the 2010 and 2013 seasons with Durham’s academy – he also played for South Shields and Gateshead Fell – while Henry Nicholls was part of Durham’s youth set-up in 2011 as he studied at Durham University.

It is almost as if the county knows a thing or two about how to turn promising young talents into world-class stars. Perhaps someone should tell the ECB…