You wouldn’t have noticed this at the weekend, in fact - you couldn’t have. When Villa pretended to be Barcelona for the first fifteen minutes of the weekend’s game against Hull, you could have probably have been forgiven for ascending to a higher plain and basking in Nirvāṇa. Your third eye was opened by Gabby Agbonlahor (and not Kula Shaker or a trip to Maga).
Then this happened.
️⚽️ Bruce Cam: Gaffer celebrates Gabby Agbonlahor opener… Villa 1-1 Hull 10-minute highlights http://bit.ly/2wjeHDO #PartOfThePride #AVFCPosted by Aston Villa FC on Sunday, August 6, 2017
The moment? It was Steve Bruce letting go. Much like that candid photo of him hitting the chippy at warp-speed from training, he was lost in the moment. He was himself. There was no bravado, or ‘softly spoken Steve moments’ like the ones on AVTV where he says ‘well you know’ and ‘box clever’ and ‘the boy Jack’ a lot. He was Bruce, Steve - football manager. He was the living embodiment of ‘Dad’. The middle-aged man just living life, unknown he has been captured and plastered all over the internet. He was shock, horror, embarrassment, joy, glee in an ‘I don’t give a short f**k about what you think, I’m off on one’ eight seconds that showed us the man behind the belly (or hot cross bun arse, as he disgustingly described himself). It seems apt to honour the man by talking at length about an twenty-second video clip.
Let’s start off with the still.
It’s actually impressive how solemn Steve Bruce looks here. This is key ‘Dad’. He’s walked in and has said his hellos to his mates. There’s no scene, no commotion. He’s just up the bar, or standing still. Looking cool. Composed. Collected.
He looks almost too reserved, clutching the bottle with both hands? It’s because he knows that a goal in the Holte End at this point would start his season off in the worst possible way, while a goal up the North Stand will do the opposite.
Fate hangs in the balance, as it did when ‘The Grand Tour’ came back to Amazon, when nobody knew if it was going to be great and really stupidly offensive. Steve Bruce, like fans of the TGT and Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘comedy’ (see: physical abuse) know that people just need to lighten up, especially the Villa fans who will quite literally bay for his blood when the team lose. Everything is on the edge.
Split seconds later, you can make out Bruce whispering words out into the wind. He sees Gabby dart past at what Bruce claims to be ‘lightning speed.’ He forms a shape with his lips and ‘go on’ emerges. Much like ‘go-faster stripes’, it’s a pointless gesture. It won’t make his son score a worldy in a under-sevens match on Hackney Marshes, and it won’t make Gabby do anything else - but Bruce doesn’t care. He’s the master of his own destiny here and if he wants to say ‘go on’ when everybody is in fact ‘going on’, you know what? He’ll f**king well do it.
The doubt returns after that quiet moment of confidence. He raises his arm in silent celebration, before pulling it back in, and thrusting it back out again. Return to the bar. He’s been passed over, multiple times. He knows what to do, he’ll put cash in his hand and stick it in front of the barperson’s face. That’ll do the trick, he thinks to himself, whilst the barperson mentally makes up the face that Bruce is the last person getting served. They walk past, he sticks his arm out, they walk back and serve a youngin. They walk back, he sticks his arm out and they serve an elder. He shakes his head. Silent rage. Silent hope.
Then it goes off. It’s done. It’s happened. He’s lost the plot. An explosion of ecstasy happens and that bottle that filled a maternal role for Bruce as a safety blanket is destroyed. It’s off to the moon, it’s gone. The ball ripples to the net and all Bruce thinks to do is launch a 500ml bottle of Volvic into the stands. See you later. We don’t see the bottle again.
That’s not all folks.
We’ve reached peak ‘Dad’. This is the wedding anniversary, the BBQ, the disco. It’s Torremolinos ‘06, Costa Teguise ‘09 and Torremolinos ‘11 all over again. Ever the patient man, he waits for his moment and releases the tension of the family holiday. The first few bars of Dexys Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express’s 1982 hit song ‘Come on Eileen’ break in.
There’s a wink in his eye and a pop in his collar. He’s off and you won’t stop this runaway train. When he hits the dancefloor, what will he perform? A teflon-tearing kneeslide? A bit of a shuffle? Will he point at the DJ and sing? It doesn’t matter. He’s found his youth again.
‘Come on Eileen, oh I swear (what he means)’
‘At this moment, you mean everything’
‘You in that dress, my thoughts I confess’
‘Verge on dirty’
‘Ah, come on Eileen’
This is the Bruce that the Costa del Sol fears. This is the real Bruce. Steve Bruce unchained.
That’s not it though. Who’s scored? It’s only Gabby. Steve Bruce’s son, basically. For all the love and second chances he gets.
Note that Bruce is positioned against an advert for Ginsters Pastries. This has not been lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.
We need this in HD. This is a renaissance painting. Steve Bruce frantically clapping his manchild of an adopted son home after a goal. Great job Gabby, great job. This picture is truly made by the fact someone actually bought last season’s shirt and slapped Gabby on the back of it, like Gabby wasn’t borderline strangling the football club that this person loves. Blind faith in children eh? Steve Bruce is still clapping. It’s said he’s still mentally clapping now. Nothing brings joy to a father than his offspring completing mediocre tasks in the most basic of manners. Still, it’s a job well done. It’s unleashed Dad Bruce - the type of person who might err to bring on Chris Samba as a striker because he’s a ‘biggun’. I don’t think we will see Dad Bruce confined, ever again.
He walks back, victorious - with the type of confidence that only middle-aged men can carry. His arms swing from side to side, his gait is unbalanced and he’ll look over his shoulder. Consider this territory marked. Well, for about forty or so minutes. Then Hull scored and Steve Bruce went back to worrying. Post-Hull goal is not the Steve Bruce we need. We need the Bruce who doesn’t give a single thought to how anyone perceives him.