My Hero No. 2: Chris Brunt

My Hero No. 2: Chris Brunt

Yes, yes, I know what some people will be saying to the idea that Chris Brunt is my hero. That lazy bastard? The same Chris Brunt who left Wednesday at the first opportunity to go to a slightly bigger club? And weren’t you a fully grown adult by the time he came on the scene – in the third tier of English football, indeed – having supported Wednesday through the time of relative glory and greats like Hirst, Sheridan, Waddle and Nilsson?

Well, yes. I realise it may be a strange one, and I’m certainly not trying to diminish the status of any of those demi-gods from the early 90s. But perhaps it’s precisely because he could stand out from the crowd in a way that’s impossible when the team around is so good. Brunty offered us hope, a glimpse of talent way beyond our status, and played a major role in our greatest success of the last 15 years – and as I’ve only been a season ticket holder for 14, that means something special to me. I’m going to try to describe four things about him, though, that really catapult him to the top of my hero list: the name, the goals, the playing style, and his success after leaving us.

The name
“The name? Seriously? What is JFD on about?” Well, I know this is something that won’t be shared by anyone else, but it is really what brought him to my attention in the first place. When I first heard that we’d signed a player called Chris Brunt, it made me giggle and then worry. Why? Because Chris Brunt is also the name of my aunt – not just any aunt, but the mother & grandmother of the people with whom I sit at Hillsborough. The reason for the amusement is obvious; I also started to worry, though, that if he became a laughing stock for whatever reason this could reflect badly on Auntie Chris.

Of course I needn’t have been concerned. From being a trainee with Middlesbrough, this Belfast boy quickly established himself as anything but a laughing stock. It took less than ten minutes on his full debut to demonstrate the quality of his left foot, with an unstoppable free kick into the top corner against Brighton. From this point on, Auntie Chris was destined to feel only emboldened by his exploits in a Wednesday shirt. And to Brunty’s credit, when I mentioned this namesake to him at an SWFC bowling night a few years ago, he found it quite amusing (despite the mickey-taking of some of his team-mates…)

The goals
That goal against Brighton was just the first of many fantastic efforts he produced in his time at S6. The raw stats of 23 goals in 113 league starts for us don’t really begin to tell the story – and not just because his high quality crossing and passing created many, many more. No, it is the nature and style of the goals that will live long in the memory.

Every Wednesday fan will have their own favourite Brunty goal. Apart from the copious free kicks (including one in the play-offs against Brentford), people will often talk about the last minute volleyed winner against Barnsley (with his right foot!), the 25-yard strike against Leicester following a delicious 1-2 with Glenn Whelan, or the 50-yard chip at Elland Road (which, to be honest, was VERY special).

My personal favourite is his 40-yard effort against Coventry in October 2005. One of the great disappointments of ITV’s football coverage (and there are many) is that their cameraman didn’t properly capture that goal. Even if he had, though, it still wouldn’t have done it justice from the side of the pitch…

From my seat on the Kop, though, I could see it in all its glory: the first-time volley was great in any case, but the way it completely deceived the keeper (initially heading beyond the goalie’s left-hand post, and swerving so much that it nestled in the right-hand corner) lifted this goal into my all-time top three goals witnessed live.

If he scored that goal for West Brom next week (and the cameras saw it properly), it would be up there for goal of the season, without a doubt…

In fact, if you look at the number of extraordinary goals that he scored for us, it’s something that only the likes of Paolo di Canio and Chris Waddle can hope to match. OK, the opposition will have been weaker much of the time for Brunty, but there is no denying that the ability to put the ball consistently into the top corner from 30 yards is impressive whatever level you are playing at.

The playing style
Whereas the goals unified Owls fans, the playing style divided us. This was, after all, the man about whom Paul Sturrock said could resemble David Beckham one week and Victoria Beckham the next. Numerous adjectives could be used to describe him: “languid” would certainly be one; “lazy” was a harsher one.

  Personally I found the accusations of laziness a trifle overzealous. Whilst he might not have been the greatest at tracking back and tackling, I always felt it was more to do with his learning curve than a poor attitude.

Certainly it is something that improved over his time with us, and has continued to do so since: you wouldn’t find him holding down a regular starting place for a top-half (at the time of writing!) Premier League side if he wasn’t contributing fully.

And any fan who tells you they wouldn’t have him back at S6, no matter what they thought of his style, is a liar.

But I prefer to focus on the positive elements of his playing style. The way he could pick out a centre forward from 60 yards without so much as a second glance. The way he could cross to a team-mate’s head in the box at will. The ability to strike a powerful shot cleanly with practically no backlift. As a left-midfielder without much pace myself in my teenage years, he represented everything that I tried (and usually failed) to do. He even managed to break the supposed taboo of left-footed penalty takers. When I look back at the three-plus years he had with us, it is the memory of him strolling around the pitch picking out great passes that will remain with me, as much as the goals he scored.

The post-Wednesday era

Of course, it had to end – Wednesday’s financial situation dictated that we could not hold onto such an asset. But as painful as it was to see him go (and, as a fan, even £3 million doesn’t really soften that blow), it has been a source of great pride to me – and to many Wednesday fans – to see his career blossom and flourish as it has.

When I see him sticking in an inch-perfect free kick on Match of the Day, it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. When a backheel flick sets up a team-mate to score it sends a tingle down my spine.

But it’s the sheer consistency of quality of crossing that remains his absolute forte.We always knew that Brunty’s crosses were Unplayable (TM).

Now the whole of the country – nay, world – can see it on a regular basis. I still feel like he’s one of us really, and the fact that he chose not to celebrate his goal at Hillsborough last season suggests a part of him feels that too.

He’ll very soon have been a West Brom player for longer than he was a Wednesday player, but as far as I’m concerned he’ll always be Our Brunteh.

And my Auntie Chris continues to get the accidental plaudits.

Jeremy (JFD)
Owls Alive
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive

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