DURING their days as manager of Celtic, Billy McNeill, Davie Hay and Neil Lennon could expect a knock on the team’s dressing room door after games against Clyde, Motherwell and Aberdeen.
Inevitably, it would be the opposite number of their rivals on the other side of the door.
Win, lose or draw, no matter the circumstances, Craig Brown would be among the first to congratulate or commiserate with his opponent.
The former Scotland international boss was an individual of some substance. A good man passed away on Monday and, as anticipated, the tributes were many and varied as football folk queued up to pay their respects to one of life’s good guys.
As a former player on the books of Rangers, Brown had no particular affiliation with Celtic apart from the fact he was a big friend of the legendary McNeill, a one-time team-mate at Scotland Schoolboys’ level.
READ ALL ABOUT IT…author Alex Gordon and Craig Brown at the book launch of ‘Billy McNeill: In Praise of Caesar’ at Celtic Park in 2018.
He was also a massive admirer of the Hoops’ adventurous, attacking style that has embodied the club from day one.
As the Scots chief, Brown displayed no fear or favour to any specific team or any particular individual.
Back in 1998, as the manager assembled his squad for the World Cup Finals in France, he wrestled with a selection problem.
Scott Booth, Gordon Durie, Kevin Gallacher and Celtic’s Darren Jackson were already guaranteed places among his forwards. Now it was a straight choice between a young Hoops player and a Rangers icon.
Simon Donnelly or Ally McCoist? At 23, the Hoops striker was 12 years the junior of the prolific Ibrox goalscorer.
The easy opt-out choice would have been to go for McCoist, a popular guy among the players and a presence in the dressing room, even if he wasn’t likely to play.
Donnelly, though, had performed an important role in Celtic’s title success that season under the guidance of Wim Jansen. The championship success also derailed the Ibrox club’s bid for a record ten in a row.
It’s history now that Brown gave the nod to Donnelly, a decision that left McCoist fairly devastated.
SHOOTING STAR…Simon Donnelly fires in a goal against Dunfermline at East End Park on Celtic’s way to their first title in a decade in season 1997/98.
The exciting Parkhead raider was, in fact, one of eight of the new champions’ players to make the trip to the soccer extravaganza – the last time Scotland performed at such a level – as he joined up with club colleagues Jonathan Gould, Tom Boyd, Tosh McKinlay, Jackie McNamara, Craig Burley, Paul Lambert as well as Jackson.
Rangers bias? What do you think?
As Scotland’s manager, Brown won 32 matches, drew 18 and lost 21. Crucially, he sampled defeat in only five encounters in 27 competitive outings. By any standards, that’s a praiseworthy record.
Here’s another wee tale that emphasises the calibre of the man. He discovered I had a landmark birthday due in January last year. Through social media, he contacted my missus, Gerda, for my home address. She supplied it and a lovely card dropped through the letterbox on the day.
It was such a heartwarming and thoughtful gesture from a guy it was my pleasure and honour to be able to call a friend.
The Premiership, Championship, Leagues One and Two are scheduled to get underway on the weekend of August 5/6.
May I make a suggestion to the powers-that-be? If there is any sporting individual who deserves a minute’s round of applause before kick-offs up and down the country it is undoubtedly Craig Brown.
Let’s put our hands together for a genuine, inspirational individual who went through life with a twinkle in his eye and a kind word of encouragement for everyone who crossed his path.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE…Craig Brown greets members of the Tartan Army before Scotland’s opening World Cup Finals game against holders Brazil at the Stade de France in Paris on June 10 1998. The South Americans triumphed 2-1.
He was also the possessor of a keen sense of humour. Here’s a little tale he told me a few years ago. I wrote it for my second newspaper memoirs, ‘A Raccoon Stole My Thunder‘, published in 2021. I hope it makes you smile.
CRAIG BROWN and the Scotland players were preparing for the rigours of the World Cup Finals in France 1998 and decided to break the monotony with a day trip to Monaco.
The international boss was strolling around the Principality with Willie McDougall, the SFA security chief, when they encountered several Scottish fans.
Brown recalled: ‘We were walking in the marina in Monte Carlo when all of a sudden the Tartan Army boys started to appear. You saw the Rab C Nesbitt vests and the kilts pouring down the street.
‘Next thing we heard was: “How’s it going, Willie?” asked a wee lad as he looked out over the marina. “Look at the size of these boats!”
‘McDougall corrected him: “Listen, son, they’re not boats, they’re yachts. Very expensive yachts.”
‘He pointed over at this big particularly flashy vessel and added: “That one there belongs to the Aga Khan”.
‘The wee boy then turned round and said: “Aye, ma maw’s got one of his cookers”.’
Today would have been Craig Brown’s 83rd birthday. Alas, I have been denied the opportunity to repay his thoughtfulness of last year.