Enough has been said about Steve Bruce the manager. He ultimately underachieved. He had no discernible philosophy. He had to go.
If the owners couldn’t already see that necessity, Villa Park made them aware on Tuesday night. It turned sour. The manager was forced out. But the way in which it happened the man did not deserve.
It is very easy to hurl abuse at anyone and everyone in a football environment. Players, officials, oppositions fans and even fellow supporters get more than their fair share from the average match-goer. Yet, most would agree it is the manager who is hit with the worst (the referee may disagree, but alas). This cultural norm that encompasses criticism, outrage and confrontation means the human side of it all is invariably overlooked. You need balls to stand on a touchline and listen to 30,000 people vent their anger at you and the vast majority of those 30,000 would probably struggle to deal with it themselves.
This isn’t to say that I disapprove of Tuesday’s atmosphere. That’s how the fans communicate their feelings with the owners in the modern game. Unfortunately, at this stage, it simply had to happen.
The issues arise with unacceptable comments on social media, abuse directed at Bruce’s family, and cabbages. Tweets wishing Bruce dead and vitriol aimed at his son Alex warrant nothing but total condemnation and are indicative of wider problems in society. With the infamous cabbage, it is less black and white, but more green than grey.
Initially, I found the whole event quite amusing. The absurdity of a cabbage thrown at a football match left most supporters with a wry smile on their face. I can understand that some would label anybody taking issue with it as pedantic, almost pathetic. Yet when considered from a different angle…
This is a man who lost both his parents in a short space of time and never wavered in his commitment to Aston Villa football club. A man who, by all accounts, is exemplary in nature. A man described as “grace personified” and “one of the best men you will ever meet”. A man who was seemingly respected and admired by virtually everybody he came into contact with.
And, while already facing a stadium full of resentment, an object is thrown at him. What that object was is besides the point. It is the ultimate disrespect.
So, the bizarrely comical can quickly become rather cruel.
It is regrettable that it had to end like this for Bruce after he had galvanised a dressing room and made B6 a fortress again. The players loved him, and this is best emphasised by the feelings of Jack Grealish. Arguably the most gifted footballer in the Championship has seemed stifled at times and would surely thrive playing a more attractive style of football under a different manager. Even so, judging by his tweet, he was gutted to see Bruce depart. This speaks volumes about the man that Bruce is.
After all this, it’s important to remember that we enjoyed many good moments during Bruce’s tenure. I sincerely hope that Steve enjoyed them too. He leaves with our best wishes.