MORE than 40 years and 12 clubs later, Steve Bruce is back home.
In a playing and managerial career spanning four decades, the Geordie has worked across the length and breadth of the country.
But amazingly, this is the first time the new Newcastle boss has been employed on Tyneside since 1976.
And that was when he was about to start as an apprentice plumber at a Wallsend shipyard before his first club Gillingham offered him a trial.
As a kid, Corbridge-born Bruce used to crawl under the St James’ Park turnstiles.
He began his football education at Wallsend Boys Club, whose famous graduates include Newcastle legends Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley.
But having been rejected by the Toon as a teenager, Bruce never played for his boyhood team.
And he also missed out on managing the Magpies three times – in 2004, 2006 and 2015.
Bruce must have thought the chance of landing his dream job had gone.
However, at the age of 58, he has unexpectedly been handed the chance of his lifetime.
It is a remarkable turn of events for Bruce – and this will be one of the proudest days of his long career, regardless of the current chaos at a toxic Toon.
His dad Joe and mum Sheenagh will sadly not see him in the managerial seat at St James’, having passed away in the space of three months last year.
Yet this was the job they always wanted their son to have – something Bruce referenced in the statement which accompanied his appointment.
He said: “This is my boyhood club and it was my dad’s club, so this is a very special moment for me and my family.”
But this is not just a romantic role for Bruce.
Because after four years of grafting in the Championship, he has been handed one last shot back in the big time.
And if he wanted a challenge, he certainly has one. Perhaps the toughest he has ever taken on.
Usually, his background would be lapped up by fans, who would relish having ‘one of their own’ at the helm.
But there are a few things going against him – not the least the fact he managed the Magpies’ bitter rivals Sunderland from 2009 to 2011.
His Newcastle mad dad could only bring himself to attend one game at Stadium of Light – Bruce’s first in charge against Chelsea.
And Bruce has since admitted he regretted going to Wearside.
He never felt accepted and was eventually hounded out by supporters, who called him a “fat Geordie b******”.
Now Bruce has his work out to get another angry fanbase on his side.
Of course, that is nothing new for a man who was in charge of Sheffield Wednesday after Sheffield United, and Aston Villa after Birmingham.
But Bruce is even more up against it at Newcastle because he is replacing the Toon Army’s beloved boss Rafa Benitez.
Fans are furious they have gone from having a world-class Champions League winner to an ex-Sunderland manager poached from the Championship.
In their eyes, it further underlines that owner Mike Ashley’s only ambition is to survive in the Premier League.
And Bruce’s contract, which is heavily incentivised by beating the drop, confirms as much.
Thousands of fans have refused to renew their season tickets and anti-Ashley campaigns have proposed a boycott of their top-flight opener against Arsenal.
What an eerie experience that would be for Bruce, if a section of supporters stay away for his first competitive game as Magpies manager.
Of course, football fans can be fickle and a few wins could quell some of the unrest towards him.
But with the squad at his disposal, Bruce is not guaranteed to get those good results.
He is coming into the only club in the Premier League not to have made a summer signing.
And though that is no surprise given their managerial limbo, it means they have only 21 days left to do all of their business.
Bruce will need to sign a goalscorer because the Toon’s top marksmen of last season – Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon – are both no longer there.
With a budget of £50million already set aside and £30m banked for Perez, there are funds there to spend, and Hoffenheim’s Brazilian striker Joelinton, 22, is in their sights.
Yet Newcastle’s penny-pinching approach has historically seen them miss out on top targets.
And they often end up scrapping around for fourth or fifth choices just before the window shuts.
Bruce’s greatest strength is his man-management and he will be popular with the players.
Those who felt alienated and unloved under Benitez will benefit from his human touch.
Yet he will need a magic wand if he is hit the ground running with Newcastle, who play five of last season’s top six in their first nine games.
Bruce may be back home – but this is uncharted territory even for him.