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Gary Brown: Breaching Mediocrity

A man from Rotherham who spent years struggling to break into the top tier attempts to achieve as a manager what he failed to achieve as a player
Started on 8 February 2018 by joshleedsfan
Latest Reply on 13 February 2018 by joshleedsfan
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Oh Gary Gary,
Gary Gary Gary Gary Gary Brown!

This was it. The standing ovation that accompanied the end of my playing days. It was emotional, and I didn't want to pack it in, but it was about the right time for me to hang up my boots. I applauded the fans one last time before stepping back over the touchline at the Don Valley Stadium and then that was it.

Admittedly, it wasn't the nicest of grounds to bow out at, it wasn't even in Rotherham, but it was where I closed the book on my second spell at my hometown club and retired from playing.

I grew up in Kimberworth, just a stone's throw away from the old Millmoor ground. I got my first season ticket when I was six years old. I'd watch the Millers on a Saturday and play for my local junior side on the Sunday. It stayed that way until the opportunity of a lifetime arose.

I was offered a trial at Rotherham United in 1992 at the age of sixteen. It was an opportunity I was eager to grab with both hands. I was a striker, and at 6'3 I was a very useful one at that. In the air, I was a defender's worst nightmare, perhaps not so much with my feet but 238 headed goals in my career tells you everything you need to know.

My first year at Rotherham was our first year back in the Third Division (or the Second Division as it became known due to the inception of the Premier League), having returned at the first attempt when we had been relegated the year before.

Our close neighbours Doncaster Rovers had spent a while milling about in the fourth tier, and I was sent there on loan to gain some first team experience. I left quite an impression at Belle Vue, scoring 19 goals in 35 appearances.

When I returned I was raring to go. I spent four happy years at Millmoor, and bagged 89 goals in 152 appearances, not a bad return given that I was constantly labelled by opponents as 'that big dozy fucker'.

Unfortunately, my happy spell with my boyhood club came to a sad end. Rotherham were relegated in 1997, and in an effort to raise funds for the club, the board elected to take advantage of the interest being shown in me. That summer, I moved to Bradford City, who had survived their first season in Division One, under the guidance of Chris Kamara.

I arrived in the right place at the right time. The club seemed to be going places and in 1999, we were promoted to the Premier League. I was excited to get the chance to play at the top level at such an early stage of my career. We beat Watford 1-0 away from home and then disaster struck in our first home game of the season.

We were up against Sheffield Wednesday, and a win would have been special for me growing up as a Rotherham lad despising the lads from Hillsborough. A low ball was drilled into the box, which I struggled to control. In fact, it just seemed to bounce off my ankle and away from me again. I jumped in with two feet and so did the oncoming defender. I came out second best with a multiple fracture to my ankle.

I was devastated. I finally had the chance to show what I could do, I was being touted as the next big star in the English game and suddenly, I was sitting on the sidelines with a knackered ankle.

I was loaned straight to Nottingham Forest on my return, and I joined the former European Champions in the summer of 2000. I enjoyed a good few years at the City Ground, no recurring injury troubles and the team seemed to be on the right track for a return to the big time. We made the playoff semi-final in 2003, eventually beaten by Sheffield United.

We couldn't achieve the same success in following seasons and the 2004/05 season saw us go downhill. I jumped ship for Preston in January 2005, and was part of the team that reached the playoffs a few months later. We were beaten by West Ham in the final and by Leeds in the semi-final in the following year.

After three failed playoff attempts in four seasons, I joined Leeds United in good faith that they'd go one step further than the playoff final. The 2006/07 season was a well documented disaster, and I was a part of the team that was relegated to League One for the first time in the club's history. The club went into administration and had to be asset stripped to stay alive, which brought an early end to my time at Elland Road.

I joined fellow relegatees Southend United in the summer. I stayed for three seasons (the first of which culminated in a playoff defeat against eventual playoff winners Doncaster Rovers), by the end of which the club was relegated to League Two.

Fed up of every season ending in disappointment, I contemplated retirement. I was 34 years old and further away from the top level than I'd ever been. Along came the only thing that would change my mind, a move back to Rotherham. At this late stage of my career, League Two was probably my level, so I decided to give my hometown club another couple of years' service before quitting the game.

Those last two seasons of my playing career were the happiest I'd felt since promotion with Bradford. We didn't achieve anything spectacular in those two years, but it was an honour to be able to bow out of the game with the club I'd supported since I was a small kid.
Good start and a good backstory. I do love a good character development!
"There's no easy way of saying this, so I'm just gonna come straight out with it... I'm gonna have to let you go"

Like a blow from Mike Tyson, I was winded. It was the first time in my coaching career that I'd been 'let go'.

Alex Neil had just taken charge as the new Preston North End manager. He wanted to bring in his own staff, and to facilitate those members of staff coming in, I was made one of the casualties. I was without a club for the first time since my contract ran out at Southend, and it wasn't a nice situation.

I was numb. I told myself on the way home that this is football and it's the way of the game. But despite constantly reassuring myself that this was all part and parcel, nothing could make the disappointment of being released go away.

I was at a point in my life where I was enjoying my coaching career, and fancied myself to take it up a notch in the near future. After retiring at Rotherham, I took on a coaching role at Doncaster Rovers, who had just been relegated to League One.

I worked on the first team's attacking movement, and our swashbuckling strike force took the club straight back into the Championship at the first attempt. We would also return to League One instantly.

Unbeknown to me, my name was getting out in various coaching circles. In the summer of 2014, I was approached by Simon Grayson to be a part of his backroom setup at Preston North End.

I duly accepted his offer, and spent three years at the club where I had played a decade prior. It was good to be back, we won promotion in 2015 to the Championship, largely thanks to the attacking prowess of former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford.

In our second season in the Championship, we were outside contenders for a playoff place. We ultimately fell away, but it was a season the club could be proud of nonetheless. I was happy at Preston, and had no intention of leaving.

So when Simon Grayson took the job at recently relegated Sunderland, he asked me if I'd join him. I respectfully declined, and for my troubles, I was released by new manager Alex Neil.

As much as I enjoyed Preston, I was hoping to get into the management game sooner rather than later. When the hurt of being released was behind me, I decided that this would be my chance.

I had a UEFA A Licence, and the number for a football agency. It was Grayson's, and I asked them if they would put my name out and drum up some interest for me. My new adventure was just about to begin.
Before I was ready to jump straight back into football, I felt the time was right to take a few months out. I'd spent every summer for 20 years keeping fit and away from the bar. The last 5 years had been spent furthering my coaching education, so I figured the time was right to get away from it all.

Barry, Paul and Steve were my best mates from school. We'd grown up together and we always met up every summer for a guys' weekend, either at the football (when the World Cup/Euros were on) or at the cricket. As soon as I'd got home after my last day at Preston, I put something out in the group chat.

"I'm at a loose end this summer. Would anyone be interested in a trip away?"

In fairness, I was bored of the cricket. Only Barry was particularly into it and I've always dreaded summers without football. This one was going to be different. We weren't exactly 18-year-old lads going to Magaluf to get pissed and shag a lot, this was going to be a more mature guys' holiday. The likes of Amsterdam and Tenerife were on the agenda.

I got divorced shortly after I left Southend. This was after I found out my contract wouldn't be getting renewed, but way before Rotherham came calling.

My now ex-wife Jo had a career in London in fashion design and wouldn't be moved. I wanted a move back up North, as I felt I had a couple of years left in me as a footballer, and figured I wanted to retire relatively close to home. She was perfectly happy to see me go if it meant she could stay in the capital and pursue her career.

She wouldn't be moved, I wouldn't be kept in London and as a result, we went our separate ways. It was understandable why she stayed. I met her in London whilst she was in the same profession she's in now.

She moved in with me when I signed for Bradford, and carried on working in London, getting on the East Coast mainline train at Doncaster on her commute. The move to Southend was a dream for both of us. It felt like the right club at the right time for me and Jo no longer had to do the 8-hour round trip between Rotherham and London every day.

My heart was always in South Yorkshire, and once Jo got her dream move back down South, she was never going to move away again. We wanted different things and we got different things.

I have custody of our only child. When I left Preston in the summer of 2017, Ethan had recently turned 16 and was well capable of looking after himself. As a matter of fact, he had been in the Leeds United academy since shortly after I moved back to Rotherham and was hoping to eventually break into the U18 setup.

Ethan had a half-brother. Sam was the product of Jo finding a new fella. I'd met him a couple of times, and he's a charming young man. He was born in 2012, and indication that Jo never really hung about once I'd gone.

Ethan was to go and stay with his mum for a couple of weeks, while me, Barry, Paul and Steve left everything behind to go on holiday to New York. The compensation package I received from Preston would pay for the holiday whilst we got pissed up, saw some sights, and took in a bit of MLS.

It was the perfect way to bridge the gap between my coaching career and managerial career. When I got home, I took a summer holiday- a bit like a student- and didn't give a second thought to my career. It allowed me quality time with Ethan, something that had been strongly lacking when I was a player, and something I struggled to compensate for when I was a coach. Nonetheless, there had always been a strong bond between myself and my son and now was the perfect time to make our bond count.

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