There was a sense of cautious optimism amongst the Clyde support at the beginning of the 2008-09 campaign. Backed by a number of wealthy associates, Brown now had the financial muscle to assemble a capable squad for the season ahead and began to shape his team over the early summer months. Stuart Kettlewell and Alan Trouten, two of the SFL’s most exciting young midfielders, were recruited on two-year contracts from Queen’s Park. The signing of Trouten was seen as a coup, particularly given reports the player was very close to negotiating terms with Partick Thistle. St Johnstone winger Willie McLaren also joined, while Ricky Waddell was drafted in from Airdrie. Mark McCusker, Scott Gemmill and Alan Lithgow also signed on. Many from the previous season’s squad were not retained and quietly left the club.
While the calibre of Brown’s recruitments had generally impressed, it was the nature of their pre-season results which left some fans confident that Clyde would enjoy a strong season. A successful tour of Norfolk (which included a 2-1 victory over Norwich City) was followed by a fine 3-0 win over a strong Hibernian side in a match designed to commemorate the 1958 Scottish Cup final between the teams. The defeat to a Rangers XI in a marquee friendly at Broadwood was their only loss of the closed season (bizarrely, a returning Jorge Albertz, Brian Laudrup and Artur Numan all began the game for Clyde for no discernible reason).
Early results were solid, with the club only losing two league matches by mid-September and sitting in the relative comfort of seventh place. The initial promise, however, quickly soured after one win in seven.
Brown’s post-match interviews became littered with the same tiresome observations: the players were doing the right things in training; they weren’t getting the rub of the green; and they were a young, inexperienced squad. While his first two comments were open to interpretation, his third could have been contested on the basis that players such as Trouten, Kettlewell, McLaren and Waddell had all made over 100 senior appearances before joining the club.
There were numerous factors which contributed to Clyde’s poor performances and results, most of which stemmed from Brown’s lack of managerial acumen. He would regularly make half-time substitutions (even removing more than one player on occasion), a tacit acknowledgement that he had failed to configure his side in the appropriate manner from the offset and that he continually needed to correct – and failed to learn from – his errors.
Brown’s training methods were also questionable. He might have liked to portray himself as a progressive manager, but his outdated approach undermined his charges’ development: once a week, he would take the squad to the gym for boxing, while on one occasion, he drove the team by minibus to a local branch of Tesco, bought them all a cooked breakfast, then told them to run back to the club’s training ground. Players would later complain about his poor man-management skills, with some even describing him as a bully.
As a youth coach at Murray Park, Brown would proudly boast of how he had changed Alan Hutton from an unremarkable central midfielder into an enterprising full-back. Flushed by Hutton’s recent success (the player had moved to Tottenham Hotspur in January 2008 after a series of outstanding performances for Rangers), perhaps Brown felt that similar redeployments could be made to positive effect with his current squad of players at Clyde. However, by this point his tactical intuition had all but deserted him: centre-back Neil McGregor was deployed in the middle of the park; Pat Clarke, a capable striker, was often played on the wing; and Willie McLaren, on returning from a three-month absence following an ankle injury, was utilised as a lone striker in a 0-2 defeat at Partick Thistle. Watching good players used incorrectly quickly became wearisome.
The decision to hire former team-mate Andy Goram as a goalkeeper coach was at best, mildly confusing and at worst, a downright embarrassment. At the time, stories of Goram’s adultery were doing the rounds with a fair degree of regularity and all referenced his employment with Clyde. He would leave the club in October 2008. Granted, Goram would later admit his time at Broadwood was blighted by alcoholism, but Brown should have known better than employ a man going through such personal turmoil.
After negotiating his team through a Scottish Cup tie with a lowly Montrose side on 29 November 2008, Brown was inexplicably rewarded with a new two-and-a-half year contract, tying him with the club until June 2011.
Results failed to improve, with an unbalanced squad hindering any progress. Full-back Alan Lowing had joined from Rangers on a temporary basis but Brown failed to replace him when his loan agreement expired, leaving the club without a recognised right-back. Instead, Tony Stevenson, a central midfielder from Hamilton Academical, was asked to fill the position despite lacking the requisite physical ability to properly fulfill the role.
The perennial use of under-performing players also became a constant source of frustration. Dave McKay, an acutely limited striker, was continually deployed despite scoring a solitary goal in 55 appearances with the club. Kettlewell had been appointed team captain and even although he had skippered Queen’s Park for two years, it was a role the player seemed uncomfortable with having thrust upon him and it impinged on his performances. During a midweek game against St Johnstone – a 1-3 defeat at Broadwood – Kettlewell’s substitution was met with sarcastic applause from a section of the home support, prompting Brown to rise from his dugout to remonstrate with the crowd; he quickly retreated into his technical area when a larger group of fans began to bicker at him.
By mid-March, the club had slunk to the bottom of the division and the fans had had enough. Chants of “Brown Must Go” were sung from the stands with increasing regularity as the support voiced their displeasure with their manager. A 1-7 capitulation at Queen of the South saw Brown briefly consider his position, but any such notions of resignation were quickly and defiantly dismissed.
Clyde’s relegation to Division Two was confirmed on the final day of the season.