Our accent has been our identity for centuries. George MacDonald Fraser, a Cumbrian Scot avers that Shakespeare wrote his Harry Hotspur lines with his famous Northumbrian accent in mind. He quotes (in his book “The Steel Bonnets”, the history of the border reivers) one of the Tyneside Marcher-Lords saying “I never sold none” (concerning some disputed missing horses) and points out that southerners would confuse a Northumbrian with a Scot out of ignorance and prejudice, not because we have the same accent. A 19th Century Parliamentary Committee claimed not to understand George Stephenson, the man from Tyneside who transformed the world with his instinctive engineering genius. The developments necessary to make life better, food cheaper and manufacturing more efficient were delayed by their stupid snobbery. The posh Sir Humphrey Davy could not believe that George Stephenson’s pitman’s lamp was better than his. How could an ignorant northerner be cleverer than him? He was though. In the 1970’s a Benfield School kid was rejected by an Oxbridge College as they claimed “we thought he said he was getting 3 E’s”; instead of the “A’s” that he said, and subsequently got, but didn’t go there. This cultural aggression is from the same dark place that saw kilts banned, Gaelic banned, natives “civilised” and imperial gin and tonic snobbery reign to this day.
Another Benfield School kid who left in the 1970’s didn’t get the chance to be rejected by an Oxbridge College; he played football. Despite his own doubts about his ability and physique; despite his homesickness and the 300 mile distance; he knew it was the shipyards or football. He chose football, even if it was Gillingham, even if he missed his mam and dad, missed the familiar voices and home, he started his career as a little quiet kid a long way from home. George Caulkin has a fine article in “The Athletic” about this. Steve Bruce’s career took him from Gillingham to Norwich to Manchester then, as a manager, to Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Sunderland, Wigan, Hull and Sheffield again. Those places all have a distinct accent. He is perhaps, Benfield Schools highest achieving footballer in terms of medals, cups and titles. His Man Utd. shirt is on their wall as another one who got away. Then he got the chance to come home to Newcastle. He admits he dropped Sheffield Wednesday in the clarts for that chance. Despite following Rafa, despite working for Ashley, despite the warnings from people who knew what he was walking into, he came home. The call of his homeland was more important than the morality of keeping a contract of employment in Yorkshire. I agree with that. It’s called loyalty.
Many of us had to move away from home for work, education or family. That separation affects us all in different ways. Your Gran would send the Sunday Sun down, you’d treasure a familiar accent when you heard one. But you couldn’t shake the feeling that either your city wasn’t good enough to keep you, or you weren’t good enough to stay. It’s the same feeling that can overpower any emigrant, especially in the pre-internet, social media days. Then you’d never see Newcastle on the telly unless “The Likely Lads” was being repeated. Emigration can make you more “whey ye bugger exhibitionist” or smooth off your accent so you can communicate with their new workmates, friends, partners or even your own children. Accents are not inherited, your kids will learn theirs in the playground, wherever that is, and some parents (like the Donald brothers from Viz) will force their kids into “elocution” to unlearn their native tongue. A mother tells her daughter off for saying “ah man stobbitt” (stop it), not because she is any way ashamed of any facet of her city and people but because she “didn’t want people to think she was ignorant in the future” Because she knows ignorant people judge you on your accent. Still, to this very day…
I don’t know Steve Bruce at all. I’ve never met him or been in his company. The people who have that I’ve met all say what a “nice feller” or lovely lad” he is; he doesn’t seem to have the savage temper or alpha-male intimidation or inscrutable scowl that other managers have had here (most of them useless). But I’ve no doubt Steve Bruce had to moderate his accent over the years to be understood. His job entails communication; as a centre-half you spend your time shouting and organising; as a manager it’s the same. You don’t have time to be doing the “yer what?” as someone doesn’t clear the ball, or track back, or fetch a cup of tea.
So I get that people may not rate him professionally. They have that right, although I’d say that luck, decency and hard work will always deliver something positive – and he seems to have all of those last season. I get that they look at his record at smaller clubs than Newcastle United and don’t see a plethora of success, although we’ve had title-winning managers who failed, local heroes who failed, ex and future England managers who failed (not Bobby like!) and far worse men, who’ve had more credit given. I understand the Rafa context; we all do. But I met Rafa; he described his team as “we”, but he didn’t mean Newcastle United his then employer. He meant “his team of coaches and assistants” that had been together for decades. Rafa’s football team is maybe Real Madrid. Steve Bruce’s team is Newcastle United. The team he supported as a boy, the team he was a ballboy for at the League Cup Final in 1976. His team, his people; us.
Of course he doesn’t have the same profile, fame, and experience as Rafa. The insults we all learned when he was Sunderland manager are easy to remember. I get that he has a broken nose and carries a bit of weight. George says he always worried about his physicality. He doesn’t have the same ability to march us into battle like Keegan; he doesn’t inspire like Bobby, he doesn’t project implacable obsession like Rafa, but…. maybe we should support him a bit though? We didn’t have the choice of who our “Head Coach” would be; Rafa chose us, his contract was not renewed, and someone had to do it. Am I saying it should be Klopp, or Pep Guardiola? Of course, but they wouldn’t come. Again, read George Caulkin’s brilliant article, “Riding the black and white tiger” for a professional insight into what managing Newcastle United is and remember Richard Dinnis, John Carver, Joe Kinnear, and Steve “Schteeve” MacLaren ,(maybe some justifiable accent mockery there..). Might we try to support one of our own whilst acknowledging he’s not everyone’s favourite…like Jack Charlton, another local favourite who didn’t fit everyone’s vision of good football. No one complained about Jack’s accent though…
Attacking his accent though, it’s one for the psychiatrists maybe….Is it his Geordie accent they don’t like? Don’t people understand that it’s changed cos he’s worked away for 40 odd years? Do they conflate his accent with his intellect? Do they think he’s tried to polish his elocution up to appeal to “polite society”? Are they seriously telling us that they believe his own “working-class East-End Newcastle shipyard origins that’s picked up various bits over the years” in many different parts of England is wrong? Would they prefer he get lessons from Albert in Wooler instead of looking for a centre-half? Are they falling into the age-old trap that believes some expert from the south must be clever because he talks cockney/posh? Is this a manifestation of self-hatred? From angry men who have been complaining for decades whilst nothing has changed. From people who “want success” but don’t invest positivity in their own community’s football team - Newcastle United. Who claim that not going to the match, (or going to non-league with pitchside pints), makes them “better supporters” than the people who dutifully continue to turn up at Gallowgate with no expectation except hope that things can change. The truth is that Newcastle United have seen this summer that the entire Premier League, the government, the media and all other football clubs and their fans are our enemies. We have enemies aplenty. We keep saying we need to unite; to stick together in adversity….then we clobber our own managers accent? Seriously?
Seriously, give over man. If you must, criticise the mans words and deeds, go after his record, his methods and his personnel, but leave his accent and appearance alone. Both are authentic and show the man’s scars; his origins, history, work and loyalty to Newcastle. We should respect that at least. And we should stop criticising working men’s accents. It’s not fair.