Eddy Brown: Footballer remembered for his flamboyance

 

Eddy Brown was a centre-forward as prolific as he was eccentric – and that was saying something. A trailblazer of the goal celebration in the 1950s when such flamboyance was virtually unknown, he delighted in shaking hands with a cornerflag, indulging in an impromptu hug with a policeman, hopping into the crowd for a swift draught of lemonade, all of a piece with the sheer unadulterated ebullience with which he invested every area of his life.

But when it came to the business of hitting the net Brown was in deadly earnest. During a 13-year professional career taking in five clubs, most notably Birmingham City in the decade's second half, the charismatic Lancastrian racked up more than 220 strikes in a tad fewer than 450 appearances, a rough average of a goal every two games for which any modern manager would pay a king's ransom.

Yet all that infectious exuberance and athletic ability would have been lost to the game had Brown carried out his boyhood intention of entering the priesthood. From the age of 12 until he was 19 he studied at De La Salle Catholic College on Guernsey, from which he was evacuated to the mainland during the war. But while deploying his keen intelligence to garner four A-levels, and discovering a passion for the works of Shakespeare which would remain with him all his days – he used to recite adapted passages to team-mates, opponents, referees, anyone who would listen, often in praise of his hero, Preston North End's Tom Finney – Brown realised that he wanted to play football for a living.

So in March 1948 he turned up at Deepdale – like Finney, Brown was Preston-born – to offer his services. Duly he impressed, turned professional five months later and made his senior debut that November.

Much inspired by the visionary footballing "evangelist" Bill Shankly, then nearing the end of his playing days, Brown refused to be discouraged by Preston's relegation from the top flight that season and in 1949-50 he earned a regular place. Now the full scope of his prowess became apparent. A dynamic dasher who could leave most defenders trailing in his wake, he also possessed an explosive right-foot shot and was blessed with a goal-poacher's instinct for being in the right position at the right time.

Measuring only 5ft 9in, he was no more than average in the air, and he admitted that his left foot was employed merely for standing on, but he began to score heavily and his reputation grew. Thus it was a surprise in September 1950 when he joined Second Division rivals Southampton as part of the deal which took Charlie Wayman to Preston.

At first Brown felt uncharacteristically daunted at the prospect of replacing the sharp-shooting hero of The Dell, but he managed it well enough, even though he never settled on the South Coast. Accordingly, in March 1952 he accepted a £7,000 switch to Coventry City, whom he could not prevent from slipping out of the Second Division that spring but for whom he scored plentifully over the next two and a half years.

Then, in October 1954, came the key transfer of his career when he joined Birmingham City in a £9,000 deal. His 14 goals in the remainder of that season, including a hat-trick in the 9-1 annihilation of Liverpool at St Andrew's, were crucial to the Blues lifting the Second Division title.

Better still, in 1955-56 Brown was an integral contributor to the most productive campaign in the club's history, spearheading the revered forward line of Gordon Astall, Noel Kinsey, himself, Peter Murphy and Alex Govan and scoring 29 times as City tasted rare success in both League and Cup.

As well as finishing sixth in the First Division, they reached the FA Cup final, which they lost 3-1 to Manchester City on an afternoon of Wembley drama best remembered for the northerners' goalkeeper Bert Trautmann suffering a broken neck but playing on oblivious to his condition.

Brown also dazzled in the new Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the forerunner of today's Europa League but spread over three years, from 1955 to '58. Birmingham reached the semi-finals, where their leading scorer registered twice in a 4-3 first-leg home victory over Barcelona, only for the Catalans to prevail in a third match after an initial draw on aggegate.

During his St Andrew's stint, which ended with a switch to Leyton Orient in January 1959, Brown also enjoyed himself outside football, trying his hand as a male model and teaching part-time in Wolverhampton. After maintaining his scoring habit for the Brisbane Road side, he left the Football League in 1961, going on to immense success as player-manager of non-League Scarborough. Later he worked for his family's carpet firm, taught PE at Preston Catholic College and managed an amateur side well into his seventies. Even after that Brown remained irrepressible, telling one interviewer: "I've got one foot in the grave and another on a banana skin."

Edwin Brown, footballer: born Preston 28 February 1926; played for Preston North End 1948-50, Southampton 1950-52, Coventry City 1952-54, Birmingham City 1954-59, Leyton Orient 1959-61; married (four children); died Preston 12 July 2012.

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