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The prospect of a trip to Wigan on a presumably cold, damp and dark post New Year’s night is not one that will fill many with excitement and anticipation. The name Wigan also conjures up dark and now repressed memories of the shambolic demise of the Steve Bruce era as Sunderland gifted Roberto Martinez’s side three vital points in late November.
Of course much has changed since that bleak afternoon and SAFC are a different animal all together and a man that has since been welcomed back into the fold following more off-field misdemeanours is the star of our Cult Heroes piece, the much maligned Titus Bramble!
Bramble has made an unwanted name for himself over his career for mishaps both on and off the field. Prone to the odd lapse in concentration poor old Titus has become somewhat of a figure of fun in the footballing community and despite a revival in form over recent years this maturity has not been reflected away from the pitch.
Titus Malachi Bramble began his comedy tour, sorry, football career at his home town club Ipswich Town, making his debut in 1998 away to Sheffield United. Bramble’s early years saw him play more attacking roles and he was known to idolise John Barnes and Paul Ince rather than any defenders of the time. However Titus’ physical, athletic abilities made him more of a match for the backline and having made the early switch in playing position he began to climb the footballing ladder and was regarded as one of the hottest young talents in the country.
Even a broken ankle followed by a knee injury whilst on loan at Colchester couldn’t hold the central defender back for long and following an impressive pre-season ahead of the 2000/01 term was given a chance to return to first team football following an injury to John McGreal. Bramble settled in well and following a man of the match worthy performance to keep Thierry Henry quiet he even managed a remarkable goal against, well who else but Sunderland.
Bramble began to earn comparisons to the likes of Marcel Desailly, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand following his impressive form. Confidence was clearly a determining factor in Titus’ game, something which his then manager George Burley was more than aware of:
"There are times when Titus will do rash, naïve things and his passing will go astray. He’s only 19, but it’s a weakness he has to sort out."
Bramble made a dream move to work under Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle in July of 2002, commanding a £6m fee. It was at the Sports Direct Arena that Bramble really "earned" his nickname of Shambles, with performances ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous with little grey area to speak of. Bramble formed a "partnership" alongside Jean-Alain Boumsong – The Chuckle Brothers as they were fondly referred to - which had the potential to give the elder patrons at the Sports Direct Arena a heartattack every other week.
There were some good times for our man Titus on Tyneside including a memorable fierce volley against Chelsea in May of 2006 which booked the Magpies a spot in the Intertoto Cup.
It was following a free transfer to Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2007 that Titus finally began to put to bed some of his previous problems with consistency and concentration. Working with Steve Bruce really seemed to galvanise the defender who became a much more reliable prospect, so much so that he was awarded Player of the Year for his performances across the 2008/09 season.
Bramble was to rejoin Bruce in July of 2010 swapping Wigan for Sunderland in a £1m move and continued his battle to win over his many doubters, including a number at the club’s pre-season tour. Whilst it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and crucify a player with a chequered past such as Titus, the recovery he began at Wigan has continued on Wearside and the defender looked to have put the majority of defensive gaffs he was prone to behind him, for this he is surely deserving of praise.
The fans began to warm to their new cult hero and found a cause they could get behind in supporting a man who was doing everything he could to put right the footballing wrongs of his past. Bramble seemed a more mature, comfortable and "tuned in" defender and his performances found him given the captain’s armband in the absence of Lee Cattermole. A few niggling injuries aside all seemed to be going well for Titus and the new chapter in his career.
Then however there are the recent off-field issues which continue to follow the player wherever he seems to go. Bramble was swiftly suspended by the club pending a Police investigation and many, including ourselves, believed it was the end of the road for Titus. However a huge reprieve for the big defender came in the shape of Martin O’Neill. Following the departure of Steve Bruce a clean slate was granted to the squad from the new gaffer and this olive branch extended to Bramble who has since returned to first team action.
The ball is firmly in Titus’ court now and you feel that any further indiscretions will not be tolerated. This really is the last chance saloon for the lad. We have sent that he has turned a corner on the football pitch but he now has to regain the club and the fans’ trust off it.