Steve Bruce: no oil painting? Quinny and Keano know why

Owen Lennox* is a Sunderland supporter with unusual gifts. He is an author, as recently demonstrated on these pages with the story of his novel touching on Wearside history, he is an art teacher and he is an accomplished painter. Here, he describes how an attempted little sideline – painting SAFC figureheads in the hope they’d fork out to own the resulting masterpieces – slid slowly from the canvas …

As a practising portrait painter, when the commissions are few and far between I need to keep my eye in.

I am also an honorary member of the three little pigs’ society; I need to keep the big bad wolf from the door.

In order to kill two birds with one stone I use a ruse employed by the late John Bratby, he used to make portraits of famous people then contact them, on occasion they would buy their portrait, and this has proved a moderately successful ploy for me until it comes to famous footballers or managers.

I am a Sunderland supporter through and through and when the Mighty Quinn managed The Lads, I thought a suitable rendition of the saintly Niall would fetch me in a few sorely needed shekels.

Mr Quinn, great bloke though he is, declined my offer due to a surfeit of humility.

On the managerial front, too, he had been modest enough to recognise his limitations, dispensing with his own services to bury the hatchet and bring in his fellow countryman (and World Cup 2002 sparring partner) Roy Keane.

I, like many others, had great expectations of Keano and he put together a fair enough side that took us to the Premier League.

A painting of the grand man was swiftly dispatched. And as with the Quinn portrait, the return on my labour of love was barren, though perhaps not this time due to humility on the part of Mr Keane.

Enter the oft misspelt, hard to pronounce Ricky Sbragia, an honest hard working professional dropped in at the deep end. Although he floundered for a while he eventually made it to the shore just in time to hand the life buoy to the waiting Steve Bruce – but not before his head was captured for posterity by my flaying brush.

Sadly Ricky, the Robert de Niro looky likey, declined the opportunity to grace the walls of Sbragia mansion with his own visage.

Enter, then, The Bruce.

Bruce is an old Scottish name from the Clan Bruce, Robert the Bruce being the legendary medieval king of Scotland, so we can forgive Steve, the Benfield boy, his latterly association with the old enemy the “Magmen” from “ower the Tyne”.

But the story of Stevie’s ancestry stopped my artistic series of recent great managers of Sunderland AFC in its tracks.

The reason? The tale of King Bruce and the spider. As the story goes. “Rabbie the Bruce” was holed up in a cave after being given a bloody nose by Edward II, Hammer of the Scots, when he saw a spider trying to spin a web. Each time it tried it fell only to get up and try again, hence the adage “if at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again”.

Although I admire The Bruce’ s tenacity which eventually led to him willing the battle of Bannockburn, I have my own take on the legend:

If at first you don’ t succeed try, try and try again – but then pack in you don’t want to look stupid, or in my case end up with a shed full of ex Sunderland managers.

* Owen Lennox is the author of The Picture of Joe Roc. His account of how he came to weite it can be seen by clicking on Peter O’Toole, Joe Roc and a love letter to Sunderland.

In response to his thoughts on the origins of the cry “Ha’way, ha’way”, one reader – “Matty” – wrote: “I doubt the interpretation of the origins of ‘Ha’way’ as given by Owen Lennox. Remember that the expression is found all over the North East and not just in Sunderland. The explanation I have heard is that it is a contraction of ‘Hard away’
(hence the apostrophe), a term used when a sailing ship was about to get under way.”

Owen replies: “Thanks for the comment, Matty. I think the jury is still out on this one. Language travels very quickly I think there is a certain cadence to the Allez! Allez! Whereas the ‘Hard away’ could be the origin of ‘Ha’d away’, as in be off with you. I think we need to consult Dictionary Corner on Countdown.”

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