It is difficult to imagine any football manager being harder or straighter than Alan Brown. No club in his charge ever lifted a major trophy, yet he remained a hugely respected, if somewhat idiosyncratic member of his profession, his name a byword for truth, frankness and rigid discipline.
Yet while the "Iron Man" image will be forever synonymous with this complex Northumbrian, his contribution as one of soccer's most thoughtful and innovative tacticians should never be overlooked. Neither should his sheer passion for the game; he once described football, with no hyperbole intended, as "one of the biggest things that happened in Creation."
The son of a painter and decorator, Brown went to grammar school and had a yen to be a teacher, but as one of a large family during the Depression, did not have the opportunity for further education. However, he was blessed with natural athleticism and, after revealing immense ability as an unyielding centre-half in local football, he joined Huddersfield Town in 1933. He did not settle contentedly with the Terriers and left to spend two years as a policeman before returning to make a few dozen senior appearances for the club before the Second World War.
However, it was after the war, having been transferred to Burnley, that Brown made his most significant impact as a player. In 1946-47, he skippered the Lancastrians to promotion from the Second Division and led them to the FA Cup Final, in which they were defeated 1-0 by Charlton Athletic. In 1948, a pounds 15,000 deal took him to Notts County, but the 34-year-old played only a handful of games before ending his playing days.
Thereafter, Brown opened a restaurant in Burnley, but returned to the game he loved on the suggestion of Stanley Rous, then Secretary of the Football Association. In 1954, after three and a half seasons as a coach with Sheffield Wednesday, Brown moved into management with his former employers, Burnley, upsetting several senior players who were not keen on the prospect of being bossed by such a tower of mor-al rectitude. Unsurprisingly, Brown was unruffled by this undercurrent, and set about his new task with evangelistic zeal. To him, such virtues as integrity and industry were compulsory and he saw to it that his club espoused them, too. Indeed, when work started on a new outdoor training centre, he helped to dig the foundations himself and "volunteered" his players to do likewise. A few hands were blistered, and probably a few egos as well.
However, Brown was never solely a disciplinarian. His deep fascination with strategy was evident in the mesmerising range of free-kick routines he instituted, and in his enterprising use of short corners, both of which were much copied elsewhere. Also, as the Turf Moor club was not blessed with bottomless coffers, he was committed to the introduction and development of youngsters, a policy which he was to pursue vigorously elsewhere in later years and which did much to pave the way for future Burnley triumphs.
Brown was not to be part of those, though. After keeping the Clarets in the top half of the First Division for three seasons, he left for Sunderland, who had been suffering scandals over illegal payments to players and who were languishing near the foot of the table. He was scathingly contemptuous of such abuse and, despite the Wearsiders being relegated for the first time in their history in 1958, Brown both ensured that their act was well and truly cleaned up and gradually revitalised their playing fortunes. He spent far more time in a track suit than a lounge suit and, after several near misses, led them to promotion in 1964. Then, to the consternation of many fans, he left to take over at Sheffield Wednesday, an ambitious club with what was then the most sumptuously- appointed stadium in the land.
Brown took the Owls to the 1966 FA Cup Final, which they lost after leading Everton by two goals, but League form tended to be mediocre or worse and in February 1968, he returned to Sunderland. Another relegation in 1970 was followed by two failures to win promotion and the sack in November 1972. After that, Brown coached in Norway, a prelude to a retirement blighted by ill health.
He will be remembered as a man who believed that rules, both for football and life, were sacrosanct. For example, he always refused to sanction material inducements to parents of promising youngsters, at a time when that practice was widespread, even if it meant losing a possible future star. His contempt for the moral bankruptcy that spawned the recent "bung" scandals must have been total. His career never attained the dizziest heights, but his personal standards did. Emphatically, Alan Brown was not for turning.
Alan Winston Brown, football player and manager; born Corbridge, Northumberland 26 August 1914; player for Huddersfield Town 1933-46, Burnley 1946-48, Notts County 1948; Coach, Sheffield Wednesday 1951-54; Manager, Burnley 1954-57, Sunderland 1957-64, 1968-72, Sheffield Wednesday 1964-68; died Barnstaple, Devon 8 March 1996.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies