Obituary: Frank Brennan

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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital