The Rochdale striker, 40, faces Newcastle in their FA Cup replay, a game with extra edge as it pits him against family friends
To celebrate his 40th birthday in October Aaron Wilbraham, a boyhood Manchester City fan who was released by the club as a teenager, booked out the Mancunian suite at the Etihad Stadium. The Rochdale striker set a sky-blue theme, with teammates and friendly foes from across his career suited and booted, including Alex Bruce, son of Steve, the Newcastle manager, whom Wilbraham roomed with while studying for his Uefa B Licence in Belfast 18 months ago. But on Tuesday night Wilbraham can play the role of party pooper in the FA Cup third-round replay at St James’ Park. “I’m trying not to upset the Bruce family as well as doing well for Rochdale,” he says, laughing.
It is a delicate conundrum given that the subplots do not stop there – Alex’s sister, Amy, an interior designer, recently styled the extension on Wilbraham’s house in Wilmslow. An evergreen performer, Wilbraham stepped off the bench at Spotland to earn a replay after replacing the 16-year-old Kwadwo Baah at half-time 10 days ago, leading to an inevitable exchange on WhatsApp. “We have a group chat from the coaching course and everyone from it was telling me well done for scoring and Alex said: ‘Who needs enemies when you have friends like this?’ And then he texted me privately, saying: ‘We are no longer friends.’ We had a good laugh about it.”