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Bramble - My Lisbon nightmare

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Titus Bramble has admitted that he allowed a persistent and under-pressure Graeme Souness to gamble and rush him back into Newcastle action too quickly after injury.

 

The cost was monumental to both.

 

Bramble's willingness to help out and desire to play football overcame sense when the simple - and correct - answer was to say no.

 

Titus had undergone a hernia operation two seasons ago yet, desperate to resurrect a faltering campaign, Souness thrust him back into duty for the UEFA Cup quarter-final with Sporting Lisbon rather than wait for nature to take its course.

 

The personal cost to Bramble was an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United and the bitter disappointment of a double defeat.

 

"I paid the price for playing too soon - and not for the first time - but when the manager asks you to it's difficult to refuse," Titus told me. "I wasn't quite ready but I was keen to help out. With hindsight I should have said no.

 

"Both Kieron Dyer and I came off in Lisbon. If Kieron had been able to play on we would have won, no question. Sporting were playing a high line and Kieron was causing havoc getting in behind them."

 

Not only did Souness's double gamble with Bramble and Dyer explode in his face with crushing elimination in Lisbon but a couple of days later Man U destroyed a demoralised Newcastle in Cardiff which meant two cup dreams shattered.

 

Souness never recovered from the blows and, with glory gone and a faltering Premiership record, paid his own price last season when he was sacked.

 

Perhaps Bramble's most serious injury, however, was an elbow smashed in three places before the start of the last campaign.

 

"I was flying pre-season and did it in training," he smiled. "I slid in on Michael Chopra and my elbow crashed into his knee. I knew straight away I was in trouble. A searing pain flashed up my arm and I had severe pins and needles. My elbow was broken in three places and I was out for three months."

 

Bramble has suffered more than his fair share of injuries - but nothing like his close mate Dyer whose career has been ruined and almost stuttered to a full stop.

 

"People who say it's all right being out for a long time because we're paid so well don't realise what the game means to most footballers," insisted Titus. "Kieron and I used to play outside our houses in Ipswich as kids kicking an old ball about and that joy has never left us.

 

"I know that Kieron would give up all his money right now to play free and uninhibited all this coming season. And I have the same attitude."

 

While Bramble has been shunted into the sidings at regular intervals the big difference is that he isn't plagued by one crippling injury recurring and recurring like Dyer.

 

"I've had an ankle operation at Ipswich, an elbow broken in three places, a hernia op, and various other bits and pieces," he said. "But with Kieron it's his hamstrings. They plague him. He's had a terrible time the last couple of years. He hardly played last season and it got to him, got him down. At moments like that you worry about your career.

 

"The funny thing is that Dyer never suffered any hamstring problems at Ipswich.

 

"Jonathan Woodgate was troubled in much the same way at Newcastle and is still now at Real Madrid. He's pure class, he would be an England regular but for all his injury problems."

 

The day United changed my life for ever

 

Holiday over, Titus Bramble returned home to Ipswich to look forward to a new season of adventure.

 

However, awaiting him was a message from his agent. Newcastle United, no less, were anxious to sign him.

 

It was July of 2002 and Bramble was about to follow Hugo Viana into St James' Park as Sir Bobby Robson cranked up his drive to establish the club he had supported from the terraces.

 

"The first word I received was on the day I flew back into the country," smiled Titus.

 

"My agent said Newcastle had made a bid, but it had been rejected. Three or four days later, thankfully, they were back and this time it was a deal. I was on my way.

 

"Charlie Woods, who was Bobby Robson's chief scout, lived on top of our training ground and knew everything there was to know about Ipswich players.

 

"I'd played in the Premiership and the UEFA Cup and that was the standard I wanted.

 

"Ipswich had been relegated after a great first season in the top flight, but I'd got the taste of the big time.

 

"When a huge club like United come calling you don't say no. You're flattered beyond belief."

 

Kieron Dyer, three years older than Bramble, was already here, having made the same journey when Ruud Gullit called.

 

"It was natural to phone Kieron because we'd kept in touch," explained Bramble.

 

"He merely confirmed that it was a massive club with fanatical support and Newcastle is a great city.

 

"It was everything I wanted to hear."

 

Bramble made his Toon debut in the Champions League qualifier against Zeljeznicar in Sarajevo on August 14, 2002 and scored his first goal for the Mags to help spark a 5-0 UEFA Cup rout of NAC Breda in September of the following year, going on to notch three times in United's run to the semi-finals.

 

"The good times have certainly outweighed the bad," he admitted.

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