Big Interview: Scott Brown on Wolves exit and bouncing back

Wolves will welcome Manchester United on Saturday evening for one of the standout ties of the FA Cup Third Round. But at exactly the same time, one lifelong Wolves fan will be firmly focused on doing what he can to keep the Blue Half of Manchester at bay.

Scott Brown in Wolves colours alongside a young Carl Ikeme.
Scott Brown in Wolves colours alongside a young Carl Ikeme.

Scott Brown has already enjoyed one victory against Manchester City this season.

A clip on Brown’s Twitter account, showing jet-heeled Wolves talisman Adama Traore celebrating his second goal in the 2-0 win at the Etihad back in October, has already attracted over 25,000 views.

For the Wolverhampton-born goalkeeper and former Wolves Academy scholar to savour more success on his next visit to Manchester in a day's time is probably a far less likely prospect.

But for the 34-year-old, now minding the nets at Port Vale as he moves within sight of 500 senior appearances, the chance to pit his wits against Aguero, Sterling, De Bruyne and company is one which may not come around again.

“It’s funny how football works sometimes,” says Brown.

“As a Wolves fan, I get back to games when I can and I managed to get a ticket with a few mates for the league game at City.

“It was always going to be a good day, but to see a win was even better.

“Wolves thoroughly deserved it, they were the best team, and the fans were unbelievable.

“And now, just a few months later, I am preparing to go back to the Etihad as a player.

“I’m not sure about whether we can get the same result, but what we do want is to give a good account of ourselves.

“At the start of the year Manchester City hit Rotherham for seven and Burton for nine, and those teams were in League One and the Championship.

“So maybe we’ll be trying to keep the ball in the corner from the first minute!

“Seriously though, what a great experience for us as players and for the Port Vale fans.

“To go and take on one of the best teams in the world, with one of the best managers in the world, is definitely something for all of us to savour.”

It is also something to savour for Brown, and an experience he most definitely deserves having bounced back strongly from the sort of blow so many young players experience when being released from an Academy.

In Brown’s case however, while recalling the devastation of being shown the door at Molineux after two years of his three-year scholarship, he acknowledges he can have no complaints.

Scott Brown in action for Cheltenham.

First scouted by Birmingham City whilst playing for Bilbrook Juniors, the closure of Blues’ Academy shortly afterwards provided Brown with his first career hurdle, but, at the age of 10, he was then quickly snapped up by Wolves.

Years spent training at Weston Park, the Jennie Lee Centre in Wednesfield and then at Aldersley paved the way to secure a full-time scholarship at the age of 16.

Two years later however, the lifelong dream of one day stepping out at Molineux and representing his hometown club, was very swiftly extinguished.

“We used to get changed in the Bert Williams Suite at Molineux, and after one of the sessions I was asked to stay behind after training, and the first thought in those situations, is ‘what have I done’?” Brown recalls.

“I still had a year to go of my scholarship, so the prospect of being released was the last thing on my mind.

“I went in to the meeting, and the decision was that there were two goalkeepers coming through who were a little bit younger than me that they thought were going to be better.

“The names of those two keepers? Carl Ikeme and Wayne Hennessey.

“So while every part of me wanted to think that they were wrong, the passing of time shows the decision was spot-on to be fair.

“I only had a couple of training sessions with Wayne, but he arrived with a great reputation, and I had worked with Carl whose qualities you could see straightaway – he ticked every box.

“He was such a physical specimen, he kicked well with both feet, was a great shot-stopper, and also such a top bloke with a great attitude.

“But for me, at the age of 18, it felt like my world had ended.

“And the hardest thing was going back to tell my Mum and Dad, letting them know that I was no longer a footballer.

“It was probably made worse by the fact that I was a local lad, everybody knew I was at Wolves and was always asking how I was getting on, and all of a sudden it had come to an end.

“One minute you’re a footballer, and the next you’re not, and I’m not ashamed to say I burst into tears after that meeting and had to stick the glasses on for the drive home.

“There are many self-doubts after something like that, of course there are, and it is only natural to think, ‘maybe they are right and maybe I am not going to be good enough?’

“One thing I will never forget however is what happened the next day, when Matt Murray came to see me at home.

“He bought me a couple of pairs of boots and gloves, and told me to keep going and not to give up.

“Matty didn’t have to do that, and to be honest I don’t think he ever realised just how much that visit meant to me and helped me at such a really tough time.”

With those Molineux dreams shattered, Brown’s options were limited, and he decided to combine playing part time for Welshpool in the Welsh Premier League with working at Ron Flowers Sports in Wolverhampton City Centre.

And then, just one phone call from a Wolves goalkeeping legend helped put his career back onto the right path, laying the foundations for what was to follow.

“As I say I had some doubts about my ability after leaving Wolves, and you also need a lot of luck in football,” says Brown.

“Mike Stowell had done some work with the Academy goalkeepers at Wolves at Aldersley on Tuesday evenings, and by now he was goalkeeping coach at Bristol City.

“All of a sudden he called me out of the blue, and asked if I wanted to pop down for a couple of weeks training, to see how it went.

“I ended up doing o-k on the trial, got myself a contract in the November, and lived with Mike and his family for the remaining seven months of that season.

“That was incredible for me and Mike taught me so much, not just about goalkeeping but also when it’s ok to have the odd drink or two – and when it’s not!

“He is such great bloke and a fantastic coach as he has gone on to prove during his time with Leicester City.

“Without that phone call though, who knows what would have happened?

“I had given myself a year to try and get a club somewhere, and if not I would have gone off to do a college or university course, and probably played all my life in non-league.

“It just goes to show how you never know what is around the corner in football, and how you have to make sure you are in the right place at the right time to make the most of every chance that comes along.”

Although not making a first team experience during that short stint at Bristol City, the experience was invaluable.

Brown was, as they say, ‘back in the game’, and the Wolves influence was destined to continue, as it was former Wolves’ personnel John Ward and Keith Downing who then took him to Cheltenham Town.

He was to spend almost a decade at Whaddon Road – “a third of my life as it was at the time” – initially needing to wait for his chance before being made first choice by Martin Allen, and, from there, never looking back.

“It was the makings of me, and I turned from a chubby little teenager to, well, a chubby man!” says Brown.

“The fans did a vote for their team of the decade recently and they put me in it, ahead of Jack Butland and others, which was an incredible honour.

“Cheltenham is such a special place for me, I still know so many people there on and off the field, and I always get a great reception when I go back.”

The Wolves influence still refused to go away, and Brown worked for a spell at Cheltenham under goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain, who would later move on to Molineux and work closely with Hennessey and Ikeme.

“We’re now great mates, and when he was at Wolves Pat would come around to see me and eat me out of house and home,” adds Brown.

Scott Brown of Cheltenham Town retreives the ball from the back of the net (AMA)

“He’s another who is a great bloke and a very good coach, and you can see that from how well the keepers did working with him at Wolves.”

Brown’s career sporting influences extended well beyond those coaches who have nurtured him through the Academy ranks and into life as a senior professional.

It all started with his parents, with Dad Pete a hugely-respected tennis coach and Mum Liz a leading professional squash player.

And so, much of Brown’s happy childhood was spent at the Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club where both were based, and the family home just up the road backed on to what is now the spacious green areas of Wolves’ Compton Park training complex.

That is where Brown would so often be found in the garden, in front of a five-a-side goal, imploring anyone in the nearby vicinity to pepper him with shots.

Sadly however, Dad Pete passed away five years ago, having suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for many years prior, a devastating blow for the goalkeeper which perhaps prompted something of a change in perspective.

“It was awful to see what happened to Dad, as he was the fittest person I’d ever known,” says Brown, who has a brother, Ashley, and sister, also Liz.

“He passed away at a time when I was ready to take a big step in football, and move up to Scotland to sign for Aberdeen.

“The move was something I’d been thinking about for a while, because as much as I loved it at Cheltenham, I wanted to try and push on and prove myself and not just be remembered as a steady goalkeeper who could do alright in League Two.

“Aberdeen are a massive club, and their goalkeeping coach was Jim Leighton, so as soon as I knew that they were interested and he was watching me it became an easy decision.

“But the way it all happened, well, it’s fair to say that was during the strangest time of my life.

“My Dad passed away on a Sunday, my son Max was born the following Friday, and then I signed for Aberdeen the Wednesday after.

“Talk about going through some incredible lows and highs in such a short spell.

“My Mum and Dad were both fantastic for me, and it’s probably where I got all the hand-eye co-ordination from.

“Although I do remember going to tennis lessons at the club and my Dad telling me what to do and me definitely thinking I knew better than he did!

“I was very fortunate growing up to be so close to the club and have people wanting to play football with me, and Dad was such a leading figure there and around tennis in general.

“He is still such an inspiration and I still go and see him now on a Sunday morning and tell him how I’ve done in the game.

“I know some people don’t believe in that, but it helps me, and I still feel bad if I am going to see him on a Sunday morning after we’ve got beat!”

Two years north of the border proved a great learning experience both on and off the pitch, Brown making 42 appearances and keeping 20 clean sheets, including at one point eight in succession as Aberdeen twice finished runners-up in the Scottish Premier League.

Playing in front of over 50,000 at Parkhead, turning out at Hampden Park, being part of a squad which travelled to Real Sociedad in the Europa League- all of these were weighty additions to the Brown CV.

He does acknowledge difficulties in mentally adapting to the increased glare of life in the top division in Scotland and wonders if ideally, there would have been a “step in between” the move from League Two into a more exposed spotlight.

There are no regrets however, even when a return to England with Wycombe Wanderers resulted in Brown tearing his groin on the first day of the season, later being unable to win back his place and heading out for loan spells with Eastleigh, and back to Cheltenham.

The second season at Wycombe was far more positive, Brown a key figure in the team winning automatic promotion to League One, following previous League Two play-off success as a substitute for Cheltenham in 2006, followed by disappointment when playing in the same final of 2012.

Last summer, with son Max ready to start school, Brown was keen to try and reduce the four-hour daily commute between Wolverhampton and Wycombe, and the chance to join Port Vale was one he grabbed with both hands.

“Touch wood it has gone great so far, and Port Vale are a fantastic club with brilliant fans,” he says.

“The new owners who came in at the end of last season are also great people who really want the best for the club.”

On then to the forthcoming big cup tie, and it won’t be the first time Brown has had the pleasure of tackling top opposition.

He has been the last line of defence in away cup ties at Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham, and Everton at home, up against the likes of Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole and more.

City away is clearly a daunting challenge – even his mates have plumped to watch Wolves against Manchester United which kicks off at the very same time - but it is one Brown is determined to both relish and enjoy.

Not bad for a player whom, walking out of that office in tears at Molineux some 16 years ago, might have wondered if he would ever play professional football at all, let alone walk out at the home of the champions.

“For me, to have played just one game of professional football was a dream,” he says.

“So to have been paid to play the game, and make the number of appearances that I have – with hopefully a few more years to come yet – I’ve loved it.

“I am continuing to have some fantastic experiences and meet some great people along the way, and, once you’re inside that dressing room at 5pm on a Saturday when you’ve just taken three points, there is no better feeling.

“We have to make sure our league form stays good before the FA Cup tie, but these are certainly the days you have to really enjoy and make the most of.

“They are few and far between in a career, and who knows how many more chances I will get?

“Running out at the Etihad with my family and thousands of away fans watching will be something that is very special if I get the opportunity.

“It will be tinged with sadness that there will be one person missing, but I’m sure Dad will be somewhere, looking on, with the best seat in the house.”

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