The Brown Brothers of Clackmannan and Alloa
“For fully sixty years, in remuneration and life-style, the Scottish professional footballer filled the role of the aristocrat of the working-classes. He was not remote, as the music-hall stars were; he lived among the men who admission money paid him, and he spoke and often dressed as they did. Football provided a chance, hazardous in the extreme, but at least a chance, of escaping the drudgery of nineteenth century working-class life”. Bob Crampsey, The Scottish Footballer.
The link between the industrial and sporting life of Alloa in the late 19th and early 20th century was obvious in the newspaper reports of the time. The Black and Gold jerseys adopted by Alloa Athletic ensured that the club would be known as The Wasps, but in the early days the team were also frequently labelled as ‘The Brewers’ and ‘The Glassblowers’. The "town of wool and ale" had it's shipyards too, and on periphery of the town were the mines. This story begins in one of the those mining communities in 1882 with the birth on Duke Street, Clackmannan, of William Brown, a first child for William Snr, a miner, and his wife Janet. A second son, John, followed in October 1887. John Brown’s place of birth would later be frequently given as Dysart, Fife. During his time as a professional footballer at Chelsea he had a Scottish teammate by the name of W.J Brown who did indeed hail from Dysart. Perhaps that was the root of the confusion, but John Brown was a son of Clackmannan.
By 1901 the Brown family had made the short move to Tillicoultry and William Jnr, now 18, and John, 14, had followed their father down the mine. The boys had been fated to go underground as soon as it was legally possible. Almost as inevitable was that they would spend their spare time above ground playing football. In early 1902 the name of William Brown appears in defence for Lassodie Juniors. A small agricultural settlement north of Dunfermline until a mine was sunk in the mid 19th century, Lassodie was quickly transformed into a fast growing colliery village. By the turn of the century it was home to almost 1500 people. There was a school, church, shops, pub - and a football team. And it was a good one. The reputation of the footballers of Lassodie had grown almost as quickly as the village itself and nobody relished taking on the miners on their home patch. Lassodie had clashed infamously with Dunfermline in the semi-final of the 1887 Fife Cup. “The ‘grand stand’ – a large coal bing – was fully occupied”, an unimpressed Dunfermline Saturday Press had reported. They were even less enamoured by the scenes that followed as players and supporters battled on the field before the Pars were chased out of Lassodie by the brush wielding women folk of the village. But Lassodie could play too and they claimed the Fife Cup the following year.
The men from Lassodie had dropped back to junior status by 1902 and provided the ideal platform for the young William Brown to start his football career. William took his chance, his steady performances on the left side of the Lassodie defence earning him a step up to Hearts of Beath in the summer of 1904. Hearts of Beath played in nearby Hill of Beath and were a senior side, having reached the Scottish Cup proper just a few months previously. William settled in quickly, his “good service in breaking up the frequent runs” of opposition attackers being noted in the Football Post in September 1904. A year later he was picked to represent West Fife in a challenge match, and in May 1906 William was back on home territory as Hearts of Beath travelled to Alloa for the semi-final of the Penman Cup. Alas, this wasn’t a day to remember for the Brown family as the Wasps coasted to an easy 3-0 victory. It was a different story the following Wednesday when Alloa faced Clackmannan Juniors in a benefit match at the Recs. A comfortable home win was expected, but a lightning quick teenager in the Clackmannan attack by the name of John Brown had other ideas, helping his team to a 4-4 draw. “Brown, at centre, was prominent in the goalscoring for the County Lads”, reported the Alloa Advertiser. 18 year old John had been called up by injury hit Clackmannan from Tulliallan Juveniles earlier in the year and had quickly shown his worth.
Alloa had a fine prospect under their noses in John Brown but the Wasps missed a trick. Hearts of Beath had just joined the Northern League and following a recommendation from William, the Fifers nipped in to sign the younger Brown, the Edinburgh Evening News reporting that John “was considered a catch”. Hearts of Beath had overreached themselves in their new league, however, and a meeting late in the season heard that “the club was practically defunct”. It was the end of the road for Hearts of Beath in the Northern League and the Brown brothers had played their last game for the men from the Hill.
As fate would have it, Alloa were in the market for a new left-back following Robert Gibson's move to Falkirk. Gibson headed for Brockville as the Wasps welcomed William Brown home to the Wee County. Brown had an early test as defending Scottish Union champions Rangers ‘A’ visted the Recs in late August. The Glasgow men were too strong, two goals in the closing stages helping them to a 6-3 victory. It was something of a baptism of fire for William and the Alloa Advertiser reported that the new left-back was “a bit slow”. The Advertiser was still pining for Robert Gibson, noting that the former Wasp “was again a prominent figure” as Falkirk thrashed Hibs. Columnist ‘Old Player’ had encouragement for the new man too, “if persevered with, I believe he will make an able replacement for Gibson”.
|Record of employement at Brucefield Pit, Kennet, 1928. Pic with thanks to Sandy Pollock.|
Alloa did persevere with William and he settled well, helping his new team to a 7-0 thrashing of his old friends at Hearts of Beath in early September. William was forming a fine defensive partnership with Wasps captain Sandy ‘Bogie’ Brown, another Clackmannan man. There would soon be a third Clackmannan Brown at the Recs. It seems likely that William again put in a good word for his wee brother and John signed up at Alloa in September 1907, shortly before his 20th birthday. He made his Alloa debut later that month as the Wasps knocked Dunfermline out of the Qualifying Cup, a game which was abandoned as the visiting Pars fans poured onto the field to attack the referee. Amidst chaotic scenes, the Courier reported that “The referee received such a mobbing he will not forget”. Alloa were 2-0 up at the time and the SFA ruled that the score would stand. The Alloa Advertiser picked out William for “a wonderful showing” and there was a cautious welcome too for young John in attack. “Brown does not seem to be much of an outfield player, but knows where the goal lies and shoots with great force, and that is the main thing now-a-days”. It was something of a harsh verdict from the Advertiser. With blistering pace and an ability to hit the target with a cannonball shot, John Brown had all the ingredients required and he was soon among the goals as Alloa embarked on an epic run in the Scottish Consolation Cup. The Wasps’ prospects looked bleak indeed in the first round as they fell behind 3-0 at Selkirk. William “steadied up the defence”, reported the Advertiser, and the Wasps rallied. John scored as Alloa battled back to draw 3-3 and he was on target again in Alloa’s 10-1 replay rout of the Borderers, one of his goals “a regular rocket”. The Advertiser had been won over completely, proclaiming that “In J.Brown, the Athletic have a player of outstanding ability as a left-winger”. John would only enhance his burgeoning reputation in the next round, delivering a hat-trick as Scottish League Vale of Leven were defeated 4-3 at Alloa. He was named “the hero of the match” and maintained his form all the way to the final, being chaired from the field by jubilant Alloa fans after the semi-final victory against Leith Athletic.
April saw Alloa prepare for two games which would make or break their season. East Stirlingshire were the opponents in the Stirlingshire Cup final, with the Wasps then facing Dumbarton in the Consolation Cup decider. Scottish League Shire were beaten 1-0, a penalty by Jimmy Croal securing the cup for Alloa. John Brown almost put the icing on the cake late on, denied only by a goal line clearance from a young Bobby Orrock, a man who would lead Alloa with distinction later in his career. Alloa’s win was marred slightly by a bottle thrown at Henderson of East Stirlingshire as he made his way to the stand after being ordered off, the Stirling Observer suggesting that Alloa were “afflicted with a mob of howling hooligans”. Perhaps the Observer was still sore about Alloa’s regular victories over King’s Park in previous months.
The Wasps were back at Brockville the following week, two late goals seeing off Dumbarton 2-0 to clinch the Consolation Cup and cap a wonderful season for Alloa. In a physical encounter, John was amongst a number of players who took heavy knocks, a fierce kick early on leaving him short of his best. John was only 20 but had already been working as a miner for 6 years. It would take more than a bad kick to end his day. Alas for Alloa, the game marked the end of John Brown’s Wasps career. The papers had predicted that Alloa would struggle to keep their successful team together and John was one of the players to move on, his efforts in the Black and Gold earning him a contract with Falkirk. The Bairns had finished 1907/08 in 2nd place in Division 1, just 4 points behind champions Celtic. With 102 goals in 34 games they were also Scotland’s top scorers. John Brown’s career was on the up.
|Brucefield was also home to a brickworks. Thanks to Becky for this image.|
Clackmannan were attempting to re-assert themselves after a period in which they had been entirely overshadowed by Alloa, the County Lads even going into abeyance for a spell. Signing Alloa’s captain was a statement of intent and when the draw for the Qualifying Cup paired Alloa with Clackmannan in early 1909/10 the game was the talk of the Wee County. “Out Clackmannan way, the President says they have no doubts about the result of the Qualifying Cup tie” the Advertiser reported, and a hard fought encounter at Recreation Park showed that Clackmannan's confidence had not been misplaced. The game ultimately finished goalless, Alloa relieved that their 8 year unbeaten home record in cup games had not been shattered by their greatest rivals.
All roads led to Chapelhill a week later as the County Lads aimed to finish the job. It was a special day for William Brown, man born in Clackmannan and raised in the streets surrounding Chapelhill. He had almost certainly kicked his first ball on the Clackmannan pitch and he worked in the nearby Brucefield Pit. He was now going home for a crunch cup tie as captain of Alloa. The hard fought tie at the Recs and the prospects for the replay were surely the main topics for discussion that week at Brucefield. A close tie was again predicted and it was no surprise when tempers boiled over in the early stages, both sides reduced to ten men after an off the ball incident. Alloa now took control of the game. Fairley burst in from the left wing and drilled in a shot which the unfortunate Sandy Brown could only deflect into his own net. Things soon got even worse for Bogie. Fairley again carved up the County Lads defence and set up McMillan, whose powerful goal bound effort was stopped by the despairing hand of Sandy Brown. Up stepped William Brown to drive the penalty kick into the net. Two more goals followed as Alloa finished 4-0 winners on a day of very contrasting fortunes for William and his predecessor as Wasps skipper.
|The site of Brucefield Pit|
|William Brown, 1882 - 1909.|
Alloa players and officials were amongst the large crowd that gathered at Tuliallan Cemetery three days later for William’s funeral, several of his teammates carrying the coffin to the graveside. The Alloa Advertiser featured an emotional tribute. “The grave has closed over the mortal remains of Captain William Brown of Alloa Athletic with such startling suddenness that one is almost forced to the belief that the lamentably sad affair is but a dream. Unfortunately, however, it is no dream, and no more will the followers of the Alloa club witness the popular left-back defend the colours that he has so nobly worn during the past three seasons, and in which time he has performed such noble deeds of valour….The death of Brown is the more to be regretted because he was one of those footballers who never disgraced the game of football. He was a player and a man in the strictest sense of the word”.
There was little opportunity for the Alloa players to mourn their friend. Just a day after the funeral Alloa were back in action at the Recs for the Qualifying Cup tie against Lochgelly. The Alloa Instrumental Band led a very large home support in two hymns before the match, the Advertiser reporting that “the Alloa players as well as the general assemblage were greatly affected, and many tear stained eyes were seen”. Both teams lined up with black armbands as a mark of respect for William. In his place in defence was new signing John Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss wasn’t altogether a stranger to the Recs – he was the Leith Athletic defender who had been attacked by a stick wielding Alloa fan after the Consolation Cup semi-final a year earlier. Clearly there were no hard feelings as John answered Alloa's SOS and went straight into the team. Despite the general feeling of melancholy surrounding the Recs Alloa were able to scrape a 2-1 win. There was a further twist to the William Brown story. Hearts, it appears, had been closely following his progress, one report later claiming that he “was almost as good as booked for a birth at Tynecastle”.
William Brown had been killed whilst on the cusp of escaping the industry that claimed his life. Perhaps the tragic loss of his brother provided further motivation for John Brown to make the most of the opportunities that football provided. Slowly but surely John emerged as a key man in a formidable Falkirk side. 1909/10 saw the Bairns push Celtic all the way for the title, ultimately finishing just 2 points behind the Glasgow giants. They went close again in 1910/11 with a 3rd place finish. John Brown was by now a star in the Bairns attack. “No player was more in the picture than the outside left of the Falkirk club. Resourceful and tricky when confronted by Morton defenders, Brown was ever dangerous”, gushed the Falkirk Herald in April 1911. John had outgrown Falkirk and a number of clubs were keen to entice him away from Brockville. His destination would be Parkhead. “There were others negotiating for this player, but Celts was preferred”, reported the Evening Telegraph. “Brown was with Alloa Athletic before he went to Falkirk. He is splendidly built, speedy, and shoots with great force”. The Telegraph wasn’t overplaying John’s attributes. He warmed up for his debut season at Celtic by destroying the field in the Coronation Sports back home in Kincardine. The Falkirk Herald reported that Brown collected first prize in the 230 yards race, half mile race, in the hop, step and jump event and in putting the ball.
Brown hit the ground running at Celtic Park with a debut goal against Airdrie. A week later Falkirk were the visitors to Parkhead and John put his old teammates to the sword, opening the scoring with a “magnificent shot” in a 3-1 Celtic win. ‘The Alphabet of the Celts’ suggests that Brown had been signed to understudy long serving winger Davie Hamilton, only to quickly dislodge the popular Hamilton from the team. The book also claims that John would play football with a toothpick in his mouth! Toothpick or not, Brown was to the fore in the New Year derby against Rangers, providing a hat-trick of assists for Jimmy Quinn in a Celtic victory. Brown was then on target with the only goal against Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup in January 1912, albeit reports alleged that the ball had been a foot out of play before being centred to the former Alloa man. John’s impressive form had now caught the eye of the Scottish League selectors and the following month he was called up to play against the English League, a match often regarded as a trial for the full national team. The Evening Telegraph welcomed John Brown’s 1912 Scottish League call up, reporting that “if the ex-Falkirk lad shows ordinary club form he should efficiently fill the post that has so long been held by Alec Smith”. Alas, it wasn’t to be for John Brown. The Scottish League were beaten 2-0 in front of 24,000 fans in Middlesbrough and the Evening Telegraph reported that John “was not a success, though he did some fair work in the second half”. A feature of John’s career was his ability to prove his worth after initial doubts. There was no second chance to impress on this occasion and no full cap to follow his Scottish League selection.
|John Brown in action for Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Pic from the Celtic Wiki.|
Brown’s season would still end in glory, however. Having scored in the semi-final victory over Hearts, the Wee County man took his place on the left flank as Celtic faced up to Clyde in the Scottish Cup final in April 1912. A strong wind blowing down the field at Ibrox made conditions difficult as Celtic ultimately triumphed 2-0 in front of 50,000 fans. “Brown did several clever things on the left”, reported the press, an assist for the opening goal amongst them. With a Scottish Cup medal and Scottish League cap, John Brown had come a long way from the Wee County.
But John Brown didn’t stay long at Parkhead. Perhaps his inconsistency was again an issue, with some also suggesting he was suited to playing in the centre than on the wing. Whatever, it would seem that John played a game on loan for Chelsea on Christmas Day 1912 before completing a permanent move to Stamford Bridge a few weeks later. “FAMOUS SCOTTISH WINGER TRANSFERRED” exclaimed the English press in February 1913 as Chelsea manager David Calderhead returned home to Scotland to snap up Brown for £1000. “This is regarded as one of the soundest investments the London club has made, and I shall be very surprised if Brown does not take a very high position in English football”, reported the Athletic News, noting that John had excelled in a recent benefit match for Rangers and Scotland winger Alex Smith. John Brown took that impressive form south, helping the Blues to a 2-1 victory over Man City on his debut. Brown followed that up with the only goal in a 1-0 win over West Brom, the match report describing him as “a bright and clever player”. Chelsea ultimately did just enough to preserve their top flight status, the form of John Brown credited as key to their survival.
The new season began with the proclamation that the men from Stamford Bridge were “tired of bobbing about the bottom of the table”, and that signings like John Brown should ensure a much better campaign. Chelsea did indeed improve, but the new season found John Brown unsettled in London and the Scot would never again hit the same heights in England. November saw Brown hit with a two week ban for kicking a Brentford opponent. John took the chance to go home and reports suggested that he might not return. Speculation linked him with a return to Celtic and Partick, Motherwell and Middlesbrough, but the rumours came to nothing and Brown saw out the season on the fringes of the Chelsea team.
John Brown was demobilised in 1919 at the age of 32. Whilst he was among the fortunate soldiers who survived the war, the years of conflict – in addition to his earlier time as forgotten man at Chelsea – had deprived him of the best years of his footballing career. He returned home and opened a confectionary shop in the mining village of Glencraig, near Lochgelly, the very sort of community from which he had sprung. “There he worked and played and plied a roaring trade among those who go down the mines”, the Evening Telegraph would later report. “He spent the happiest years of his life in the sociable company of these happy lads and playing for the local senior teams”. After a spell with Dunfermline, there was a homecoming in 1920 as John signed for Clackmannan. His return home began in explosive fashion with a late winner against Lochgelly at Chapelhill. The visiting Fifers were sure Brown was offside but the flag stayed down. “At the finish of the game a section of the crowd broke in and assaulted the referee, who had to seek the protection of the police”, reported the press. Sweet sales in John’s shop might have taken a wee dip after that one.
A week later John was back at the Recs as Alloa knocked the County Lads of the Qualifying Cup. This was the first in a series of games between the old rivals. October saw Alloa win 3-2 at Chapelhill with a trialist by the name of Crilley grabbing a double. A legend was born that Monday night in Clackmannan. Three weeks later the County Lads again made the short trip to Alloa and John rolled back the years at the venue where he had once starred in black and gold, opening the scoring “with a capital shot which gave Caldwell no chance”. Clackmannan would go on to win 2-1 and claim their first success against Alloa since 1912.
John Brown rounded off his playing career with Lochgelly – the offside goal controversy presumably forgotten - before taking on the role of trainer, then manager. There he stayed until 1925, when he went back south to London to run a hotel through a connection made during his Chelsea days.
John wasn’t finished with football. He returned to Scotland as the popular trainer of Dundee. “His is a sunny nature”, reported the Evening Telegraph, “one that does not believe in the dark side of things, that gives urge to the kindly word, the pat on the back, rather than the reprimand of red tape”. John and his wife settled in Broughty Ferry. On leaving Dens Park, his entrepreneurial qualities were again to the fore as he opened a Fish and Chip restaurant. John Brown was surely the classic example of Bob Crampsey’s working class footballer. Football had taken John from the mines of the Wee County to Parkhead and Stamford Bridge, and provided the opportunity for a safer life, an opportunity denied his older brother. Sadly, John Brown didn’t live to old age either. He died from a brain tumour in Dundee in 1943 at the age of just 56. But John Brown’s name would live on among those who saw him play, the flying machine from Clackmannan with the cannonball shot - “He is splendidly built, speedy, and shoots with great force”.
Adapted from a series of articles first published in 'The Wasp', the Alloa Athletic FC programme. Thanks to:
The British Newspaper Archive
Scottish Football Historical Archive
Falkirk Football Historian
The Celtic Wiki
Kincardine Local History Group
Dunfermline Historical Society
Scottish Mining Website
Auld Clackmannanshire Facebook Group
The Scottish Footballer - Bob Crampsey
The County Lads - David A Allan
The Changing Face of Alloa - Anthony Hall