Scott Brown made 33 appearances for Aberdeen this seasonIn the world of Hollywood horror movies there is a particular plotline device featuring the plight of the protagonist that can be loosely described as ‘It Ain’t Over Yet’.
You know the kind of thing. It looks like curtains for Chucky in Child’s Play, but no, what’s that moving behind the curtains? It looks over for The Shape in Halloween, but, hang on, who’s that climbing off the floor in the background?
Now, finally, comes the end of Scott Brown as a footballer and all-round cartoon baddie, a title he has absolutely revelled in, as if he was an actor playing himself in the story of his own life. In some ways, that’s true. The 36-year-old been a performer for all these years, a guy who put a mask up whenever he put his kit on.
When you met the person as opposed to the footballer, you quickly became aware of the difference between the two. The chutzpah of the athlete – domineering and unrelentingly intense at his peak – was in notable contrast to the humility and humour of the person, the tremendous self-deprecation, to the point of self-mocking.
All of it was laced with a bit of hurt at the flak he took, which was fuel to his fire. “Not bad for a guy whose legs have gone,” he would say. “I’m doing OK for somebody who was finished 10 years ago.”
‘The busted flush who roared back’The next phase beckons. An assiduous chronicler of training sessions, particularly of Brendan Rodgers’ training sessions – he says he has every one of them from their time together at Celtic recorded in books in his house – his life now is in coaching and, he hopes, management somewhere down the line.
Rodgers is such a fan of Brown, and Brown such a fan of Rodgers, that it’s no surprise a reunion at Leicester City has been talked about.external-link
The Leicester manager spoke regularly about Brown’s resilience and intelligence as a footballer and always championed him as a coach of the future, having revitalised the midfielder when he came to Celtic in 2016.
That period was one of the moments when Brown’s playing post mortem was written. There’s no doubt that in the back catalogues of most people who comment about football in Scotland there is an incriminating item about Brown being washed up.
Is this the new ‘Broony’?As far back as 2010, there was a major discussion about him on one of the Celtic supporters’ forums and the view was unsparing.
“Not good enough.”
“Brown’s days are numbered.”
“Never captain material.”
He won nine league titles, six Scottish Cups and five League Cups after that. In 2015, he was pictured late at night on an Edinburgh street, chomping on pizza in League Cup final week. Cue outrage, cue calls for a carpeting, cue another trophy come Sunday. Brown was really good in that final.
A year later he was deemed to be a busted flush after Rangers ran over the top of him in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
Even Brown, himself, thought the end was nigh at that point. He’d become a frustrated figure under the coaching of Ronny Deila and said that had it not been for Rodgers coming to the club he’d have retired that summer, before the quadruple treble even existed as a concept in Celtic’s subconsciousness, never mind in reality.
‘Brown counted rivals in and counted them out again’Brown sent fans of many clubs into advanced states of hyperventilation for some of the things he did on the field and who threatened to spontaneously combust when he committed the mortal offence of responding to some disgustingly personal abuse with a smile or a wave.
Many rival players threw a shape in his direction. El Hadji Diouf, Joey Barton and company – he counted them in and he counted them back out again.
There was always a feeling that those fans who gave him volleys did so, in part, out of grudging respect and because they wouldn’t have minded him – or a player like him – in their own colours, driving their team on and noising up those who sought to take liberties.
The truth of that was realised when he moved to Aberdeen. Their fans ranted at Brown almost as much as Rangers ones did over the years, but what happened when he went north? He won most of them over with his passion, even though his football was nowhere near the level of before.
They appreciated his commitment. They basked in him sticking it to Rangers in an almost-comical fashion. They recast him as ‘Brooner’ as opposed to ‘Broony’, as he was known by Celtic people. One of their own.
At the start of the season, as he started to embark on the double life of player-coach, he got talking about his years of European football with Celtic and international football with Scotland. The way he spoke you’d think he was an interloper.
What also came through was the competitive animal that made him such a force for so long in such a demanding environment as Celtic Park.
“I was never one to run and get a strip from other players. ‘Please, sir, can we swap shirts?’ I’ve never done it. I wouldn’t speak to them in the tunnel, I wouldn’t help them up off the floor if I fouled them, I wouldn’t speak to them after the game. That was my way of getting through. No respect.
“That time in Barcelona [Champions League, September 2016] it was four or five at half-time [it was 2-0 but it was a terrible chasing all the same] and some of the lads were sprinting up the tunnel to try and get Messi’s strip and I was losing my head.
“Why would you want to get somebody’s strip who’s just ripped you a new one? I’m looking at them. ‘Messi, Messi, please, strip, strip…’ I went in and lost the plot. At the end of the game, they did the exact same.
“All those great players I played against and I never asked for a strip even though deep down I probably wanted to. Until they came looking for my strip I wasn’t going looking for theirs and I never saw Messi running down the tunnel after me going. ‘Broony, Broony, can I swap strips with you please?'”
He laughs when he thinks about the names his young boys are going to call him when they discover in later life that the family cupboard is bare and there’s not a single shirt from any of the immortals he’s faced in football.
Brown has won everything there is to win in Scotland, has wound-up everybody worth winding up – and plenty who weren’t – and has gone back and wound them up again and again, just for the laugh.
There was a softer side – many moments of generosity and class behind the scenes – but he said, with a smile, that any airing of that stuff would damage his reputation as the baddest man in Scottish football. After all, he had a caricature to live up to.
The footage of his poignant on-field cuddle of support with Glen Kamara after the Rangers player was racially abused by Ondrej Kudela last year could be placed alongside him ‘doing the Broony’ in the face of Diouf years earlier. Two entirely different snapshots that captured the essence of the man.
He’s hoarded trophies the way some people hoard plastic bags. In the pantheon of most talked about Scottish football men over the last two decades he arguably ranks below only Neil Lennon. In terms of the wild extremes of emotions he’s evoked it’s probably him and his former manager at the top of the list.
With Brown’s statement on social media confirming that he has now officially retired as a player, a tumultuous career is over. Auditions for a new pantomime villain will start immediately. Bring your A game, whoever you are. The bar has been set at a stratospheric height.
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