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Sunday, May 12, 2002
Bruce wants to add humble pie to Delia's menu
By Peter Higgs

Steve Bruce cannot forget the only time he came face to face with Delia Smith.

He was trying to get his first job in football management and sat facing the TV cook and her fellow Norwich City directors at a job interview at Carrow Road.

Despite being a former crowd favourite with the East Anglian club and having an illustrious career with Manchester United, Bruce was turned down by Delia and her colleagues, who opted for the experience of Bruce Rioch instead.

Four years on and the Birmingham City manager, now in charge of his fifth club, cannot imagine a better occasion to show Norwich what they missed than in today's Division One play-off final in Cardiff.

Around 70,000 will pack into the Millennium Stadium for the fixture that has traditionally become the most nerve-racking of the domestic season, offering the biggest prize of all, a place in the Premiership worth an estimated £20million.

Bruce does not see it as a revenge mission and can summon up no bitterness towards Norwich, saving those feelings for his acrimonious split with Crystal Palace, which soured the early part of this season.

But, as he approaches a match that some regard as the biggest in Birmingham's 127-year history, he admits to being amazed by the irony of the situation.

As a combative central defender, Bruce joined Norwich for £70,000 from Gillingham in 1983, spent three years at Carrow Road and helped the club win the 1985 League Cup - even scoring the winner in the semi-final against Ipswich - before being sold to Manchester United for £800,000.

Bruce said: 'Someone suggested to me a few weeks ago that promotion would come down to beating Norwich because of the connections I've got. My backroom staff, John Benson, Keith Bertschin and Mark Bowen, all played for Norwich. It was the club that gave me my chance and both my kids were born there.

'And then I had my first managerial interview there. I was disappointed not to get that job, but something else always opens up. I believe your life is mapped out for you and things happen for a reason.

'It was fate that I wasn't intended to get the job, it's fate that we're meeting Norwich in the club's biggest match - and I'm hoping that we are fated to beat them.'

He moved to Birmingham following short spells at Sheffield United, Huddersfield, Wigan and Crystal Palace and admits: 'I was putting my neck on the block because I knew the criticism that would be levelled at me. Everything I had worked for in nearly 30 years in football was in danger of going down the pan.'

But since his arrival in December, the 41-year-old North-Easterner has rebuilt the team and sent them on a 12-match unbeaten run into the playoffs.

After losing at the semi-final stage for the past three seasons, Birmingham believe this is their year and that they can follow neighbours West Bromwich into the top flight. Bruce added: 'The best way I can respond to the criticism I've had is to put two fingers up on Sunday.'

But how Norwich would love to spoil the party. Seven years after relegation from the Premiership ended the most glorious spell in the club's history - in which they famously beat Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup - Nigel Worthington's side hit an eight-match unbeaten run to pip Burnley for the last play-off place and then outplayed Wolves in the semi-finals.

Delia Smith has promised to cook the Norwich players a special banquet if they can upset the odds today. Asked if porn baron David Sullivan had anything lined up for his Birmingham squad, Steve Bruce laughed louder than he had all week. It was a rare break in the tension.


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