RedMatchday Interview | with Scott Brown
You’ll have noticed recently that some people south of the border are taking rather a lot of notice of what’s going on in football up here, and not being altogether complimentary about it.
You might think that a fella whose only involvement with the game has come as chairman of the broadly unsuccessful Leyton Orient might do better to keep his opinions to himself, but Barry Hearn has never been a shrinking violet has he?
And truth be told, when you looked at the substance of what he was talking about, Hearn had a reasonable point or two to make about the organisation of the game in this country. Sadly, any constructive elements were lost in a welter of poisonous headlines and overinflated claims such that anybody who had fancied sponsoring the Scottish game might have been frightened off.
There are other views from England too of course, and perhaps the most instructive come from those Englishmen who are based in this country and are entrenched in our game. People like Scott Brown, Aberdeen goalkeeper. What does he make of things after six months up here?
“Scottish football has a lot to be positive about especially with the national team doing well. It is a really good league to be playing in and involved in.
“Every game you go into, you know it is going to be a game of football. You play in League One and League Two games in England and it is all about getting the ball in behind and playing a lot of territory football. A lot of the goals come from set plays. Here, everyone likes to try and play football. You know it is not just going to be a fight for 90 minutes.”
There are parts of what Hearn said that struck a chord with Scott though, especially on the commercial side of things.
“I wasn’t aware that alcohol was not allowed to be served in Scottish grounds until I read Barry Hearn’s comments. I asked Jim and Jamie about it in training and we then worked out how much money the clubs in Scotland are losing compared to their counterparts down south. It is a lot of revenue at a time when money matters.
“In England there are strict rules about not being able to drink during the game. I don’t see why the same rules wouldn’t work here?”
Scotland and England might share a border and have plenty in common, but not everything is transferable between one nation and the other, not even in goalkeeping. Scott is very clear that he has had to learn new tricks in order to be a success at Pittodrie.
“One of the biggest adjustments I have had to make to my game since coming to Scotland is my levels of concentration. At League Two level in England, you are always involved in the games because the ball is always coming into your box due to the direct style of football that teams play.
“It is definitely something I have had to work on because we keep the ball well. In quite a lot of the games, I am not involved for long periods and then I have to make a save. You have to keep your concentration so you can make the save when called upon.”
It’s been a long journey to the top for the 29 year old Brown, one which started back in the West Midlands when he got the chance to join the club that he supported.
“I have always been a goalkeeper, since the age of 7 or 8. I got stuck in goal one day and that was it! At that age, I was a Wolves supporter. My dad used to take me along to Molineux when I was a kid. My mum was from Brighton so my first game was Wolves v Brighton in the mid ‘90s. I stood on the South Bank behind the goal and watched the games.
“Steve Bull was playing and he had an unbelievable scoring record. They also had Andy Mutch and Andy Thomson, Mike Stowell in goal, they had a really good team back then. I have met Steve Bull a few times and he is a really nice guy. He owns a restaurant near where I live and also does PR stuff for the club on a matchday.
“Everyone is very passionate about their football in the Midlands. You have a lot of big clubs and there are a lot of local rivalries. You have West Brom, Aston Villa and Leicester in the Premiership and then you have the likes of Wolves, Notts Forest, Birmingham and Derby in the Championship and also teams like Walsall and Coventry further down the leagues. It’s a great football area.
“I was with Wolves from the age of about 12 through to 18. I remember very clearly at 16 when it came to decision time and that is a very nervy time. My Mum and Dad were in the office with me and the Academy Director, a guy called Chris Evans, who went on to become assistant manager at Sheffield Wednesday. I was convinced in my head that they were not going to take me on, so when he said ‘Scott we are going to take you on’ I was in shock! I did not know what to say!
“It was a dream come true, to become a footballer with the team you supported. But then, a couple of years later, I walked into work as a professional footballer and was told I was being released. You no longer have a job and no one wants you. The hardest thing was telling my Mum and Dad. One minute you are in football and the next minute you are not. Your dreams are shattered. Coming back from that was so hard”.
The simple, harsh truth is that hardly any players do come back from that – the odds are pretty slim. Staying in the game depends on talent, determination, a bit of luck and real mental strength.
“It is difficult for young keepers to make their way in the game, particularly down south. Most of the teams have an experienced number one and a kid as a number two. If their main keeper gets injured, they can then just go and get someone in on the loan system. They want experienced pros who have played lots of games. As a young keeper, you just have to keep believing and then be ready to take your chance when you do get it.
“Sometimes there is a lot of jealousy in football and people want you to fail. You have to be very strong mentally to make it. No one really wanted me after Wolves, so I landed up playing part-time in the League of Wales for Welshpool Town. It was actually a great move for me. Before then, I had only played youth team football, but this was definitely men’s football!
“Looking back the standard was not great. It was part time and we only trained twice a week, but the club meant everything to those players and they showed so much commitment and passion. I got smashed a few times but I learnt a lot about the game. It was a real education.
“You need a bit of luck a times to make it in the game and I got it through Mike Stowell, the Academy goalkeeping coach at Wolves who had moved on to Bristol City and he wanted to take me to Ashton Gate. I got a call totally out of the blue. I went on trial there for two weeks before signing a contract till the end of the season. I have so much to thank Mike for and his family because they put me up for a while when I first moved to the West County.
“I learned a lot from Mike. I think the biggest thing he taught me was my time management – when is the right time to go to the gym was, when I needed to rest and when I should be doing extra work. Or even when it was ok to have a drink. As a kid, all you want to do is train and play football but as a professional player, you need to look after your body.”
Scott’s real breakthrough came at Cheltenham Town, a club he joined at the start of the 2005/06 season.
“I was at Cheltenham for a long time and had a special relationship with the fans. I played nearly 300 games and I’ve been to Wembley and played against the likes of Spurs and Everton.
“The best save of my career came at Cheltenham when we played Torquay in the semi-final of the play-offs. We were 2-0 up from the first leg. It was just before half-time and they took a corner which came in, someone headed it back across me and I managed to get a good left hand on it and managed to push it away. The save helped us get to Wembley but then we lost to Crewe in the final.
“I have experienced being promoted through the play-offs, I lost in a final and I lost in the semi-final. Getting beat in the semi-final is probably the worst experience – that season I played every game and it was a horrible feeling. At least if you get to the final you have a day out to look back on but losing in the semi you have nothing.
“Saying that I think the play-offs are a good thing. A lot of teams can get into the play-offs, which keeps the season going for many teams. Otherwise there would be a lot of meaningless games.”
Scott was a spectator on a special day for the Aberdeen manager too. On the 26th August 2006, Cheltenham beat Millwall 3-2 and one of the Millwall scorers that day was Derek McInnes, his last ever senior goal and a memorable one at that!
“I think I was on the bench that day but I actually remember the goal. When met the manager in the summer, he said that he had scored a 35 yard worldie! I remember it as being a good strike from 20 yards!” Best not mention that…
Clearly diplomacy isn’t a part of the goalkeeper’s make up, but what does make a good number one?
“I think you need to have a good pair of hands, you need to be brave and you need to make good decisions. I think decision making is a massive part of being a keeper.”
One good decision was to exchange the English game for life in Aberdeen. It was also one of his easiest to make.
“As soon as I heard about the interest from Aberdeen, I was very keen to speak to them. It is a fantastic football club with a great history. I spoke to the gaffer and he only had good things to say. He really made me want to come and play for him and the football club.
“I saw Michael Hector not long after that and asked him about Aberdeen. He had nothing but good things to say about the club, the lads in the dressing room and the city. It’s a real football city and I didn’t want to regret not taking this chance.
“At this stage of my career, I felt it was the right time to move. An opportunity like this does not come along very often. Then another opportunity came along quite quickly to play in the first team.
“I was surprised to get my chance so soon because I thought Jamie had been doing well but I was delighted at the same time. Jamie has been brilliant to me from the first day I arrived in Aberdeen. It is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper. When you are in the team, you have to work hard to stay in team, and when you are not in team you have to work even harder to get back in.
“When you do start playing in the first team again it does take a little while to adjust. The intensity is a lot more than what you are used to playing in the Development league. The biggest thing is probably judging balls over the top. It also takes a little while to build an understanding with the back four in front of you, but that is something you can work on in training.
“Overall, I am loving life in Aberdeen and so are the family. My dog loves it, my missus loves it! Everyone has made me very welcome and I cannot thank the fans enough. Everyone in the city loves football. There is so much passion.
“The club is everything I expected and more. Every day when you come into train the standard is very high. You have to be at your best every day. There is no slacking off. If people want to say I am doing well then that is up to them. I just take each game as it comes and try and do enough to get selected for the next game. That’s all any of us can do”.