“I haven’t come up against Scott before but I thought he was very impressive. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in the flesh – he stood out for me.” Frank Lampard.
When Scott Brown broke onto the Scottish football scene with Hibs he instantly caught the eye, a marauding, energetic raw talent with somewhat of a volatile edge. He came on as a sub for fellow leader of the Hibs golden generation Garry O’Connor as Hibs hosted Aberdeen at Easter Road, and set up all 3 goals in a 3-1 victory.
There were only three games left in that season, with Brown managing 3 goals in those games and laying down a marker for himself.
The next season, Brown was part of a magnificent emergence of young talent at Easter Road, as he, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker, Steven Fletcher and co. lit up the SPL with a series of dazzling performances, which saw the “Hibs kids” eliminate both halves of the old firm on their way to the league cup final. A disappointing 8th place finish and defeat to unfancied Livingston in the cup final was overshadowed by the quality of performance the youth players were turning out at Hibs, and many of the starlets were beginning to attract attention from bigger clubs north and south of the border.
Brown’s temperament was a constant problem at Hibs. He was best described as a fight waiting to happen, and many felt he would not be able to fulfil this potential until he curbed his over enthusiasm and focused on the football. The man from Fife once told a journalists he stayed off fizzy drinks and sugary foods, as it made him hyperactive on the park. The comments were made after Brown narrowly avoided a red card for a rash lunge on Hearts skipper Steven Pressley and received an unpunished punch to the face from Alan Maybury during an Edinburgh derby.
Under Tony Mowbray and John Collins, Brown had mixed fortunes. Brown was at the heart of Hibs 3-0 win over Rangers in the league at Ibrox and man of the match in their 0-3 dumping of the same team at the same venue in the Scottish cup. The infamous “I don’t know” interview with a BBC reporter curious to find out who was leading a player revolt against Collins’ training methods was still evidence that Brown had matured as player from his old “grab an opponent by the throat” days. Brown did hand in a transfer request, but was convinced to stay by Tony Mowbray. It was his final season at Hibs that caught English premiership and old firm interest.
In a midfield that was built around him, Brown won the respect of all journalists and players in the league. He scored 8 goals in 42 appearances for Hibs, but his cavalier style was fundamental to Hibs success. He guided Hibs to a 5-1 league cup final success against Kilmarnock, and got a taste of European football, putting in two commendable performances, despite Hibs being dumped out 5-1 on aggregate by Ukranians Dnipro. He rejected a deal with Reading in January 2007, as he felt he would be relegated to the championship, and would be a bit of a flash in the pan.
in two years time people would be saying ‘remember that lad Scott Brown – whatever happened to him?’
In April 2007, Celtic agreed a £4.4m deal with Hibs (the current record transfer between two Scottish clubs) and signed off his time at Hibs with a contender for goal of the season, winning the ball back from Neil Lennon and heading in from the edge of the box after a searching diagonal to the winger. Hibs won the game 2-1 – against Celtic.
Joining up with Gordon Strachan at Celtic, Brown immediately showed signs of developing into a different player. He no longer had the drive to support the attackers from the centre of midfield, and Strachan was heavily criticised for “taking the edge from” Brown’s game.
But Brown retained a dynamism in his game, and an uncanny knack of winding opposition players up in a much less confrontational way. In his first taste of Champions League football, Brown fell victim to an awful challenge from Benfica midfielder Gilles Binya, a player Brown had confronted both in Lisbon and Glasgow, which saw the Cameroonian midfielder pick up a 6 match ban. Further evidence that Brown was still a bit of a live fuse. Brown missed both the old firm double header in March through suspension, and the last 16 second leg vs Barcelona due to suspension, and lost his place in the team to veteran Barry Robson.
Strachan’s final season in 2008-09 was another development season for Brown. Again winning the league cup, beating Rangers 2-0 AET in the final, And won the SPFA player of the year award. Characteristically, Brown was suspended for the final old firm game of the season, where Celtic lost 1-0 and effectively lost their pursuit of the SPL. Brown scored only 6 goals in that season, and whilst having to receive pain killing injections in his ankle to continue playing, received 18 yellow cards and 2 reds.
He featured regularly for Scotland, including their memorable double over France in EURO 2008 qualification. He grabbed a goal in a feisty encounter against FYR Macedonia where shortly before half time he kicked a ball at a Macedonian defender and was surrounded at the half time whistle by angry opponents.
The ankle problem continued as Brown was reunited with Mowbray at Celtic Park, and Brown featured sparingly until his return to the side in the new year. He was sent off for an embarrassing altercation with Kyle Lafferty in an old firm match, which Celtic lost. It was a symbolic act of leadership away to Kilmarnock that made everyone sit up and take notice of a new Scott Brown.
After an hour, Brown was brought on for the bench, charged 60 yards to Glenn Loovens at right back and tore the captains armband from him, stamping his authority all over the last half hour. It proved to be in vain as Celtic lost 1-0, but the following months showed Brown in a new light.
As Neil Lennon came in to takeover from Mowbray’s ill-fated short lived spell in Glasgow, Brown was made permanent captain, and formed a solid midfield partnership with industrious Welshman Joe Ledley. Brown can also be deployed on either flank, and revels in the number 10 role behind the striker. His three years under Lennon have combined his raw box to box dynamism with the ball with a cultured sense of awareness and aggression without it, suggesting interest from Newcastle and earning rave reviews from his Champions League and domestic performances.
Brown still retains his serial wind up merchant reputation – and with good reason. In a Scottish cup tie at Ibrox, Brown scored a beauty of a goal, and celebrated it, (arms aloft) in front of notorious bad boy El Hadji Diouf. Brown later describes the caution he received for the celebration as “the best booking of his life”.
His consistent displays as a complete midfielder have seen him earn the national team captaincy in Darren Fletcher’s absence, and his man of the match performance against England last week really showed how far the midfielder has come, from scuffles with ageing SPL veterans to rubbing shoulders with world superstars like Gerrard and Wilshere – and coming out on top.
At 28, Brown is in the prime of his career, and with performances like last week’s Brown is more than capable of exploring the more competitive regions of world football. He has refined the malevolence that irked him in his youth and channeled it into qualtiy output in all aspects of his game, all the while maintaining the ability to get under opponents skin. Celtic signed a boy back in 2007, and should they see him move down south, they’ll have let go a midfield dynamo of a man.