Steve Bruce would have been in the Gallowgate End on Sunday as Newcastle launch their Premier League season had Gillingham not handed him his chance in professional football.
The Corbridge-born defender enjoyed a glittering playing career, which included a trophy-laden spell at Manchester United, after having to move away from the north east to set it in motion.
More than 40 years on, he will head for the dugout at St James’ Park as the Magpies’ head coach, and he admits it will be a surreal moment.
Bruce said: “There was a time last Sunday when I drove across with the missus when it was quite surreal and different and it was like, ‘Bloody hell, it’s here’.
“Listen, I’ve been very very fortunate over 40 years. I’ve managed to stay in the game. If I hadn’t got that opportunity at Gillingham, I’d have been in the Gallowgate on Sunday. It’s quite simple.
“To be given the opportunity is one of the great highlights of my career and I’ve been very, very fortunate.”
St James’ may not be as full as usual for Bruce’s first game at the helm with some fans planning to boycott the fixture in protest at owner Mike Ashley’s continuing tenure, and while he has found himself caught in the middle of a fierce backlash in the wake of predecessor Rafael Benitez’s departure, the 58-year-old has vowed to win over his critics.
He said: “Newcastle didn’t win for 10 games last year. The supporters stayed patient. I don’t think I’ll get that long!
“We hope we get off to a start. We’ve got an incredibly difficult start, no more so than Arsenal, but whoever the manager is at Newcastle, you’ve got to deal with the pressure, otherwise you don’t sit here.
“All you can ask for is that they enjoy what they see and they can see the club trying to move forward, hopefully win them over, for those who are still in doubt.
“Rafa earned the right after getting the club into the Premier League. He earned that right. Over a period of time, if we get enough results, hopefully I’ll get that sort of respect they’ve got for him.”
Bruce, who added Emil Krafth and Andy Carroll to his summer signings on deadline day, revealed he will seek to keep the core of his team together by opening contract talks with the likes of Martin Dubravka, Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden.
He said: “The ones who’ve been here, they deserve a big pat on the back. They deserve new deals which we need to tie them up to. I think [managing director] Lee [Charnley] has already spoken to two or three.”