Bill Brown

Elastically agile Scotland and Spurs goalkeeper
Click to follow

Characteristically calm and unfussy, yet breathtakingly acrobatic at need, Bill Brown was the last line of defence when Tottenham Hotspur in 1961 became the first club in the 20th century to lift the coveted League and FA Cup double, and two years later the first Britons to sample European footballing glory.

William Dallas Fyfe Brown, footballer: born Arbroath, Angus 8 October 1931; played for Dundee 1949-59, Tottenham Hotspur 1959-66, Northampton Town 1966-67, Toronto Falcons 1967; capped 28 times by Scotland 1958-65; married (one son, two daughters); died Simcoe, Ontario 30 November 2004.

Characteristically calm and unfussy, yet breathtakingly acrobatic at need, Bill Brown was the last line of defence when Tottenham Hotspur in 1961 became the first club in the 20th century to lift the coveted League and FA Cup double, and two years later the first Britons to sample European footballing glory.

He excelled between the posts for Scotland, too, becoming their most capped custodian until his record of 28 appearances was surpassed by Alan Rough in 1979, yet Brown did not conform to the popular notion of what a goalkeeper should look like. Although he stood half an inch over six feet, his frame was spare, stringy and seemingly insubstantial, in vivid contrast to the imposingly muscular individuals employed by most clubs to mind their nets.

Every line of the Brown figure was angular, an impression emphasised by his aquiline features, although if some contemporary observers referred to him half-slightingly as willowy, there was no doubting his wiry resilience when it came to physical challenges with hulking centre-forwards.

All that mattered to White Hart Lane's Bill Nicholson was that Brown was perfectly suited to Spurs' defensive needs. Although his collection of crosses could be erratic occasionally and he was no commander of his penalty box in the manner of, say, Manchester United's Harry Gregg, that scarcely mattered with the giant centre-half Maurice Norman stationed in front of him, invariably heading balls to safety while leaving the keeper to patrol his line.

In all other respects, Brown was impeccable. Elastically agile, but not a show-off, he was endowed with remarkably sharp reflexes, he possessed a perceptive positional sense which made much of his work seem misleadingly easy, and his ability to maintain concentration was exceptional.

This last quality was crucial in a free-flowing, attack-minded team accustomed to dominating games, so that he might spend lengthy periods in virtual isolation. It was reassuring for the Tottenham supporters to see their goalkeeper half-crouching in an attitude of extreme involvement, even though most of the action was unfolding at the opposite end of the pitch. In his own mind, it appeared, Brown kicked every ball and made every tackle, and sometimes he left the arena looking shattered after contests in which he had been a virtual onlooker.

With the ball in his hands, he was an accurate kicker and launcher of attacks, adept at finding play-makers Danny Blanchflower and John White with pinpoint dispatches from hand or foot.

Another of Brown's prime assets was composure, particularly when the stakes were highest. He was never known to falter in a big match, turning in immaculate displays in the victorious FA Cup Finals of 1961, against Leicester City, and 1962, when Burnley were the opponents, on both occasions making a mockery of supposed aerial weakness.

But it was during the triumphant European Cup Winners' Cup campaign of 1962/63 that the Scot attained his zenith, especially in the quarter-final first-leg defeat by Slovan in Bratislava. He defied the Czechs with a series of splendid saves, limiting their lead to two goals and paving the way for second-leg victory.

Next came two fine semi-final performances against OFK Belgrade but, fittingly, his climactic effort was reserved for the final clash with Atletico Madrid in Rotterdam. By the interval, Tottenham were 2-0 up and seemingly in control, but then the Spaniards struck back with a penalty and for 15 minutes they pounded the north Londoners' rearguard. Brown stood firm, coping heroically until the crisis had passed and three more Spurs strikes secured the trophy, the fourth and last major prize of his White Hart Lane tenure.

In 1964/65, the 33-year-old's position was threatened by the arrival of a precociously gifted young Ulsterman named Pat Jennings. After the pair had vied with one another over two seasons, inevitably the older man was judged surplus to requirements, winding down his playing days in 1966/67 with the Second Division strugglers Northampton Town, then featuring briefly for Toronto Falcons before leaving the game.

As a youngster, Brown had been an exceptional all-round footballer, talented enough to earn a trial for Scotland Schoolboys as a left winger. But it was as a goalkeeper that he thrived, first with the local sides Arbroath Cliffburn and Carnoustie Panmure, then with the Scottish League club Dundee, for whom he made his senior début in 1949/50, having already received international honours at schoolboy and youth level.

The following term he was on the fringe of the team as the improving Dens Park outfit finished third in the top division; he was a regular as they won the Scottish League Cup in 1951/52, beating Rangers 3-2 in a tense final at Hampden Park, and as the decade wore on he graduated to the Scottish League and Scotland "B".

Brown won his first full cap in June 1958, replacing the more experienced Tommy Younger against France in what was to prove his country's last match in the World Cup Final tournament in Sweden. Despite performing superbly, he could not prevent a 2-1 defeat and the Scots returned home after the opening phase.

However, he had demonstrated his potential on the grandest stage, and soon he became a transfer target among leading English clubs. Tottenham's Bill Nicholson, wary of the competition after watching his quarry impress for Scotland against England at Wembley, swiftly agreed a £16,500 fee with Dundee and took a night train north to be sure of clinching the signing in the 1959 close-season.

Now Brown faced a formidable task as the long-term replacement for the veteran Spurs favourite Ted Ditchburn, whose goalkeeping style was rather more spectacular, and the critical White Hart Lane fans took some time to warm to the newcomer. But eventually he bedded in successfully and when Tottenham recorded their majestic double triumph in 1960/61, Brown was absent for only one match.

He established himself in the international arena, too, adding 24 more appearances to the four caps garnered at Dundee, before bowing out in 1965 with the reputation as Scotland's best goalkeeper since the war.

Later, while playing in Toronto, Brown grew to love Canada and he settled there, working for a property developer, then joining the Ontario government's land department in 1975 before retiring to live in the province in 1995.

Ivan Ponting