Is it that time of the week already? Well bloody hell, we better get on with another instalment of Roker Report's Cult Heroes. This weekend see's Martin O'Neill's men make their final trip to the Capital of the season in the penultimate fixture this term to face Fulham. Martin Jol's men will be brimming with confidence following their first win over Liverpool on Merseyside.
This week's Cult Hero had no fewer than three stints on Wearside before ending his career with Fulham, a man we spoke with back in January, the midfield maestro Paul Bracewell.Born in Heswall, Bracewell made his first steps into his football career with Stoke City, where he progressed through the ranks before turning professional for the 1979/80 term, making his professional debut against Wolves aged seventeen. Paul spent three seasons with The Potters before Alan Durban paid £250,000 to add the midfielder to his Sunderland squad in the summer of 1983.
The move was an easy decision for Bracewell, having previously worked with Durban at Stoke he was one of the main contributing factors behind the transfer. This would not be the last time that Paul would be reunited with a former colleague over the course of his career. Unfortunately for both Alan and Paul their stint on Wearside was to be shortlived as Durban was hastily sacked and his replacement, Len Ashurst, did not fancy Bracewell and promptly sold him on to Everton only a year after his arrival.
"Brace" enjoyed a more successful spell with his new side, joining a famous midfield that included Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Steven and none other than Peter Reid. Everton were in fine form at the time, winning two league titles and also earned success on the continent in the shape of the Cup Winners Cup. Bracewell's individual form at the time
also earned him a call-up to the England setup, where he won three caps before a broken leg would dash any hopes of making the 1986 World Cup.
Bracewell had garnered a reputation for himself as both a ball-winning and ball-playing central midfielder, comfortable with both feet and whilst certainly not prolific infront of goal, when he did score it was usually a spectacular effort.
Paul was to join Sunderland for his second spell in 1989, a spell which saw the midfielder play a part in the memorable night at St. James Park in 1990 and also the ill-fated 1992 FA Cup run. The defeat to Liverpool at Wembley meant Paul had the misfortune of having lost four cup finals. Following some contractual disagreement with SAFC, who were only willing to extend Bracewell's contract by a year at that point, Paul was approached by Newcastle and agreed a deal with Kevin Keegan's side via a tribunal.
Following a couple of years on Tyneside Paul would again cross the Tyne/Wear divide in 1995 in order to work with his former Everton team-mate Peter Reid, who was looking to add some much needed experience to a side he was looking to transform from relegation candidates to promotion challengers. Reid held Bracewell in such high regard that he would even go on to take on a player/assistant manager role.
Whilst not the most creative of players, I will always remember Bracewell's care of the football in the centre of the park, often picking up the pieces from a crunching Kevin Ball tackle and keeping the play ticking over. Paul was the calm head in the middle and his experience was a great influence at times on that squad, especially during the promotion push.
The return to the Premier League for the 1996/97 campaign was maybe a step too far for Paul at that stage of his career as the pace of the game would often pass him by. Then again there were not many players that really made the grade, at least Brace still had the ability, just not the legs. Following relegation players such as Lee Clark and Alex Rae were the main stay in the centre of Sunderland's new look midfield and Bracewell found first team football hard to come by.
In September of 1997 Bracewell took up a similar player/assistant manager role with Sunday's opponents Fulham working with another former colleague Kevin Keegan who was acting as the club's director of football, with Ray Wilkins as head coach. The Division Two club at the time were just embarking on their ambitious project for Premier League football. Ultimately Wilkins would be given the push before Keegan was appointed as England manager in 1999 which saw Paul promoted into the managerial hotseat. Despite Fulham competing in the top half of the First Division under Bracewell's stewardship he was axed in favour of the more experienced Jean Tigana towards the end of the 1999/00 season.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologise to Paul for treading on his injured toe in the summer of 1996 when he presented the awards at one of those "Summer Soccer Schools" that the club ran. Better late than never.