UNCOMPROMISING centre half, Manchester United legend and hard-nosed manager are normally phrases used to best describe Steve Bruce.
But the under-fire Newcastle United manager is also a canny and prolific writer, penning three crime thriller books published between 1999 and 2000.
Bruce was managing Huddersfield Town, when he wrote the epic trilogy Striker! Sweeper! And Defender!
The books which Bruce himself called “A laughing stock”, are semi-autobiographical – the lead character is honestly called Steve Barnes.
And the plots and the literature itself may be laughable too.
However, somehow they’ve become cult classics that have fetched up to £200 on eBay and Amazon, if you can find the rarities that is.
The first novel, originally costing £12, was the 127-page Striker!
Written in the first person, it puts you straight into the action of Barnes, manager of the fictitious Leddersford Town – a small, historic club aiming for Premier League promotion.
It opens with Barnes finding young Irish striker Pat Duffy stabbed to death in the dressing room.
The front cover depicts this scene beautifully, except for the fact that Duffy looks like a giant super-imposed on a football pitch.
Suspected of murder, he has to clear his name – so he inexplicably decides to launch his own investigation, somehow while juggling a football career.
He’s faced with Irish mobsters, and also becomes a target for a sniper in the stands while managing his side in a top-of-the-table clash against Fulham in the books’ finale, neatly wrapped in four pages.
Weirdly, Bruce loves mentioning facts about Barnes’ car all the way through the story, even when he’s on a discreet follow.
“I drive a Jaguar XJ8, 3.2, the sports version,” he writes.
“It’s a very nice motor; 3.2 litre AJ-V8 all alloy engine. Classic colour interior theme, fluted leather seats, contrast colour keyed facia, figured walnut veneer.
“As good a motor as you can hope to drive. But not a car you’d choose when trying to follow a Ford saloon in a discreet manner…my registration, license and all other statutory details are fully up to date.”
Later, he writes: “I locked the car with central locking. The XJ8 has a food security system with ultrasonic intrusion sensing, radio frequency remote control, and engine immobiliser. All necessary: this is a desirable motor.”
The thriller has however become an unlikely classic on Amazon.
One tongue-in-cheek reviewer wrote: “This is a book so bad it is good, dare I say great. It’s bursting out its bindings with moral truths.”
Another said: “That Bruce has spent so much of his life on the football pitch and not behind his typewriter should be a tragedy for literature.”
The follow-up was Sweeper! – a tale that takes us through a web of intrigue featuring Yugoslavian warlords, lesbian prostitutes, Nazi-hunting spies and more.
Again, the murder plot centres around Leddersford Town, who must be the unluckiest club in the football world.
One Amazon reviewer wrote of Sweeper!: “One cannot do justice to how effective and gripping Bruce’s writing style is.
“He is truly a modern day Arthur Conan Doyle. Wow!”
Their beloved groundsman, Sam Milton is murdered, so Barnes (again) takes it upon himself to solve the crime.
More bizarre set plays follow, including a moment where Barnes is kidnapped by British Secret Service agents who ask him to go undercover.
He refuses, saying that his country never wanted him and that he didn’t get an international caps so he wouldn’t be suitable for the role.
Of course, Bruce, himself, never played for England.
Proving Barnes has still got it, he manages to take out a villain with a trusted slide tackle in Sweeper!
The last book of the trilogy was Defender! again featuring Steve Barnes.
Its only review on Amazon states: “Does for the English language what the Luftwaffe did to Coventry.”
Derry-born writer Seamas O’Reilly, a self-confessed Bruce literary expert, heralded the series of books.
He published a review of Striker! in 2015, and by the end of the year a copy was listed on eBay for £200.
“I loved it. There was just so much mad stuff,” he told the BBC about reading Striker!
“The book is filled with kidnappings, betrayal and suspense.
“Near the finish, a sniper shoots a football out from under the foot of Steve Barnes as he’s standing in the technical area at the end of a game.”
Seamas called Sweeper! the “Magnus opus” but Defender! was “disappointing” and “incident-free.”
“There are so many strange decisions made in the writing of these books, such as the way the world is constructed,” he continued.
“So, for instance, there’s fake names that stand in for real places, like Leddersford for Huddersfield and Mulcaster for Manchester.
“But, he also talks about Manchester United and mentions Alex Ferguson.
“It’s like reading a Batman comic where he takes a train from Gotham to New York.”
At first, Bruce’s son Alex denied that his father had written them.
However, he made a dramatic confession on Twitter later to BT Sport commentator Darren Fletcher.
And back in 2016, when managing Aston Villa, Bruce revealed the books were absolutely genuine.
“Have you read them?” he replied when asked by Sky Sports if there were anymore in the pipeline.
“Go and read them and you’ll understand why.”