No More Heroes: Scott Brown

The first time Scott Brown was handed the captain’s armband for Celtic was as a substitute during the infamous 4:0 defeat at St. Mirren that finally brought the curtain down on Tony Mowbray’s ill-judged time in charge. It is safe to say that not even the most optimistic supporter could have imagined how the remainder of his Celtic career would play out.

In fact it would be fair to say that possibly a majority of the support didn’t see any kind of future for him at the club at that stage; after all he had been with us for three seasons and while there had been some good moments (he was SPFA Players POTY in 2008-9 and won man of the match in the League Cup final win over Der Hun that season, our first cup final win against them in 20 years) his time had largely been disappointing, especially considering the £4m fee that had been splashed out on him.

Such was the perception at the time that during a derby match their supporters

produced a banner that claimed Thompson (who had moved to Ibrox for £2m) was half the price and twice the player.

The perception of Brown at that time was a player who didn’t know how to correctly channel his energy, or maintain his discipline. Headless chicken was a frequent term used by his critics.

His arrival at Celtic Park had been something of a surprise. At that time Hibs were reaping the rewards of a youth policy that was seriously delivering, with players such as Riordan, Thompson and Whitaker eventually leading to two League Cup finals (one inexplicably lost to Livingston after they had eliminated us).

But it seemed that Ibrox was the destination of choice for the top performers at Easter Road. Thompson went there in the January 2007 window and the assumption was that Brown, his best friend, would automatically follow. Derek Johnstone authoritatively told the Radio Clyde audience that the deal was all but done and late in that season the visiting Rangers (RIP) support interrupted their regular songs about blood and popes to inform the home fans that they were signing Scott Brown.

Funny story about that; he had already agreed to join Celtic, it just hadn’t been announced yet and when it was revealed it created quite a stir, especially the fee for some reason.

His first season with us started with a damp squib 0:0 draw at home and for a large part of the season we seemed to struggle to hit any kind of coherent form. Brown had started decently alongside other new midfielder Donati. He got his first goal in the Hoops against Hearts (he had a decent scoring rate against them which clearly pleased the boy Hibs fan in him) and brought some welcome energy to the midfield, but his composure left a lot to be desired, specifically a terrible miss away in Moscow that would have given us a welcome away win in the Champions League qualifiers.

When we reached the group stage his lack of experience was occasionally exposed. Away to Shakhtar he looked seriously out of his depth, but at home to Champions League holders Milan he more than held his own. With his help we qualified out of our Champions League group for the first time.

That season eventually began to drift away from us and Brown was inconsistent. Even during games his form could suddenly spike or drop and as the season reached its end we lost a home game to Motherwell and that seemed to be that. Out of both cups and trailing badly in the league he picked up injury and was out of the team.

Then came the club statement saying that Scott Brown would miss the majority of the remaining games to deal with a family situation; his sister was in the final stages of a terminal skin cancer condition. He had been playing all through the season while dealing with the most horrendous situation imaginable. In that context not having the best debut season was put starkly in its place. Fiona Brown passed away in May 2008.

The replacement midfield of Robson and Hartley orchestrated the most remarkable turn around and on the final day of the season, as we won 1:0 at Tannadice to clinch a third consecutive title. Scott Brown came off the bench to play his part. After the game the team all wore t-shirts featuring a picture of Tommy Burns who had also recently passed due to cancer.

Brown has said that the way the club helped him through that, specifically Gordon Strachan and Peter Lawwell, was one of the reasons he stayed so long. They had helped him and his family at the worst possible moment and he wanted to repay that.

The following season was disappointing in the league as we finished second due to a variety of factors: the board turning down WGS’s request for funds to buy Fletcher from Hibs contributed to a lack of goals, the injury to Barry Robson removed a

major influence in our midfield and some horrendous defending didn’t help (losing 3-2 at ICT having been 2-0 up for example).

But Scott Brown seemed to be putting his personal tragedy behind him as he relentlessly drove us forward. I was recently clearing out space in the attic and found an old VHS tape marked 08-09. There were a couple of recorded Daily Huddle shows from Celtic TV, one of them from February 2009 had the goal of the month feature – six goals and you could text them your favourite for GOTM. Of the six, Scott Brown either scored or had a direct assist in five of them. It looked like we were starting to see a return on the fee paid.

The League Cup final seemed to underline that. For the first time against the Bearmacht Brown was a dominant force, controlling the midfield against Ferguson and always moving the game towards their goal. He was a deserved MOTM. But it didn’t provide the hoped for springboard in the league and the season finished in disappointment.

At the end of the season WGS left. In truth he had stayed one season more than he intended but the circumstances of Tommy Burns’ death had persuaded him to remain for a further season. You might have thought that with that kind of prior notice the club would have taken the opportunity to prepare for a new manager coming in. You would have thought. But as per it was a shambles as we seemed to chase a variety of managerial shadows (Owen Coyle being the main one at the time) until former Celt and former Hibs manager Tony Mowbray was announced to the delight of no one.

It wasn’t quite a total calamity from minute one, but it wasn’t far from it as the players seemed to become more confused with every passing game.

To add to the misery Scott Brown – easily our best player the previous season – picked up a serious injury and dropped out. By the time he returned at Love Street our league campaign was already nose diving. The title was gone, the team was a mess, McManus, Robson and McDonald all sold to Middlesborough, and we were stacked with players who were either on loan (Keane) or not good enough (take your pick from the remaining players really). We still had the cup but with Lenny in temporary charge we lost a hideous semi final 2:0 to Ross County.

When the team returned to Celtic Park from Hampden there was an angry crowd awaiting them. Lennon ordered the players to face them and hear what they had to say. I know from people that were there the only two from the team that emerged with any kind of credit were Robbie Keane and Scott Brown. They didn’t get confrontational and start shouting at the crowd the way some did and they were the last two to go into the stadium.

During the summer Lenny was confirmed as manager and the rebuild job began.

It is impossible to understate the impact Lennon had on the career of Scott Brown. He kept faith with him, named his as his captain and managed to get his energy focused in a way that it had been previously. Possibly the added responsibility of the captaincy helped as well.

During that season the Celtic View ran a regular feature of questions for the first team squad – standard stuff about their first hero, favourite foods, music etc. The final few questions were about the dressing room, worst dresser, funniest team mate and so on. The final question was, “If you were the manager who is the first name on the team sheet?” Every one of them said Scott Brown. It seemed we had a leader.

But his old demons of injury and indiscipline were still there. He missed the month of November and most of December, which turned out to be crucial as we dropped six points at home over three draws, only returning for the final game of 2010 as we braced ourselves for the New Year visit to Ibrox. In the final minute of a poor 1-0 win over Motherwell he got correctly sent off for an entirely unnecessary challenge on the touch line near their box. A terrible stupid red card which ruled him out of Ibrox and not what his reputation amongst the Celtic support needed.

He owed his team mates a huge thank you as they went across the city and with a seriously weakened team (Hooper and Stokes were out injured as well) emerged 2:0 winners, an emerging sign that Lenny’s first spell in charge might be a gamble that would pay off.

Without question the turning point was the Scottish Cup game at Ibrox in February 2011, thanks to the boost that 2:0 January win had given the whole squad went there without any kind of fear factor. Featuring for them that day was El Hadj Diouf, a loathsome individual even by their miserably low standards. Diouf was a master of inane trash talking and inevitably he and Brown clashed.

Despite our confidence we were a goal down inside 2 minutes. But we didn’t fold, in fact we started to dominate the game and were level after 15 minutes, new signing Commons making his mark.

Of course we then conceded a penalty and had the keeper sent off meaning we trailed 2:1 at the break.

It did not look good. Ihe feeling was that the momentum had shifted and we were up against it. Good thing no one told the team because even a man down we came out in the second half and dominated again with the midfield of Brown, Ledley and Ki running the show.

An indication of just how on top we were was the build up to our equaliser. Despite being a man down we had both full backs pushed deep into their half. Izaguirre crossed the ball in and Mark Wilson knocked it back for Brown, who took one touch to steady himself and with his left produced the trademark moment of his career as he carved the ball into the net. His celebration, standing with his arms out expressionless in the face of Diouf became instantly iconic.

It was also deemed a bookable offence, which is baffling to this very day.

Almost from that instant his Celtic career seemed to change gear, although we didn’t win the league that season we served notice that we were on the up and anyone shaking hands with Scott Brown before a game better get ready for a battle.

At the end of the season he lifted his first of his 20 trophies as Celtic captain following our 3:0 win in the cup final against Motherwell.

Under Lennon and then Deila Broonie was a dominant force, especially when assisted by the likes of Ledley or Wanyama. Additionally his influence beyond the first team was being felt. He started to get involved with the coaching of the younger pros, going along to the games to help with the kit and generally helping the young boys, but by the time 2016 came along injuries were beginning to return and his influence started to wane. His performance (and penalty) in the 2016 semi loss were not what we were accustomed to.

Under Scabbers his game enjoyed a massive revival. For a start he told him to drop the assisting with the younger players and fully concentrate on his own game, but also he dropped back to act as the midfield anchor guarding the back four and acting as the pivot when we had the ball rather than as the driving force (although he retained that part of his game for when it was needed).

His game blossomed in this role. Typically he kept it simple, but when called upon he was more than capable of producing some phenomenal skill – witness his drag back and slide rule pass at Ibrox in September 2017, or during the Treble Treble cup final. Just after we went behind he gathered the ball on the right and produced a superb run into the box, leaving a trail of beaten defenders behind him. The run didn’t result in a goal, but it pushed the momentum back in our favour.

It is impossible to compare him to someone like Paul McStay, but for all McStay’s brilliance he never dominated games with force the way Brown could. His goal at Pittodrie on May 2015 perfectly summed him up, sliding into a 50/50 with Barry Robson (not noted for his light attitude to tackling), coming away with the ball, taking it 40 yards to halfway before passing, continuing his run and sliding in to finish in their 6 yard box. The very essence of a box to box midfielder.

It could be argued that August 2016 to March 2020 were the best years of Scott Brown when his energy, skill and spirit were perfectly aligned with experience and the assistance of McGregor. They were a pretty unbeatable pairing for more than a couple of seasons. Certainly against Sevco he was a player on whom you could constantly rely, always up for the challenge and seeing off many and various blue devils. One of my favourites was Barton. Not only on the end of a 5-1 gubbing, but Broonie also won two drop balls in that game. Let’s not even start with his head to heads with Morelos. Comedy gold.

Maybe season 20/21 was a step too far for him. Certainly his standards seemed to drop precipitously. Maybe the impact of lockdown affected him more than most given his age. Whatever it was he was no longer capable of dominating games through sheer force of personality.

Statistically he is the second most successful captain in the history of the club, he holds the record number of European appearances for Celtic with 127 and has 620 appearances in total.

Simply put, it is legend material.

It is a shame that he decided to move on, but given the state of the club during the summer and the uncertainty of the managerial situation it maybe wasn’t surprising. So now the Aberdeen crowd will have to stop booing his every touch and throwing pies at him.

The one certainty is this; on his return to Celtic Park he will absolutely cement someone. As we all know that is kind of his thing.

We thank him for all the trophies he helped win and hope that maybe one day he will be part of the coaching team at Celtic.

Honours:

10 x League

6 x League Cup

6 x Scottish Cup

AB Murdoch

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