Chris Brunt on 'massive' Sheffield Wednesday, his career, West Brom and the former Owl who played a big part in his S6 arrival
Chris Brunt is speaking on the phone in a busy Starbucks while speaking to The Star about a career that came to an end only last month.
The blender whirrs in the background and a barista drops a tray of what sounds on this end of the phone to be several hundred cups of coffee.
Chuckling down the line in a warm Belfast accent, he apologises as if it were his own mistake and moves the conversation to his car.
“I’m still getting used to this,” he says, explaining that he had just dropped his children off at school. “I’m used to doing interviews at the club or whatever.”
Because all this is still relatively knew to Chris Brunt, he of 592 appearances in senior football, who announced his retirement from the game only a few weeks ago having also amassed 65 appearances for Northern Ireland.
“When you're kicking a ball around in your parent's garden when you're a kid, it's all you want to do,”
“I'm absolutely delighted with my career. Having played at big big clubs like West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday, there's nothing I would change about it. You obviously have disappointments, you have good times and bad times, but I enjoyed all of it.”
It was a journey that truly started, he recalls, after a fond youth career at Middlesbrough during which he played a part in a famous 2004 Youth Cup win.
While the majority were signed onto senior contracts, Brunt’s future was less clear-cut, a fork in the road that eventually lead him down the motorway and to Middlewood Road. It is documented that his initial period of time at Wednesday was on loan from the Teesside club, but in actual fact, the Owls took on his contract after his release by Steve McClaren.
“The academy guys at Middlesbrough wanted me to get a pro contract at that time but the senior management weren't too sure,” Brunt said.
“They gave me a heads up and I had an extra couple of weeks start to find somewhere. I went to train with some senior teams, I went to Darlington for a couple of weeks, I spent some time down at Cardiff.”
Nothing quite fit, though, and it was only after a phonecall between two old Owls teammates that the career of the then 19-year-old began coming together.
With then Owls boss Chris Turner looking to completely turnover a squad still reeling from Premier League relegation, never mind relegation to League One, he had feelers out that would return the bulk of the side that would go on to win promotion through the playoffs in the 2004/05 season.
“Mark Proctor was my youth team manager and he knew Chris from when they'd played at Sheffield Wednesday,” Brunt said.
“As a young lad going in playing under-18 or under-19 football to playing in front of 22,000 people each week at Hillsborough was brilliant. I loved every minute of it.
“It’s a massive club. That was the weird thing; that I'd come from a Premier League team to a bigger club if you like. Middlesbrough is a big club in its own right but Wednesday with his history and so on, I knew a lot more about Sheffield Wednesday.
“Going back to Hillsborough it always brings all those feelings back, it's a great stadium and when things are going well you remember how good it can be.”
Turner lasted only a few matches into that promotion season, which Brunt regretted, though he felt his replacement Paul Sturrock played an integral part in the development of his career. But it wasn’t all plain sailing between the manager and younger players such as himself, he remembered.
“He was brilliant at that level,” he said about the charismatic Scot.
“When Chris left he recommended him to go and speak to Paul because of the job he'd done with Plymouth. Paul was old school in that he was an old Scottish task master and I hadn't really been used to it in my career.
“There were times he wanted to string me up and I wanted to tell him where to go, but at the end of the day he was only ever trying to get that football club out of the league and he did that.”
Brunt still keeps in touch with several Wednesday figures and holds tremendously fond memories of his three-year spell.
“I speak to Glenn Whelan quite a lot, Steve MacLean as well. I run into Richard Wood a few times a season, the same with Graeme Lee. We all just remember those times we were at Sheffield Wednesday as a time we had a great set of lads, no egos, everyone just mucked in and got on with it. That's why we did so well that season.
“That's probably the best changing room I've ever been involved in. The older lads looked after the younger lads and made sure we were never stepping over the line.
“There were so many players in and out, some really good players that had been there a while and they had to change a lot of things. The number of players that came in at the same time all moved to the area and we all settled in and became friends.
“I still have great friends from my time at Sheffield Wednesday. They are some of the best people I have met from my football career.”