In praise of a thoroughly modern hero
LIFE moves so fast, especially footballing life, that we spend much of our time taking things for granted, ignoring what is going on right in front of us. Familiarity might not go so far as to breed contempt, but it can certainly make us blasé.
It’s not until a reality check is forced upon us that we take stock and re-evaluate, and such a moment came over this weekend with Chris Brunt. We’ll not give the clown who started it all any further notoriety, but we will think again about Chris Brunt.
The outpouring of support for him across the weekend was heartening, especially as, like James Morrison, Jonas Olsson and others, Chris has given the best years of his professional life to our cause.
There have been moments when he might have chosen otherwise, maybe pursued a lucrative move elsewhere, but no, Chris has signed contract after contract here and has clocked up the games in a way that is increasingly rare in modern football.
More than that, I can promise each and every one of you reading this that, whatever the result, in good days and in bad, Chris has played his heart out for the Albion in every single one of the 313 appearances he has made for us.
Yes, there have been games when it’s been going wrong, for the team or for Chris, but never has he simply chucked it in, phoned in a performance. Every time he has gone out there, plenty of times when struggling with an injury or filling in in an unfamiliar role, he has given it everything he has.
Over the years, Brunty has played on both sides of midfield as well as in the middle. He’s played behind the striker, he’s even occupied both full-back roles and looks to be developing a second career in what used to be the number three berth these days.
I won’t say he’s played the roles without complaint because Chris likes a moan with the best of us from time to time – I think that’s why we’ve got on so well over the years, he’s nearly as cynical as me – but he goes out there and does his job and God knows, the team is better for his presence, wherever he’s playing.
He is the quintessential team man. He captained us with distinction for a lengthy spell and even since he was replaced in that role last year, he has continued to serve the club with just as much dignity and determination as he ever did.
More than that, he’s a great ambassador for the club, be it at organised or simply signing autographs and having photos taken with fans. That fame doesn’t sit easily with him because Chris is a quiet man who doesn’t like any fuss and will doubtless be mortified by all the attention he’s getting at the moment. But sometimes Chris, you’ve just got to wear people pointing out just how good you are.
He has had his ups and downs with the crowd and there was a period where he was singled out for some dismal treatment by a section of fans, but every time, he simply kept on coming back for more, just as he will again, because he loves this game and this football club.
Don’t believe me? Think all modern players are mercenaries? Then see what he had to say in his foreword to our recent “300” book, celebrating the select few who have played that many games for the Throstles.
“This is a great club and it’s one where, when I look back on my career, I’ll have been very proud and pleased to have played for. I’m not one for a lot of fuss, but reaching 300 games and seeing that it’s a pretty small number who have done that over the last 130 years, I’m very proud at having joined that number.
“You see the likes of Tony Brown, Cyrille Regis, people like that coming back around the club and that is great to see. It gives a special feeling to the place, that sense of tradition and history is important.
“In 15 or 20 years, I’d like to think that maybe I could come back and do the same kind of thing. That would mean a lot to me, it would signify that I’ve done a decent job in the time I’ve been here."
There’s no question that when that dreaded day comes that Chris finally hangs up the boots, he will be welcome back at The Hawthorns for as long as he wants, because he has played a massive part in our story over the last decade.
In the 16 years I’ve been working here, I’d say Chris has been the player I’ve enjoyed watching more than any other. When that left foot is on the money, swinging a perfect cross in, there’s nothing better in the game – if Astle had been playing with him, he might have had even more goals, such is the regular perfection of his delivery into the box.
More than that, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with him over the years on umpteen interviews, captain’s columns and the rest. He’ll always answer the phone or respond to a text, will always do his job to the very best of his ability, on and off the pitch.
It’s been a joy to watch him and it's a privilege to call him a friend. May both be the case for a long time to come.