Obituary: Frank Brennan

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The Independent Online
They called Frank Brennan "The Rock of Tyneside", and with good reason. When Newcastle United became a footballing power in the land soon after the Second World War, Brennan was the colossus at the heart of their rearguard, standing between the great centre-forwards of the day and the Magpies' goal like a walking seam of granite.

A strapping, raw-boned Scot with an engaging personality, he became an adoptive Geordie and a local cult hero, sharing the limelight with his even more famous team-mates, the centre-forward Jackie Milburn and left- winger Bobby Mitchell. Majestic in the air, a fearsome tackler and deceptively fleet of foot for such a large man, Brennan specialised in winning the ball and passing it on, with a minimum of fuss, to more creative colleagues.

After excelling as a teenager in Scottish junior leagues, he took his first step towards soccer eminence by joining the Airdrieonians club, based to the east of Glasgow, as an amateur, in 1941, later turning professional and representing Scotland in wartime competition.

The turning point of Brennan's career arrived in 1946 when he played brilliantly for Scotland in a Victory international against England, snuffing out the threat of the star spearhead Tommy Lawton and attracting the attention of leading clubs from south of the border.

Both Sunderland and Preston North End pressed their suit, but the race for his signature was won by Newcastle, who paid pounds 7,500 for the privilege of taking the hugely promising 22-year-old to St James' Park.

Brennan made an instant impact in the English game, soon making his official international debut for Scotland (surely he would have won more than his seven caps but for the gifted Willie Woodburn of Glasgow Rangers), and was ever- present in the United side which gained promotion to the First Division in 1948.

For the next few seasons Newcastle were a top side, always missing out on the League title but making ample amends with successive FA Cup triumphs, a glorious one against Blackpool in 1951 followed by a distinctly fortuitous victory over Arsenal a year later. Brennan played a key role in both, bottling up the effervescent Stan Mortensen in the first and holding firm against the gallant Gunners, who had been reduced to 10 men through injury, in the second. Thereafter he continued to be a bulwark of the team until a financial dispute with the club cost him his place in 1954/55 - he missed United's third Wembley victory in five years in 1955 - and led to his controversial departure in March 1956. It was the era of the iniquitous maximum wage system and the fans pilloried the directors over what was perceived as unfair treatment of their favourite. There were public protest meetings and the case was raised at the Trades Union Congress but all to no avail.

Now Brennan joined the non-League North Shields as player-coach, serving them enterprisingly for six seasons before spending five years as a globe-trotting coach, spreading the soccer gospel to such far-flung outposts as Singapore and Trinidad. In 1967 he returned to North Shields, inspiring them to FA Amateur Cup glory in 1969, then managing Fourth Division Darlington for a brief spell in the early 1970s. There followed a stint as trainer-coach of the part-timers South Shields before Brennan opted to concentrate on his sports outfitter's business in Newcastle. Eventually he retired to the nearby Whitley Bay.

Frank Brennan will be remembered best for his prime in the black-and- white stripes of Newcastle United. Beyond reasonable dispute, he remains the finest, most dominant defender in the club's history. Given the current Magpies' notorious defensive frailty, what wouldn't their manager Kenny Dalglish pay for the modern equivalent of "The Rock of Tyneside"?

Ivan Ponting

Frank Brennan, footballer, coach and manager: born Annathill, near Glasgow 23 April 1924; played for Airdrieonians 1941-46, Newcastle United 1946- 56; capped seven times by Scotland 1946-54; manager, Darlington 1971-72; married (three sons, three daughters); died Newcastle upon Tyne 5 March 1997.