Brown was first of a kind for Scotland's national team

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Former Scotland manager Bobby Brown
Former Scotland manager Bobby Brown

Bobby Brown was a reluctant convert to the national team. When he was offered the chance to manage Scotland, there were initial misgivings because he was working with a full-time club in St Johnstone.

That attitude might seem misplaced now, but Brown was essentially becoming a trailblazer.

Until he was offered the job in 1967, the national squad was chosen by committee, and it was with a certain reluctance that some within the Scottish Football Association bowed to media and public pressure to embark upon some modernising.

Brown was a strong candidate to be named Scotland's first full-time national team manager.

St Johnstone had thrived under his guidance, on and off the pitch, although there was upheaval for Brown to deal with in accepting the job offer from the SFA, since he had to move house from Perth to just outside Glasgow.

"The only bank manager who's ever taken his hat off to me was in Perth, because we cut up the overdraft [with player sales]," Brown said.

"It was a great job. [Sir Alex Ferguson] was with me at St Johnstone, and I've got to say he never forgave me for signing him from Queen's Park and only giving them £300, but that was the going rate.

Scotland's Jim McCalliog scores past England's Gordon Banks in 3-2 win at Wembley in 1967
Jim McCalliog scores past England's Gordon Banks in Scotland's 3-2 win at Wembley in 1967

"There was a lot of pressure from the press that it was high time Scotland had a full-time manager. The team prior to my going there was chosen like this: Willie Allan the secretary would hand each member of the committee a list of players, four goalkeepers, four right backs, four left backs, right down to outside left, and they would vote on each player."

A former goalkeeper with Queen's Park and Rangers, before his long spell at St Johnstone, Brown felt it was important to get to know some of the younger, up and coming Scots - among them Ferguson, Jim McCalliog and Tommy McLean - by taking a squad on tour.

The SFA agreed to a 10-game tour, much to Brown's surprise, and Scotland travelled to Israel, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

They won all 10 friendlies, but it was Brown's first competitive match that was to have a lasting resonance. Any victory over Scotland's oldest rivals is treasured by the nation, but defeating England 3-2 on their own ground when they had just won the World Cup proved particularly memorable.

Many Scotland fans consider it one of the most significant results in the national team's history. That view is enhanced by the fact that the team played so well at Wembley, and the iconic nature of Jim Baxter's keepy-uppy routine at one stage in the game.

That was Baxter displaying his mischievous streak, although others wanted to more conventionally belittle England by scoring more goals.

Brown himself was infuriated with Baxter, even if it was an exceptional player deploying his skills instinctively.

"To use a Scots' expression, I was doing my head at Baxter, because we were so much on top at that time," Brown said.

"Denis Law had two great efforts wonderfully saved by [Gordon] Banks and because of this I felt I wanted to rub it in, so to speak, because there was only one team on the field.

"I was annoyed because I did feel, for goodness' sake get on with the game because we're so much on top, it's goals that we want.

"When people think of that game they think of Jim Baxter and his keepy-up, but the crux of that team was Jim McCalliog, no doubt.

"[He] was the lynchpin, he could go forward, as he did when he scored the third goal, but equally he could help back in defence.

"I would say [it was the best Scottish performance ever] and the sad thing about all this [is that] while I was there for four years, I never had the opportunity to play that team again.

"Anyway, it was a wonderful victory. I always remember a wee story after the match, we went to the Café Royale with the SFA and had a big dinner. Near the end of it I wanted a bit of fresh air so I went out. I was standing against the wall outside the hotel when this wee Glasgow man was coming along.

"He was bedecked in his tartan scarf, his bunnet was halfway round his head, he was singing and staggering, he staggered past me, and he got about five yards in front of me when he suddenly stopped and turned round. He came back and, poking me in the chest, said, 'see you, England two, Scotland three, don't you ever forget it'. He went on his way happy as Larry."

Despite the quality of player that Brown could call upon, the likes of John Greig, Tommy Gemmell, Billy McNeill, Alan Gilzean and Jimmy Johnstone, his Scotland side narrowly failed to qualify for the 1970 World Cup.

Victories over Austria and Cyprus in qualifying, and a draw against Germany at Hampden, left Scotland needing a positive result away to the Germans.

Despite at times outplaying their hosts, Scotland ended up losing 3-2, with Gemmell being sent off after hitting Uwe Seeler. Brown describes that defeat as the biggest disappointment of his career.

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks makes a brilliant save to deny Denis Law at Wembley in 1967
England goalkeeper Gordon Banks makes a brilliant save to deny Denis Law at Wembley in 1967

"I was shattered because I felt we had a great chance," he said. "As it was, the Germans got to the semi-final in Mexico and the way Scotland played that night was a revelation, it really was. I can never forget that."

The role often left Brown exasperated, though. He felt some club managers did not co-operate when their players were called up for international duty.

In the end, he felt the job became impossible, and when he left in 1971 he only remained in football in a scouting capacity.

Few managers will leave their national team for obscurity, but Brown had long thought that the game would not provide financial security for his later years.

"I never felt at any time that I wanted to be in football all my life," he said.

"I was thoroughly fed up. We had the biggest party in my house [when he left the job], because all the weight was off my head. Before I left, my wife had started three shops and I was interested in the business side of it.

"We opened a restaurant and the lady who ran it for us is in our church, I see her every Sunday. Nowadays, in any place coffee shops are 10 a penny, but they weren't in those days. It was called the Copper Cauldron and in the summer they were queuing out the door.

"I thought, 'I have a future here, I'm not interested in the football'. I've no regrets. I went to Clydebank College to take a course in cookery because I realised I'd maybe have to go into the restaurant and do it myself."

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