Allan Brown was described as the unluckiest footballer in the land after being invalided out of the FA Cup finals of 1951 and 1953 during an era when the Wembley showpiece was truly the gala day of the English game.
At the time the burly but deceptively deft Scottish international inside-forward was wearing the tangerine shirt of Blackpool, then one of the most powerful clubs in British football, and his plight seemed all the more excruciating because on both occasions he had played a major part in ensuring the Seasiders' presence beneath the twin towers of the famous old stadium.
In 1951, having made his customary assertive impact in every round up to and including the semi-final, he suffered a serious knee injury in a League game at Huddersfield three weeks before the big day. Two years later his plight was perhaps even more poignant when he broke his leg in the act of scoring a late winner in the sixth round against Arsenal at Highbury. It was a sickening blow to a high-quality performer in his pomp, one who could hold his own in the company of such Bloomfield Road team-mates as the incomparable winger Stanley Matthews, prolific England marksman Stanley Mortensen and the shrewd little midfield schemer, Ernie Taylor.
Known as "Bomber" Brown for his high-velocity shot, he was strong, quick and courageous, but was also a beautiful passer of the ball, capable of arrowing penetrative long-distance dispatches to his fellow attackers or taking part in quickfire close-range interchanges which could be hellishly difficult to combat, especially when they involved the two Stanleys. At international level, he both climaxed and concluded his service by appearing in Scotland's two games in the 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland, both defeats, and it seems reasonable to conjecture that he would have collected more than his 14 caps had it not been for a depressing catalogue of injuries.
As a teenager, Fifer Brown played for Kennoway, the team bearing the name of the mining village where he was born, before entering the professional ranks with East Fife in 1944. He made his senior debut in 1947, but it was not until he had completed his national service that he earned a regular berth in 1948-49, by which time the club had reached the top flight of the Scottish League.
He helped them to finish a creditable fourth that season, and again the next, but their highlight of 1949-50 was in winning the League Cup, Brown scoring in the semi-final victory over Rangers before shining in the 3-0 cuffing of Dunfermline Athletic in the October final. Then, to prove it was no fluke, they reached the final of the Scottish FA Cup in the spring, but this time lost to the Ibrox side.
Brown's progress was recognised by an international call-up and he scored in each of his first three outings for his country, in victories over Switzerland at Hampden Park that April and Paris in France a month later, sandwiched by a draw with Portugal in Lisbon. An ambitious and determined individual, he eyed a move to England, and when East Fife demurred he went half the next season without wages, taking part-time jobs to earn cash and remain fit. In an attempt to end the bitter dispute, East Fife spoke to Liverpool, Portsmouth and Manchester City about a possible transfer before selling their prime asset to Blackpool in December for £27,250, then the record fee received by a Scottish club.
Brown settled quickly at Bloomfield Road, no doubt helped by a Scottish enclave which included George Farm, Jackie Mudie, Hugh Kelly and Ewan Fenton, and he made a dramatic impact on his debut, creating three all three goals in a 3-2 win at Charlton. Thereafter, despite a miserable injury record, he became a key figure for the next half-decade, during which he scored 74 times in 185 games for the Seasiders without ever being their principal spearhead. His most bountiful campaign was 1952-53, during which he struck 17 times in 34 appearances, a comparable ratio with the sharp-shooting Mortensen.
For Brown it was a season which culminated in heartache, his collision with the Arsenal goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey, condemning him to watch on crutches what would enter folklore as "The Matthews Final", in which Blackpool defeated Bolton 4-3. His form at the time of the accident had been scintillating, prompting Clifford Greenwood of The Green to report: "If Allan Brown was not the best inside-forward in the country on the day he broke his leg at Highbury, I have never seen a footballer."
By the mid-1950s, mostly due to a variety of wounds, he began to find himself in and out of the side and in February 1957, despite having registered 13 goals in a mere 17 League games that season, he was sold to First Division rivals Luton Town for £8,000. Though by now in his 30s, Brown proved immensely influential at Kenilworth Road, and in 1959 finally made it to an FA Cup final, having scored five times on the Hatters' road to Wembley, including the winner in a sixth-round replay at home to Blackpool. He was his former club's executioner, but at least it allowed the Seasiders' more charitable fans to congratulate a former hero on his change of luck.
At Wembley Luton met Nottingham Forest, whom they had recently drubbed 5-1 in a League game with Brown scoring four times, but as a portent for the main event it could hardly have been more misleading. Forest, reduced to 10 men by a mishap to Roy Dwight, won 2-1, and Brown missed a late chance to take the contest into extra time.
After enduring relegation with Luton in 1959-60, the veteran Scot was sold to second-tier Portsmouth for £4,000 in March 1961 but was unable to prevent their demotion a few weeks later. However, having been converted to wing-half as he had slowed down, he proved a bulwark of the Pompey team which won the Third Division title in 1961-62.
After one more season at Fratton Park, Brown left the Football League in his 37th year to become player-manager of Wigan Athletic, then a Cheshire League side. He was an immediate success, guiding his new charges to a bevy of trophies, including four in one season, and to one remarkable sequence of 53 games without defeat.
Come 1966, frustrated that there seemed to be little likelihood of Wigan attaining League status at that point, Brown took over at Luton, who by then were in dire straits near the foot of the Fourth Division. Displaying all his characteristic single-mindedness, and administering stern discipline, he transformed the Hatters so radically that they won their championship at the end of his first full season. Then, astonishingly, while Luton were on their way to another promotion, he was sacked in December 1968 for applying for a job with Leicester City, then struggling in the top flight.
Unsurprisingly Brown wasn't unemployed for long. In January 1969 he took the reins of Torquay United, leading them to sixth place in the Third Division that season then to two mid-table finishes before being dismissed following a poor start to 1971-72. There followed a stint at Bury from April 1972, during which he helped to lead the Shakers out of debt for the first time in years by trading at a profit in the transfer market, then he set them on the way to promotion from the basement tier before becoming manager of Second Division Nottingham Forest in November 1973.
At the City Ground, where he nurtured the precocious talent of Duncan McKenzie before angering fans by selling him to Leeds, he saw Forest to seventh place in the table and to the sixth round of the FA Cup in 1973-74, but then was sacked in the middle of 1974-75 – and replaced by Brian Clough – following a dismal run of results culminating in an inept display in the local derby with Notts County.
Next came a fleeting and unrewarding spell in charge of Fourth Division Southport before he took control at Blackpool, the scene of his greatest achievement, in May 1976. He arrived at Bloomfield Road with all the advantages of a much-loved former player and in his first campaign, with an attractive team featuring the free-scoring Mickey Walsh, the Seasiders missed out narrowly on promotion to the First Division.
They were favourites to make it next time, but in February 1978 there were differences with the board and Brown was sacked, much to the consternation of supporters. After that he enjoyed a coaching engagement with Quadsia of Kuwait before he made a second return to Blackpool in March 1981 in the wake of Alan Ball's acrimonious departure. At that point they were a hard-up club in freefall and he couldn't prevent them dropping into the fourth grade that spring. In 1981-82 he steered them to a mid-table position before leaving the game.
Allan Duncan Brown, footballer and manager: born Kennoway, Fife 12 October 1926; played for East Fife 1944-50, Blackpool 1950-56, Luton Town 1956-60, Portsmouth 1960-62; capped 14 times by Scotland 1950-54; managed Luton Town 1966-68, Torquay United 1969-71, Bury 1972-73, Nottingham Forest 1973-75, Southport 1976, Blackpool 1976-78 and 1981-82; married (divorced; two children); died Blackpool 19 April 2011.
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