In an extraordinary season full of extraordinary highlights, the man who was last seen “howling at the moon outside Ibrox” has inadvertently provided its most outrageous moments. In July, John “Bomber” Brown stood in front of Rangers’ stadium, demanding to see the title deeds; and last week, he was given the role of interim manager of Dundee.
Brown’s appointment has been a spectacularly poor piece of PR from the Dens Park side, with chief executive Scot Gardiner badly misjudging the mood of his club’s support. Still hurting over the dismissal of the popular Barry Smith, the decision to replace him with a manager who boobed so badly whilst in charge of Clyde was met with near-universal derision – Brown may have been the “obvious” candidate in Gardiner’s eyes but supporters, opposition fans and neutral observers were stunned by his appointment. While Brown may claim the criticism is driven solely by jealousy, the truth is that managing a football club appears to be beyond his capabilities.
After leaving Dundee in 1988, Brown enjoyed a distinguished 18-year association with Rangers, winning six league championships and three Scottish Cups before retiring from playing in 1997 to coach their youth and reserve teams. He left the club in June 2006, just weeks after the installation of new manager Paul Le Guen. After almost 18 months out of football, Brown had agreed to join Dumbarton as manager but an 11th hour volte-face saw him decline the position, citing “the most personal and private reasons”. The role was eventually awarded to Jim Chapman, who would go on to lead the Sons to the Third Division championship in 2008-09.
Eight weeks later, Brown was ushered in as Clyde’s new manager on 26 January 2008. The preceding months had been testing for the Bully Wee support: the amiable Joe Miller had suddenly left the club at the end of the 2006-07 season and his replacement Colin Hendry had toiled badly. Working with a callow but talented group of players including Stevie Masterton and Neil McGregor, Hendry had failed to get the best from them and incurred the displeasure of the Broadwood support. Resigning after his wife had taken ill, he left them in ninth place in the First Division with the club both safe from automatic relegation and within touching distance of the clubs immediately above them. Coach Gary Bollan took charge of the club on an interim basis for two games before Brown’s eventual ascent to manager.
Some Clyde fans were sceptical of Brown’s appointment, with many believing a more experienced coach was required to guide the club away from the foot of the table, but an impassioned performance from the new manager at a supporters’ assembly seemed to placate any dissenters. Although his oratory was impressive, it did not necessarily translate to on-field improvement – Brown’s first match in charge was a dismal 1-3 home surrender to bottom side Stirling Albion, and his team would only win once in his first eight matches.
Results would begin to slightly improve, but the club still finished the season in the relegation play-off position, losing out on eighth place by virtue of a poorer goal difference than Greenock Morton. Midway through the second leg of their play-off semi-final with Alloa Athletic, Clyde appeared to be slipping irrevocably into the Second Division, losing 2-5 on aggregate with 44 minutes of the contest remaining. It took an astonishing individual performance from substitute Gary McSwegan (who had joined alongside former Rangers full-back Jorge Albertz in mid-March) to drag his team-mates through the match. Clyde would eventually win the tie 6-5 before easily dismissing Airdrie United in the final to consolidate their status in the second tier.
This would be as good as it would get for Clyde and John Brown.