As English football prepares to return, albeit without supporters in attendance, Chris Brunt announced this week that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.
That unfortunately means that we will not get the chance to see Brunty, in person at least, in an Albion shirt again, and it is disappointing that he will not get the send off he deserves with the Baggies faithful looking on.
As football has become increasingly about chasing the money, players like Chris Brunt are increasingly rare. As Baggies fans, we have been lucky to see two players who had recently stayed at the club for more than 12 years but, with Mozza leaving, as a player at least, last summer, Brunty’s departure will mean that Jon Leko and Sam Field become the clubs longest serving players having signed professional terms in July 2016.
Brunty’s longevity is obviously a factor in the close bond he has developed with the supporters, but his contribution to the success of the club over that period cannot be underestimated.
Of his 380 league appearances for Albion to date, 269 have been in the Premier League, unsurprisingly a club record, and he made more than 20 appearances in each of the nine top flight seasons he has been a part of at the Hawthorns.
While West Bromwich Albion may still be in the second tier, there is no doubt that the club is very different to the one that the Ulsterman joined on 15th August 2007, a week after James Morrison had signed.
I was particularly excited to see him join having seen him score a few wonder goals in his time at Sheffield Wednesday. Some five years later, one fan compiled a list of the 20 Best Owls Goals of the Century and Brunt featured on no less than four occasions including a remarkable effort from the touchline at Elland Road.
Having played on the opening day of the 2007/08 season for the Owls, Brunt’s Baggies debut was delayed by an international match as he played for Northern Ireland against Liechtenstein in a friendly in late August. He had to wait until a home game against Barnsley on 1st September 2007 as he came on as a 65th minute substitute for the man who he would share almost all of his Albion career with, James Morrison.
More international football meant that he would wait another fortnight before making his first start in a 4-0 win over Ipswich Town at the Hawthorns. A week later, he netted his first Albion goal, the Baggies’ second in a 3-2 win away to Scunthorpe United. It was not the sort of spectacular goal he was renowned for as he tapped in a rebound when former Baggie, Joe Murphy, had parried Ishmael Miller’s shot.
He was off the mark in terms of goals and he became a regular starter for Tony Mowbray making 34 league appearances that season. He has never been a prolific goalscorer, but he popped up with a couple of key goals towards the end of that season as Albion headed towards the Championship title.
His equaliser against Southampton at the Hawthorns in April, cancelling out Adam Lallana’s opener, earned the Baggies the point that secured promotion and Laurie Rampling’s fantastic photo at the top of this story brilliantly captures his celebration of that goal. The following week, his sumptuous free kick at Loftus Road a week later sealed Albion’s 2-0 victory that saw them lift the Championship title.
Brunt made his Premier League debut at the Emirates Stadium as Albion lost 1-0 to Arsenal and the first of his 24 Premier League goals was the winner in the Baggies’ first victory of the season, 3-2 over West Ham United at the Hawthorns on 13th September 2008. That saw him use a rare turn of pace to get onto the end of Paul Robinson’s through ball to finish off an Albion breakway.
He has scored four penalties in his Albion career, and the first of those came at the KC Stadium in January 2009 – Roman Bednar was the Baggies regular penalty take that season, but he was not on the field that day and Brunt netted against Hull City to earn what was a crucial point at the time. Unfortunately, it was in vain as Albion were relegated that season but Brunt could have been pleased with his contribution of eight goals and three assists in his first Premier League campaign.
The following season proved to be Brunty’s most prolific in terms of goals as he finished as the club’s joint top scorer in the league alongside Graham Dorrans with 13 goals. It was also his best season in terms of appearances as he made 43 in total, 40 of those in the Championship.
His most memorable goal of the season was at the Riverside when he returned ‘Boro ‘keeper Danny Coyne’s mishit clearance over his head into the net from more than 40 yards as Roberto di Matteo’s side recorded a 5-0 victory on Teesside. He also netted in the 3-2 win at Doncaster Rovers the following April that confirmed the Baggies’ return to the Premier League, the division in which the Ulsterman would spent the next eight seasons.
The 2010/11 season included what Chris himself described as his favourite Baggies moment. After an excellent start including a 4-1 win at Everton in which Brunt scored a sublime free kick from 30 yards, Di Matteo’s team faltered and the Italian was replaced by Roy Hodgson in February. But it was at the Hawthorns in April that Chris’s special moment came as the Baggies beat Liverpool for the first time in 30 years thanks to his brace of penalties. After putting the first down the middle, he hit the second powerfully just inside the post giving Pepe Reina no chance and secured the Baggies a vital three points.
Brunt had been a near ever-present in that Premier League campaign missing just four games and registering nine assists in addition to his four goals. It was Roy Hodgson that first noticed his leadership qualities handing him the captain’s armband at the beginning of the 2011/12 season.
While he only managed two Premier League goals that season, one of them was in the Black Country Derby at the Hawthorns in October 2011 and he did register six assists that season including for both goals in the 2-1 victory at Villa Park a few days later.
The following season, Brunt strengthened his legendary credentials as he netted a fine goal against Villa at the Hawthorns as the Baggies recovered from a 2-0 deficit at half time to nick a point. He repeated the feat a year later scoring the opener at Villa Park, although Albion would ultimately go down 4-3 that day.
To be fair, Brunt is more known for his delivery than his goalscoring and it is something that Tony Pulis found exceptionally useful for his corner routines during his time at the club. During that time, corners were the main source of goals for Albion, although if Brunty wasn’t there to take them, the danger to the opposition was much reduced.
It is that prowess with the delivery from the “wand of a left foot” that brought the Baggies legend to the national consciousness at the end of 2019 when his name appeared alongside the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and David Silva making the top ten for Premier League assists of the 2010s with 47. Two assists in 2008/09 brings his total in the top flight to 49.
While Pulis rated the quality of Brunt’s delivery, the Welshman felt that his days as a left winger were behind him and a month after he moved to the Hawthorns, we saw Brunt line up as a left back for the first time in a home victory over Swansea City in February 2015. We may have thought it an interesting experiment at the time, but with Pulis unwilling to trust any of our shorter options, Brunt played as a full back frequently under the Welshman and proved himself more than capable.
Having played at least 25 games in fifteen consecutive seasons with Sheffield Wednesday and Albion, it is clear that Brunt has largely stayed fit but he did suffer the only serious injury of his career in the match against Crystal Palace in February 2016. He damaged his cruciate ligament and would be out of action for almost eight months returning in the match at White Hart Lane that October.
Having not scored at all in 2015/16 when playing at left back, he was back in midfield for much of the following campaign and netted his first goal for 18 months with a deflected free kick in the 3-1 win over Watford at the Hawthorns in December 2016 having already assisted McAuley’s opener.
While Nyom had become Pulis’s preferred left back, Brunt was playing in that position again when he scored what has proved to be his last Premier League goal for Albion, and what a goal it was. The opponents were Sunderland in January 2017 and, with Darren Fletcher having already given Albion the lead, Brunt popped up with a fantastic strike to seal the points. Nacer Chadli’s attempt from close range came back off the bar and sat up nicely for the Ulsterman as he advanced into the box – he connected with the volley beautifully and it went like an exocet into the top corner giving Vito Mannone no chance whatsoever.
As Albion were relegated the following season, Brunt failed to score but did record seven assists, indicative of his continued importance to the team and, as the Baggies looked to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt, Darren Moore became the latest manager to see Brunt as a key member of the squad as his captain started 22 games in the Championship campaign.
In February 2019, Chris Brunt made is 400th appearance for the club as he came off the bench in a key match against Middlesbrough. He would have wished for something better to mark such a milestone, but his first action in the game was to mis-kick a clearance allowing Brit Assombalonga to score what proved to be the winner.
He made up for that by scoring the opener in his very next game, although it was under a new manager, Jimmy Shan (his 14th at Albion including caretakers). That game, a 3-0 win over Swansea City, is probably best remembered for the incredible penalty miss by Bersant Celina and it was Brunt who cleared the ball and gave the Kosovan a few words of advice afterwards!
His goal that night, a free kick from the right touchline that found its way into the far corner, was his last for the club so far, although we all hope that he gets a chance to find the net again before the season is out.
In statistics alone, Chris Brunt’s Albion career is impressive but, while he may have divided opinion on occasion, his commitment to the club both on and off the field cannot be questioned. Players of his ilk are very rare these days and we Baggies fans should celebrate that, while not local to the Black Country, he does consider West Bromwich Albion to be his club and I hope that once his playing career is finished, he can somehow remain involved at the Hawthorns.
I believe that he is the club’s longest serving player since Ally Robertson who spent 18 years at the club and it does seem, at least, that Brunt will be treated much better by the club than Ally was when he left in 1986.
It is a real shame that we fans won’t be able to say goodbye to him on the pitch in person, but hopefully he will return at some point in the future to receive the appreciation of the fans he has served so well for the last 13 years.
Chris Brunt – a true Baggies legend.
Chris Brunt’s Albion Career
Debut: Barnsley (H) – 1st September 2007 (won 2-0)
Albion Managers: 15
|* Premier League official statistics; other competitions as per transfermarkt.com|
Lead photo by Laurie Rampling: Brunt celebrates his goal against Southampton to secure promotion in 2008