HE has won Premier League titles, FA Cup trophies and European crowns. He played for the most successful club side of the last three decades and has managed in England’s top two divisions for the last 20 years. Had you asked him two months ago, Steve Bruce would have said he had achieved everything he ever wanted to achieve in football.

But when he walks out of the tunnel at St James’ Park tomorrow afternoon, with the roars from the Gallowgate End rolling down the banks of the Tyne to Walker and Wallsend, the hinterlands of his youth, he will pause to reflect on the immensity of a moment he never thought would come.

He came close to joining Newcastle as a player, holding surreptitious meetings with Willie McFaul in the car park outside the old St James’ Park, but despite having honed his skills at the fabled breeding ground of the Wallsend Boys’ Club, he never got to pull on the black-and-white jersey that had always meant so much.

As a young manager making a name for himself at Birmingham City, he turned down the opportunity to return to his roots, fearful of treading on the toes of his mentor and inspiration, Sir Bobby Robson, who was in the process of making a messy exit from the Magpies. For years, that was his biggest regret.

This summer, though, while sitting in the Portuguese sun on a training camp with Sheffield Wednesday, he received the phone call that would turn his world upside down. Finally, at the age of 58, Newcastle wanted him again.

Sadly, it is too late for his parents, Sheenagh and Joe, who both passed away last year. Having winced at the criticism that was meted out to their son while he was manager of Sunderland – Joe attended his first game at the Stadium of Light, a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea, and vowed never to return – they would have loved to see him back in his home region, in charge of their club.

Other family and friends will be there tomorrow though – sisters, aunties, uncles, nieces – and they will witness a moment that for all the bitterness and acrimony that still attaches itself to Newcastle United, will leave a lump in the throat. This has been a week for homecomings, and Bruce still struggles to believe he has been able to return to where he feels, has always felt, he belongs.

“There was a time last weekend, when I was driving across the city with the missus, when it hit me and it was suddenly quite surreal. It was like, ‘Bloody hell, it’s here,” said Bruce. “Listen, I’ve been very, fortunate over 40 years. I’ve managed to stay in the game, but if I hadn’t got that first opportunity at Gillingham, I’d have been in the Gallowgate on Sunday. It’s quite simple, to be given this opportunity is one of the great highlights of my career. I’ve been very, very fortunate and achieved some fantastic things, but this is as good as it gets.”

‘Home Newcastle’, so the song goes. Bruce is loving the opportunity to revisit some of his old haunts, revelling in the warmth of the reception he has received. Clearly, it would be wrong to suggest that everything is sweetness and light – an anti-Mike Ashley boycott is planned tomorrow - but Bruce has been pleasantly surprised by the reaction he has been garnered. Even the normally unappetising prospect of having to change a tyre has been a pleasurable experience.

“I had to get a tyre fixed at Kwik Fit yesterday,” he said. “There were a few funny faces – ‘What are you doing in here? – but it was great. He did it for nowt, but he wants a pair of size eight boots!”

Yet as he knows only too well, that will not last. Last season, Newcastle failed to win any of their opening ten games, yet Rafael Benitez was still praised. That will not happen with Bruce.

“Whoever the manager is at Newcastle, you’ve got to deal with the pressure,” he said. “Otherwise, you don’t sit here. Like any manager, you’ve got to get results instantly. You have to get a few results, and quickly, if you don’t, there’s no real honeymoon period for anybody. I certainly don’t expect one.”

That is the harsh reality of football, but for a moment or two tomorrow, Bruce will allow himself to put the practicalities of his profession to one side. Just for a second, he will be the ‘raggy-arsed Geordie kid’ viewing St James’ with awe. The cathedral on the hill. Finally, his home.