AFC Wimbledon: Brown plots different way up for Crazy Gang's heirs

Wimbledon manager offers a contrasting approach from club's forerunners as he prepares for League bow.

If this is the "big time", it was not immediately obvious as I stepped carefully into Terry Brown's "office" at AFC Wimbledon's training ground. Not only is it tiny, there cannot be another Football League manager who works amid electrical fuse boxes, a paint-splattered ladder and other groundsman's equipment, and whose desk is a minuscule occasional table parked between three old chairs on a patch of bare concrete floor. Light comes from a row of small windows above eye level. Only the tactics board on a breeze-block wall, and an incongruously new fax machine parked on a dusty chest, give any indication of Brown's vocation. "It's not exactly Alex Ferguson's," he said. I thought of the Manchester United manager's huge office at Carrington, with its bookshelves, TV screens and picture windows overlooking the training pitches.

Not that Brown is complaining. On Friday he is 59; the following day he gets the best birthday present of his life as he sits in the dugout as a Football League manager for the first time when Wimbledon make their return to the League against Bristol Rovers. It is a long-awaited step for Brown after a lifetime in non-League. Even as a boy he followed part-timers, taken by his father to Southall and Hayes. He went on to play semi-professionally for 20 years, with Hayes (where he replaced West Bromwich Albion-bound Cyrille Regis – "not exactly like-for-like"), Sutton, Slough and Wokingham. He began his coaching career at the latter, then managed Hayes (where he developed Blackburn Rovers' Jason Roberts) and Aldershot Town before taking over at AFC Wimbledon four years ago.

During this time he was thrice on the brink of the League, coming third in the Conference with Hayes, behind Steve Cotterill's Cheltenham Town, and twice losing promotion play-offs on penalties with Aldershot. "After the second occasion, when we were 3-1 up on penalties against Carlisle, and lost, I thought my chance had gone," he admitted. He left Aldershot the following year, in part to nurse his wife during a long battle with leukaemia which, though won, took its toll on the family, with Brown's son, who has learning difficulties, having to go into care.

Then Wimbledon offered him a last stab at glory, and all those years of experience finally bore fruit. After successive promotions, as they sought to climb the five tiers from the Combined Counties League back into the Football League, Wimbledon had stuttered, twice failing to escape the Ryman Premier Division. Brown knew exactly what was required.

"I'd learnt enough to know you have to kick yourself out of the Ryman League, only then can you look to play a more expansive game," he said. Wimbledon scrambled out via a play-off, and Brown set to work remodelling the team. The modern Wimbledon may be the heirs of the Crazy Gang, but, as anyone tuning into Saturday's match will see, their football is utterly different. "It is total football, throw the ball out from the keeper and play from the back under all circumstances," said Brown. "I don't mind a bruiser at the back as long as he can pass the ball. We play attractive, attacking football."

Not that Brown always saw the game this way. As a player he was an ill-disciplined scrapper and when he moved into management his teams were physical and functional. "My Hayes side was once described as a team of nightclub bouncers," he recalled. "I remember going up to Halifax the year they won the Conference and kicking them off the park. They had two animals up front and we won every battle, everywhere. We were big, strong, aggressive and took no prisoners. Boy could we bore people, but we won games. But in the end I got bored too. I'd put a video of our game and I'd fall asleep watching." Then Brown went to Aldershot, where "part of the remit was attractive football" and he changed tack.

Wimbledon have also benefited from his experience at Aldershot of moving from part-time players to full-time. "I trained them morning and afternoon and injured almost the whole squad. They weren't ready for it, but you try and convince directors, who had just doubled their playing budget, that 'full-time' is just coming in for an hour in the morning. Directors want their money's worth, they want players in all day, every day. So do fans. Fans love hearing about Stevenage where they come in at nine and finish at five. Up to about three years ago I'd have said to Graham [Westley], 'you work them too hard', but has he proved a few people wrong [Stevenage have gone from Conference to League One]."

So when Wimbledon went full-time last season he eased the players into it. They now train morning and afternoon, but the latter session is weights, or technical work "like the right-winger practising his crossing". There was another aspect to consider when going full-time. "I sent our scouts to get hungry, quick, athletic players ... living with mum and dad. If we're paying someone £75, £150, £300 a week, and it is their only job, they can't afford to live around here. So it is a young squad, but we told the parents, 'we're not paying a king's ransom, but your son will be coached every day, on a smashing surface. It's a great opportunity'. I keep telling these boys, 'The sun's out, it's a carpet of a pitch, and we've a first-class coaching staff here whose aim is to make you better players, to give you the chance to [move up the league and] earn thousands and thousands of pounds'. What an opportunity that is. But if they are not hungry, if they don't take that opportunity, we get rid of them."

Like George Graham and Paul Jewell, Brown can spot the wasters, because he was one. "I loved the game, but I didn't do the hard work. I wasn't a good trainer and I loved the social side. I wasn't quite good enough or dedicated to be a professional. But as a manager I'm strict on fitness and discipline. Don't do as I do, do as I say."

Brown has lost Danny Kedwell (to hometown team Gillingham) and Steven Gregory (to League One Bournemouth) of his promotion-winners but added a quartet of players with League experience and Erik Samuelson, the club's chief executive, is hoping for a play-off challenge. Brown laughed at that. His first target is the 50 points which should guarantee survival and he hopes the first three will come against an old friend. Paul Buckle, Rovers' manager, played under Brown at Aldershot. Now 40, Buckle was a Football League manager at 38, with Torquay United. "It's taken me 20 years and he gets into the League in five minutes," grinned Brown, "but it's been worth the wait."

Gesturing around the "office", he added: "We intend to paint this, and put some carpet in, but I've asked Eric to invest first in playing facilities, pitches, scouts, medical treatment. We are trying to catch up everywhere, but the team are the priority."

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition