FOOTBALL: Brown back at Wembley with a mission

Scotland manager returns to England's home ground for next week's play-off second leg determined to make up for past failures
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The Independent Online
ON HIS first trip to Wembley, tartan hat on his head and fire in his belly, Craig Brown watched aghast as Scotland were trampled 9-3 by England. Last time he came, as manager, his dignified reaction to Gary McAllister's missed penalty and the wondrous Paul Gascoigne goal which sealed a 2-0 defeat masked gut-wrenching disappointment. "Fond memories," he says, wistfully and a trifle incongruously.

Brown returns to the home of the traditional enemy on Wednesday week, hoping for a positive outcome to the Euro 2000 play-off to look back upon in years to come. To hear him relive what was once a bi-annual pilgrimage is to gain an insight into what drives the 59-year-old former headmaster whose tactical acumen bars England's way at Hampden Park on Saturday and Wembley the four days later, as well as to understand the fixture's exalted status among his compatriots.

Revealingly, Brown's recollections centre equally on the experience of being a supporter and events on the pitch. For a quietly spoken if genial individual with an urbane image - untarnished, it appears, by one tabloid's ill-founded attempt to smear him as a religious bigot - the anecdotal evidence demonstrates how readily he will indentify with the emotions of the Tartan Army over the coming days.

Take the aforementioned Scots-in-12-goal-thriller shambles of '61. Brown, then nicknamed "Bleeper" because his ability to kick the ball skywards reminded his Dundee team-mates of the Soviet sputniks, travelled down with with the words of his manager, Bob (brother of Bill) Shankly, ringing in his ears.

"Bob had a great way of keeping a player's head the right size," he explained. "He'd say: `Son, if you're ever at Wembley, you'll no' be on the pitch, you'll be wearing a tammy'. I was, too, but oh, that was a depressing game."

Two years later he was back, squirming on the terraces as Eric Caldow, whom he knew personally from his time as a teenager with Rangers, suffered a broken leg in the opening minutes. Jim Baxter, whom he had understudied at Ibrox, scored twice as the 10 men won 2-1. Brown's pride was tinged with sadness for a friend.

No such qualifications cloud his memories of '67 when, he said with tongue only slightly tickling cheek, "we beat England 3-2 and took the World Cup away from them". Baxter and company mocked Alf Ramsey's robots, as they were depicted north of the border, yet Brown, by then playing for Falkirk, almost missed the party.

"Myself and two team-mates - Doug Baillie, who's now a reporter for the Sunday Post, and John Lambie, who manages Partick Thistle - went for lunch in the West End. The sweet was so long coming that the other two fled after the main course to get the tube to Wembley.

"It was five to two and I realised I hadn't got enough money to pay the total bill. So I threw myself at the mercy of the waitress and offered her the last pounds 2 in my pocket. Fortunately she accepted it. Later, when I was manager of Clyde and we did the weekend in London supporting Scotland, I made sure we saved up for it through the season."

Not a confession one would expect from a freshly-honoured Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In fact, the B-word, to employ a euphemism used by a popular football phone-in on Scottish radio, does not figure prominently in Brown's world view.

"I'd never describe myself as British except when I'm checking into a hotel," he said. "I'm very Scottish. If we get to the finals we won't be representing Britain, but Scotland. I'm fiercely patriotic. Having said that, I view the English positively, particularly in terms of their football."

What about the arrogance perceived by Scots in the "humour" of Jimmy Greaves and Emlyn Hughes? "I've not heard any at first-hand, certainly not from Kevin Keegan."

While Brown's diplomatic streak is as wide as the Clyde, his Scottishness is clearly deeply felt. "I'm delighted we've got our own parliament and autonomy. I've always been like that. People have tried to rope me into politics - the SNP in particular because I admitted I gave my first vote to Winnie Ewing in Hamilton - but my voting pattern has varied. Alex Ferguson has identified himself strongly with Labour. I feel it's important for me to be seen as neutral."

There will no place for fence-sitting in the struggles with England, a draw Brown describes as "500 per cent more appealing than any other we could've got, but also probably the hardest". The Scots, he senses, have "longed" for the revival of this encounter, although he is discouraging "the Braveheart and bagpipes" approach among his players, if not the punters.

"We did get the squad to wear the kilts before the Brazil game in Paris last year. I haven't got the legs for it but the idea was to create a bond between them and the fans. Mind you," he adds self-depracatingly, "we lost a goal in three minutes."

The gospel according to Brown is "controlled aggression and emotional stability". In other words, passion tempered by poise, a quality he regards as the pre-requisite for making the right decisions in the heat of battle.

To that end, he suspects the English public might be surprised by the cool, Continental style (if fit) of Paul Lambert, the midfielder Celtic brought home from a European Cup-winning sojourn in Dortmund. He is also confident that John Collins and Don Hutchison will at least match their counterparts for skill, and that Neil Sullivan has the technique and temperament to lay the jibes about Scottish goalkeepers to rest.

"But the main thing," said Brown, "is that we've got a good unit. A team isn't necessarily composed of the best 11 players. Aime Jacquet left out David Ginola, and, before that, Eric Cantona. No disrespect to the sports psychologists, but I don't need them to tell me how to create a cohesive group.

"I've studied this subject, read books about it by basketball and American football coaches like Vince Lombardi. Also one by an English lady named Hilarie Owen, called Creating Top Flight Teams. The pun was on `flight' - it turned out to be about the Red Arrows."

Although the former red arrow of Anfield, Keegan, played and scored against Scotland, Brown has an edge in pitch-side experience. Despite Scotland's defeat in Euro 96, he argues with some justification that McAllister, Collins and company "controlled the game" and dismisses the claim that Terry Venables' team dominated the second half as "a myth".

Either way, there is a score to settle. Brown is certain that the Scottish supporters, home and away, will not seek redress with violence or loutishness. "These games will bring out the best in them. Obviously I didn't see the half-time at Wembley last time, but I'm told our fans put on a carnival.

"They'll take over London, but not in a malicious way. I don't expect there'll be one hint of damage. They'll dive into the fountains in Trafalgar Square, but when they got on the pitch at Wembley in the late '70s it was more high spirits than anything. We obviously need stronger crossbars! Let's face it, though, nobody got hit over the head with the bagpipes."

As Brown stresses, the matches would be "massively important" if they were merely friendlies. The fact that the winners gain admission to a major tournament is the attraction for the pragmatist in him.

For the patriot, there will be "great joy" if Scotland win and "ignominy" should they lose, "because it's perceived as a disgrace to get beat by England". Whether he is to be hero or villain, Craig Brown's re-appearance at Wembley in a tracksuit rather than a tammy means he can at least utter those seldom-heard words: Shankly was wrong.


Born: 1 July 1940.

Playing career: Rangers, Dundee (won League Championship medal in 1962), Falkirk; represented Scotland at schoolboy, youth and junior level.

Career outside football: Head teacher, college lecturer.


Assistant manager, Motherwell (1972-77).

Manager, Clyde (1977-1986).

Assistant Scottish national coach to Andy Roxburgh (1986-1993).

Scotland Under-21 coach (1986-93).

Scotland manager (Appointed 17 Nov 1993).


Competitive fixtures*

P 37 W 21 D 9 L 7 For 54 Against 24

Friendly matches

P 18 W 5 D 4 L9 For 15 Against 22

Consolidated record

P 55 W 26 D 13 L 16 For 69 Against 46

* Does not include 3-1 defeat in Italy as caretaker manager.

Qualified for:

1996 European Championship

1998 World Cup finals.