How Ken Brown nearly paid price for Norwich City bargain Bruce
Signing Steve Bruce almost cost Ken Brown a punch on the nose.
Norwich City's former League Cup-winning manager is looking forward to a special reunion this evening when Bruce brings his Sunderland side to Carrow Road bidding to wreck his old club's bid for a first Premier League home win of the season.
Bruce arrived from Gillingham in the summer of 1984 for a tribunal-set fee of �135,000 – a bargain even by the more financially prudent times of yesteryear. By the time Bruce departed for Manchester United for a fee six times greater, the Geordie had a League Cup winners' medal and promotion to the First Division on his CV. Plus the player-of-the-year for his displays during City's Milk Cup-winning season of 1985. A sound investment in anyone's books.
'I'll never forget it,' says Brown. 'Because a couple of years or more later after Stevie had established himself and was doing very, very well I went back to Gillingham to see another game and look at some more players and a fella came up to me and said, 'Ken, how nice to see you again. Our chairman is dying to see you.' So I said, 'Is he – that'll be nice.' I went into the boardroom and the chairman came up to me, grabbed me by the front of the coat and pinned me up against the wall, and said, 'You bloody pinched him, didn't you?' I was looking down at him by this point. I said, 'What are you on about?' and he said, 'Stevie Bruce.' So I replied, 'Well you can have him back – he is useless.' But at that stage I think he realised I was joking.'
Bruce's trophy cabinet swelled further after leaving the Canaries during a stint synonymous with the start of Sir Alex Ferguson's Old Trafford revolution.
'It takes you back,' says Brown. 'I saw him play three times when he was at Gillingham. In those three games, he had one bad one and two fairly good ones. People thought he wasn't one to play against a top team, but I remember they played in the cup. They drew away, but didn't play too well at home in the replay. I decided to go back in for him and it was a fee settled by a tribunal.
'I suppose the measure of it was he went on from us to a club who paid a lot more money that we bought him for – which should be a measure of how well he did for us. He is a great fella. Him and Dave Watson were a great partnership and it was always great to be with him and Dave. He hasn't changed. He is a winner. Perhaps he doesn't show it as much when he loses as some other people.'
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Bruce has guided Birmingham City into the Premier League and managed to keep Wigan Athletic there during a varied managerial career to date, but arrives back in Norfolk seeking to build on a much-needed league win against Stoke.
'He has had a bit of flak recently but he is the type who will come through that,' says Brown, who draws one clear parallel between tonight's two opponents. 'Losing the local derby when they played Newcastle (earlier in the season) is like us and Ipswich, only probably worse. He'll be alright, Stevie. He is that type of character who will battle through like he always did and I can't see that ever changing.
'Funnily enough, I was talking with someone just the other day about various players we had here who have gone on into management and coaching. He is the sort of character you could see going on into management. He has had some success as a manager and long may it continue. I brought Ian Culverhouse to the club as well and its great to see him back now at Norwich and he seems to have a good understanding with Paul (Lambert).'
Brown echoes the City hierarchy's stated ambitions for this season – but remains suitably diplomatic over tonight's potential outcome.
'If they can hold their own in this division this season I think they will have done terrific,' says Brown. 'Even if they finish fourth from bottom. It is a tough league. It won't be an easy game. It's hard to say. Steve has just hit a bit of form and that is going to encourage him. Hopefully, we'll see a very interesting game. I shall be feeling for Stevie, but also I will be feeling for Norwich. I see him now and again and we phone each other. I saw him last season when he was down at West Ham. It was nice to meet up with him there.'