Monday, February 17, 2014
The man who led Norwich City to one of the club’s greatest triumphs has turned 80. MARK SHIELDS reports on how a special birthday book has triggered an outpouring of memories from across the football world for Ken Brown.
The man who led Norwich City to one of the club’s greatest triumphs has turned 80. MARK SHIELDS reports on how a special birthday book has triggered memories from across the football world for Ken Brown.
It was in remembering another Norwich City legend of the dugout that Elaine Brown hit upon the perfect way to mark her husband Ken’s 80th birthday.
Swapping stories with friends at the funeral of John Bond, she was struck by the tragedy that he was not around to hear in person what his life had meant to all those gathered there together.
“All of his friends and family were there saying what a lovely man he was, and ‘I remember when John did this or that’,” she said.
“There were all these beautiful stories about John, and I just thought what a shame that he wasn’t there to hear them all.
“When somebody dies, everybody reminisces about the person and all their lovely memories come out. Why not let them know now how much they are loved?”
As Mr Brown’s landmark birthday approached, she toyed with the idea of asking family to pen a few lines on her husband, to present to him, but feared it could “turn into an obituary”.
Shortly before Christmas, and with just six weeks to organise it, she decided to go with her instinct.
She sent letters detailing her plan to his former team-mates at West Ham United, where Mr Brown spent 14 years as a player, becoming one of the Magnificent Seven players to win the FA Cup and a European trophy, and Norwich City.
It was at Carrow Road that Mr Brown became a hero off the pitch as well as on it, leading the club to promotion twice and to one of its most famous every victories – a 1-0 win over Sunderland at Wembley to win the 1985 Milk Cup.
Within days, the messages had begun arriving – and they kept on coming, right up until 10pm on the night of the book’s print deadline, with Martin O’Neill anxiously phoning the printers in Old Catton to ensure they had received his faxed tribute from his family holiday in Barbados.
I can’t let this momentous occasion pass without me sending my sincere best wishes on your 80th birthday. I hope it is a fantastic day for you, your family and your friends.
I was always a great admirer of you as you were always a source of support and encouragement in my early days in management, plus you are a good man.
Have a good day Ken and I wish you and Elaine many happy days together and good health.
The response she received shocked Mrs Brown, 59, who married Mr Brown 15 years ago. “I had imagined I would be presenting him with be a few sheets in a ring binder, but there were so many lovely messages that the printer suggested we bind it properly as a book.
“It was just going to be friends and family, but I had no idea how far it was going to go.”
The completed book includes contributions from people throughout Mr Brown’s life, from his grandson saying he wished he could have seen his grandfather make his England debut, to messages of thanks from the likes of Martin O’Neill, Terry Venables and Sir Alex Ferguson.
There is also a page dedicated to Joan, Mr Brown’s first wife, who died of cancer in March 1993, and with whom he had children Amanda and Kenny.
For me, Ken was probably one of the best ambassadors the club possessed, because he was one of the happiest characters I have ever known in the game, and was rarely spotted without that huge smile that was always on show.
It was great for us youngsters to see one of the senior players being so approachable, and was also a vital lesson for us all going forward of how to conduct ourselves.
Mrs Brown managed to keep the book a secret from her husband before presenting it to him last night at Potters in Great Yarmouth, where the family were taking a break to celebrate the birthday.
And having pored over every word in the book, she was quickly able to pick out the recurring themes in the tributes.
“It doesn’t matter what page you turn to, people talk about Ken’s smile, his cheerfulness and his kindness, she said.
“The only time you see him cry is when he gets emotional, so I don’t know how he’s going to handle this book.”
Thirty years ago you gave me my chance to play in the First Division (now the Premier League) after playing in the lower divisions, a chance that other managers perhaps would not have taken. However, on my debut against Liverpool I scored an own goal and I’m sure you must have wondered what you had done giving me my chance.
To my surprise though you still had belief in me to play at the highest level of the game and to this day I still use some of your managerial skills especially in man management.
Wishing you a fantastic birthday Ken.
Despite the revelation a few minor dressing-room secrets, it was the cumulative power of the messages that surprised.
“I’m absolutely gobsmacked at how everybody loves him so much,” she said.
“There was never a problem getting people to join in, because everybody wanted to help.
“It just makes me so proud to be his wife.”
My career was going down the pan at West Brom when the manager asked me if I wanted to go on loan to Norwich. I arrived in Norwich with snow everywhere: I thought ‘this is going to be tough’.
I met Ken the next morning and he was so positive, telling me he had arranged a game at Yarmouth against Ipswich.
Twenty-four hours later we kicked off and basically I scored four goals in a 5-1 win.
Ken came in to the dressing-room after the game... looked at me and said: “IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?”
The dressing room burst into laughter, and from then I knew this would be my club. I jumped at the chance to play for this incredible man.
You have an incredible approach to life, every problem is approached with a smile and you always see the brighter side of every incident.
Thanks a million.
See tomorrow’s paper to read a selection of tributes to Ken Brown from his former players, team-mates and footballing friends.
What are your favourite memories of Ken Brown? Send your birthday messages and memories to firstname.lastname@example.org