Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Laughter and the Tears

The Laughter and the Tears
The Rangers coaching staff had a decision to make with regards the wee lad from Fife. ‘Too wee, you need to be bigger to make the grade in the modern game.’ The 12 year old wasn’t offered an S-Form on the basis of his physique and much to his disappointment his Friday night training sessions with Rangers were over.  His mother was quietly glad as the drive she made every week from Fife took it out of her. She’d pack a flask of soup, a good book and a blanket as she drove him to Falkirk on a Tuesday night and Glasgow on a Friday for his training sessions. She’d sit in the car for a couple of hours in all weathers waiting for him to finish his football practice. She knew he was a determined lad and would not be giving up his dream of being a professional footballer. His Dyslexia made school difficult at times and he sometimes seemed happiest clattering into tackles on the football field than sitting in class. Rangers’ decision not to sign him was perhaps something of a blessing in disguise.

His determination caught the eye of Hibs scout, John Park, who took a chance on the dyslexic lad from Hill of Beath. He was signed up at the age of 13 and worked his way through the ranks at Hibs with others such as Gary O’Connor, Derek Roirdan, Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson and Steven Fletcher.  In May 2003 as Celtic fans prepared for the great airlift to Seville, Hibs gave a debut to a skinny 17 year old lad who set up 3 goals in their 3-1 victory over Aberdeen. His name was of course Scott Brown.

It’s a matter of record that Scott built a reputation as an aggressive midfielder who enjoyed the physical confrontations of the midfield engine room. It is beyond dispute that during his 110 games for Hibs, he became one of the most sought after young players in Scotland. In early 2007 Kevin Thomson admitted to the press that he had spoken to Scott about joining him at Ibrox. Reading was also interested in the player but Brown preferred to be fighting for honours rather than fighting relegation in England. He said at the time…

‘If I had chosen Reading I would probably be fighting a relegation battle next season and then maybe disappearing into the Championship. In two years' time people would have been saying, 'Remember that lad Scott Brown – whatever happened to him?'

Rangers fans sensing that Brown would be joining Kevin Thomson at Ibrox taunted Hibs fans with chants of ‘We’re going to sign Scott Brown’ but with a host of options before him, Brown surprised many by signing for Gordon Strachan’s Celtic in May 2007.  Brown said at the time…

"Everyone knows Celtic is one of the biggest names in football and the opportunity to join a club of Celtic's stature was one I had to take. Celtic has enjoyed a great season, lifting the SPL Championship and making great progress in Europe. The club has a magnificent support and I will be doing all I can to make sure I play my part in delivering more and more success to these fans."

The £4.4m fee Celtic paid for Scott Brown was a record between Scottish clubs. His mother, Heather, said at the time with a hint of a smile…

"Most of the village wanted him to sign for Rangers but his uncle Bert, Auntie Jeanette and cousin Ryan are especially pleased because they're all Celtic fans and shareholders."

He began season 2007-08 in the Hoops and played over 40 times as Celtic came back from a seemingly impossible deficit in the SPL to set up a tremendous finale to the season. He missed two Old Firm games in the spring of 2008 due to suspension but Strachan was able to win both games using Barry Robson and Paul Hartley as his midfield anchors. As that tumultuous season reached its climax Celtic lost one of their best loved sons when Tommy Burns lost his fight with skin cancer on May 15th. The club was shaken to its very foundation but from the tragedy of losing Tommy Burns came a determination to go on and win the title in his memory. For Scott Brown it would have been doubly painful as his sister, Fiona was in the final stages of her own tragic struggle with the same illness.

On May 22nd 2008 Celtic defeated Dundee United 1-0 at Tannadice to clinch one of the most emotionally charged matches in the club’s history. The title was won and the supporters and players remembered Tommy Burns as laughter mixed with tears on a memorable night in Dundee. For Scott Brown, a young man cavorting with his team mates on the pitch, the smiles hid his anguish. As he hugged Celtic owner Dermot Desmond in the wake of that title triumph, few would have guessed the troubles he was dealing with off the field. Just two weeks after Celtic’s triumph on Tayside, Brown lost his sister Fiona. She was just 21 and he was devastated. It was a testing time for the promising young midfielder as it would be for anyone caught in such circumstances. His first full season with Celtic had certainly been one of success on the field but that paled into insignificance when one considers the off field tragedies he and his family were trying to cope with.

In the almost 8 years since Scott Brown joined Celtic he has grown into one of the best midfielders in the country. He is Celtic Captain and a regular in the Scotland team. He has currently won 4 titles, 2 Scottish Cups and 2 League cups to add to the 2007 League Cup he won with Hibs. He has played over 200 games for Celtic and has matured into a fine player who has tempered his wilder streak without losing any of his edge in midfield. He has given Celtic fans some great memories and as one fan pointed out after a disappointing result when he was injured, ‘There’s a hole in the midfield when Broony isn’t there and it’s a big one.’  His contribution to Celtic has grown as he has matured and he is currently the first name on the team sheet. In 2008 he was the new kid on the block surrounded by older players such as Robson, McManus and Hartley. Today he is the leader on the field, the mainstay of a Celtic side which is currently dominating Scottish football.

He has come a long way since Rangers decided he was too small to make the grade. I for one am glad he decided to join Celtic and that his journey took him up the Celtic way and into Paradise.



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