Man Utd legend wrote three murder mysteries that have become cult classics, but he says they’re a ‘laughing stock’

STEVE BRUCE was known as a dominating defender during his playing days.

Having won three Premier League titles at Manchester United, Bruce made a name for himself as the Red Devils’ hard-nosed but brilliant captain.

Steve Bruce wrote three murder mystery booksRex

GettyBruce won three Premier League titles at Manchester United[/caption]

A trait which carried over into his managerial career.

However, underneath his outer shell, there was a surprising twist to the tale.

That is thanks to the former Newcastle and Aston Villa manager dabbling in the art of literacy with an epic trio of crime novels.

Bruce published three little-read football crime books suitably named: Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender!

Originally published between 1999 and 2000, the books have become increasingly sought-after over the years after they re-emerged thanks to the work of Northern Irish writer Seamas O’Reilly.

A self-professed expert on Bruce’s career, O’Reilly was inspired to find the books thanks to his interest in “really terrible books”, as quoted by the BBC.

Not that Bruce is particularly proud of his work on the novels, with the man himself labelling them “a laughing stock”.

Indeed, when asked why he hasn’t written any more books in a 2019 interview with Sky Sports, Bruce replied: “Have you read them? Go and read them and you’ll understand why.”

Regardless, they have grown into cult classics, with a used paperback copy of his first book Striker! fetching as much as £249 on Amazon.

Paragon Press PublishingBruce’s first book Striker! was published in 1999[/caption]

And that is some increase from the £12 the book was originally sold for.

The books themselves are written in the first person from the point of view of protagonist Steve Barnes.

O’Reilly loved his dive into the 127-page story told in Striker!, detailing the “mad stuff” that goes on.

Striker! opens with Pat Duffy, the young Irish striker of Leddersford Town FC – a small but historic club aiming for promotion to the top flight – having been found stabbed to death in the dressing room.

Barnes, who is the manager of Town, is naturally among the suspects and launches his own investigation to get to the bottom of the mystery, all the while juggling his management of the team.

“The book is filled with kidnappings, betrayal and suspense,” O’Reilly explains.

‘Kidnappings, betrayal and suspense’

The front cover of the book depicts the aftermath of the crime, with a player in a blue and white striped shirt lying on the floor next to the murder weapon.

Although Duffy does appear to be a giant based on his blown-up proportions while lying on a football pitch.

Barnes faces off with Irish mobsters and even finds himself in the sights of a sniper during a match.

In the final four pages, Barnes has a ball shot from underneath his foot while standing in the technical area in a top-of-the-table clash with Fulham.

There is also a running gag throughout the book where Bruce writes in detail about the car Barnes is driving, even in the middle of an espionage mission.

At one point he writes: “I drive a Jaguar XJ8, 3.2, the sports version. It’s a very nice motor; 3.2 litre AJ-V8 all alloy engine.

Paragon Press PublishingSweeper! was described as the ‘magnum opus’ of Bruce’s novel collection[/caption]

“Classic colour interior theme, fluted leather seats, contrast colour keyed facia, figured walnut veneer. As good a motor as you can hope to drive.

“But not a car you’d choose when trying to follow a Ford saloon in a discreet manner…my registration, license and all other statutory details are fully up to date.”

The second book, Sweeper!, does not tone down on the drama levels either, with the plot centring around the kidnapping of the club’s janitor.

O’Reilly goes so far as to declare Sweeper! the “magnum opus” of Bruce’s written work in the so-called “Bruniverse”.

The plot of Sweeper! sees Barnes take on Yugoslavian warlords, lesbian prostitutes, Nazi-hunting spies and more.

A particular highlight of O’Reilly’s is when Bruce makes a reference to his lack of international recognition – having never received an England cap – in one of the four kidnappings throughout the series.

‘Magnum opus of the Bruniverse’

After Barnes is kidnapped by British Secret Service agents, who then ask him to go undercover, O’Reilly explains that Barnes refuses to help, saying: “He tells them, ‘My country never wanted me’.”

“His reasoning for not helping counter-terrorism is not that he lacks training or expertise or that he’s a middle-aged football manager, it’s that he never got an international cap.”

One book in the series even sees Barnes take out a bad guy with a slide tackle.

But that isn’t to say the books don’t have criticism from the Derry-born Bruce superfan.

He explained: “There are so many strange decisions made in the writing of these books, such as the way the world is constructed.

“So, for instance, there’s fake names that stand in for real places, like Leddersford for Huddersfield and Mulcaster for Manchester.

“But, he also talks about Manchester United and mentions Alex Ferguson. It’s like reading a Batman comic where he takes a train from Gotham to New York.”

The third book is described as “incident-free” and “disappointing” by O’Reilly.

And one brutal comment on the Amazon review section for the book seems to agree, saying: “Does for the English language what the Luftwaffe did to Coventry.”

Amazon reviews for the earlier books are far more positive.

One user commented on Striker!: “Ahead of its time, ahead of anyone’s time. So bad it’s great.”

A second remarked: “There is something about this book that makes it absolutely brilliant… even though it’s, err, awful! Hours that I will never have again, but I’m glad that I spent them reading this.”

One, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, review of Sweeper! says: “One cannot do justice to how effective and gripping Bruce’s writing style is. He is truly a modern-day Arthur Conan Doyle.”

While it seems likely that Bruce will not be adding to his library with any new works, O’Reilly believes he has read through the reviews.

He added: “I do certainly like to think Steve Bruce has read the reviews.

“There’s just this image in my head of Bruce at home, rushing in from training, tapping away incessantly on his Remington in an oak-panelled study.”

Paragon Press PublishingDefender! rounded out the series when published in 2000[/caption]

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