Bobby Brown played in goal for Glasgow Rangers from 1946-56, and Scotland between ’46-52, before becoming the country’s first full-time football manager in 1967. He was the mastermind behind our 3-2 victory over newly-crowned World Cup winners, England. A legend to many; and a legend whom I am fortunate enough to call my granddad, or Papa/Paps, as he prefers.
I wasn’t born when Paps famously led his Wembley Wizards to glory in ’67 (almost 50 years ago to the day). When I was a wee boy growing up in the 1970s, he’d long since quit the beautiful game. So I never saw him as a ‘football legend’ (not then), he was just Papa. In hindsight, he was a bit of a maverick though. An enigma even. He was a ‘secret agent’ who travelled around the country and beyond doing top-secret business. Or so I believed; and as a kid with a vivid imagination, I never doubted this. Why should I? He didn’t work nine-to-five; he owned various properties (he rented out a row of eight flats in Helensburgh and one in Crieff), he had two shops, two restaurants; he holidayed a lot (still does – he loves a few weeks in the Algarve every year); he had famous friends who called him ‘The Boss’ and he wore Arthur Daley-style sheepskin overcoats.
Sadly I was mistaken. I later learned that he was in fact a not quite so glamorous manufacturer’s agent. Basically he bought and sold stuff via trade and retail customers; really eclectic stuff though, such as jewellery, clocks, handbags, pine furniture, hand-crafted Lladro porcelain figurines and Le Creuset cookware. He’d travel to gift fairs as far away as Milan to stock up on high-quality products then he’d return to Helensburgh where his wife Ruth (my ‘Mamie’) would sell the merchandise at her always popular yet somewhat peculiar (to me at least – witches scared the hell out of me) shop, Whichcraft. Yet this place was like a real-life Aladdin’s Cave, a trove of weird and wonderful treasures that my sister and I would scrupulously rummage around in, and pocket a trinket or two.
When Paps wasn’t on the road or jetting off to Milan, he’d be out and about in the great outdoors. They’ve always been like a second home to him. From a young age he’d cycle all over the country with his dad or best friend Adam (with whom he rode a tandem); he was an active member of the local rambling club right up until his 90s. And his affection for Scotland’s hills and mountains was infectious. A weekend trip to Papa’s usually meant some sort of intrepid adventure. We’d pitch tents and camp, climb munros, fish far-flung lochs or trek for miles at a time. As a little kid, football wasn’t really something we did together, and I wasn’t that bothered. Our weekends were action-packed enough.
The older I got, the more I appreciated my Papa’s footballing past. I guess my interest was initially sparked the day we cleared out his attic in preparation for him moving home, after Mamie sadly passed away from cancer (she was only 59), so it would be around 1988. This cobwebby attic had contained his legacy for many years, and by the look of it, it hadn’t been touched in decades.
Nothing could tell the story of Bobby Brown’s footballing career more accurately than this neglected loft. Goalkeeping jerseys (some of the teams he played for included Rangers, Chelsea, and Scotland), medals, cups, trophies, old cine film, programmes, paintings, photographs and World Cup memorabilia from 1986 (he travelled to the Mexico tournament as a spectator with his friends Bobby Robson, Don Revie and Don Howe). My Papa’s football timeline began and ended right here, in the dusty depths of this attic – a career that spanned well over 30 years, documented in every detail.
Apart from the caps and occasional photo, this vast, coveted collection was all new to me. And it would soon take pride of place in his new house. Papa’s ‘study’ is more like a shrine to his involvement with Scotland, Glasgow Rangers, St Johnstone, Falkirk and Queen’s Park. Photos date back to the first team he played for, Larbert Village School in 1936; there are photos of his wartime internationals; photos of his ’67 squad; photos of his friendships (captured both on and off the field) with other footballing stalwarts such as Denis Law, Jock Stein and Alf Ramsey. Who’d have thought this small, ordinary room could hold so many extraordinary moments, memories and stories.
Papa’s always been a great storyteller. Give him a wee dram (preferably a Caol Ila, a peaty Single Malt from the island of Islay that the two of us discovered on a fishing trip a few years back) and the banter will flow. His fishing days may be behind him but his banter is as brilliant as ever. He’s still as sharp as a tack for an old boy of 94 (it was his birthday last month, which unfortunately I never made). On the occasions I do make it over (I can hear him now saying “aye, but you’re never over enough boy!”) he’ll have a dram, steak dinner and plenty of good patter waiting for me.
I’ll cook while he chats away. And away.
Then we’ll take our medium-rare (medium-well done for Paps) steaks through to the lounge and chat, joke and laugh some more, often into the small hours. He doesn’t always talk football, but when he does his stories are recounted with wit, passion and pride. It’s these stories that brought me here, to share with like-minded Scottish football fans. Fellow Nutmeg readers wanting an insight into the great, yet perhaps not so greatly documented Bobby Brown. The manager behind possibly our greatest ever footballing victory. But to be honest, I don’t feel I’d be doing his stories justice. So I’ll leave them to the press, pundits and publishers (his biography is out this summer). Instead, I wanted to share a side to Bobby Brown that few will know. A side I’m lucky enough to have grown up with for the past 40 years. Paps, thanks for being such an inspiration.