Alan Brown: The Manager Who Inspired the Great Brian Clough

Alan Brown

Every master was once an apprentice. The great Brian Clough was a young man in the early 1960s scoring goals for fun until a career-ending injury forced him to give up playing the game he loved. However, even when playing, Clough began learning the management style of the then Sunderland manager, Alan Brown. A no-nonsense player and manager, Brown inspired Clough to become the successful manager he became. 

Alan Brown: The Man Who Inspired Brian Clough 

Playing Career

Born in 1914 in the Northumberland village of Corbridge, Brown would begin his football career at Huddersfield Town. His early career was far from successful as lack of opportunities led Brown to quit and become a policeman for more than two years. However, due to his love of the game, he made a return to the Terriers where he would play more than 50 games prior to the break out of World War Two.

Following the commencement of football after the war, Brown made the move to Burnley where he enjoyed a successful spell as part of their “Iron curtain defence”. The Clarets would concede just 29 goals in 42 games on their way to promotion. A record that stands to this day. A brief spell at Notts County resulted in Brown retiring from playing at 34-years-old.

Management: A Manager With High Standards

A spell away from the game preceded three years at Sheffield Wednesday as coach before accepting the manager’s job at his old club, Burnley. Brown was a man with high standards and expected hard work, honesty and integrity from his players. On top of football, Brown, and those he selected, would help alongside the paid labour with the development of a new training ground amongst other jibs around the club.

Three seasons of establishing Burnley as a top-half side in England’s top division ended when the opportunity to move back to his native North East presented itself.

Alan Brown moved to the club he had supported as a boy, Sunderland. His job was not a simple one. The Red and Whites were struggling on the pitch and at boardroom level where payment scandals were mounting. Brown was tasked to clean up the club from top to bottom. A stickler for rules in football and life, Brown would eventually turn the club around. He failed to stop Sunderland from being relegated in his first season in charge but he did get them promoted again before leaving for Sheffield Wednesday.

Alan Brown and Brian Clough

It was while at Sunderland that he signed Brian Clough from Middlesbrough. 63 goals in 74 games in all competitions followed before the injury that would end his career. Brown’s style of management, tough but fair, no-nonsense and strict codes of conduct would influence Clough during his own managerial career where he was never afraid to speak his mind and did whatever it took to keep players, staff and sometimes board members in line. Brown once gave Clough a dressing down after the striker spoke to a teammate during a training session. At the same time, both would treat players fairly and give them the confidence to play to the best of their abilities.

It was also Brown who gave Clough his first taste of coaching when he gave his injured striker a chance to coach the Sunderland youth team. Clough would leave to take charge of Hartlepool United, and the rest is history.

Cleaning Up Sheffield Wednesday and Return to Sunderland

The work Brown had done at Sunderland in “cleaning up” the club following their illegal payments scandal made him the ideal man to do the same at Wednesday how had been involved in their own scandal regarding match-fixing.

Brown’s no-nonsense style brought pride back to the blue and white half of Sheffield and they also reached the FA Cup final with Everton, winning the game in a five-goal thriller. In 1968, Brown was back at Sunderland with the hope of once again guiding them to promotion. However, on this occasion, he failed. Forced to sell some of his better players to help balance the books, he could achieve what he set out to do. In 1972, he left Wearside in what would be his last managerial job.

Gave Youth a Chance

Just like Clough, Alan Brown was always willing to give youth a chance. Brown was one of the first managers in the late 1950s and early 60s to put faith in a youthful team. At Burnley, with a low budget to work with, Brown looked to youth. In his younger days, he had been overlooked and ignored as a youngster in the game. He made sure the same would not happen now he was manager.

His insistence on giving youth a chance and his fearsome character did not go do well with everyone. Sunderland’s star player Len Shackleton quit after Brown’s first game and was followed by several other senior players. Youth players were allowed to grow and experience first-team football at an age when they were not expected to, at varying degrees of success.

Brian Clough was also known to give youngsters a chance. If they had the ability, they were old enough to play. The likes of his own son Nigel, Roy Keane, Des Walker amongst many others benefited from the confidence Clough showed them. He was also not afraid to upset players if need be.

Alan Brown: An Inspiration to the Great Brian Clough

Alan Brown may not have been the most successful manager of his time, but he left his mark on football and the clubs and players he managed, both good and bad. A strict man who imposed fear upon his players should they step out of line. A tactician ahead of his time, he could confuse the opposition with the free-kick routines worked on in training. It is also thought that Brown was the first to use the short corner kick routine. His passion for the game was also never in doubt once describing football as “one of the biggest things that happened in Creation.”

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