FOR the first time in almost half a century, Billy Brown is unemployed as a new football season approaches. Not since he left Musselburgh Grammar School aged 15 has he been out of work at this time of year. The intervening 46 years brought a plethora of joy and experience within the game. However, Brown is in no mood for quiet reflection. He may be 61 and a grandfather, but his enthusiasm would still do justice to that 15-year-old boy.
Brown is at home in East Lothian currently getting under the feet of his wife, Anne. He doesn’t want to be there, with the greatest respect to his other half. He wants to be in a tracksuit, on a training pitch or in a dugout somewhere. It’s where he belongs. Sitting watching clubs prepare for a new campaign is difficult when you’ve never had to do it before. In total, Brown has only been unemployed for six weeks in his whole life, so this takes some getting used to.
He left Hibs somewhat unexpectedly at the end of last month, giving him little time to source alternative employment. His long-time friend Jim Jefferies offered a voluntary coaching role at Dunfermline, which Brown accepted for a week. By his own admission, “it wasn’t the same”. After assistant manager jobs at Berwick Rangers, Falkirk, Hearts (twice), Bradford City, Kilmarnock and Hibs, Brown finds himself on the outside looking in ahead of season 2012/13.
“It is a strange feeling. I never thought it was going to happen right now,” he told the Evening News. “Obviously everything comes to an end, but I had it my mind that I was going to stay at the Hibs. I was led to believe that, anyway. I did a week with Jim there at Dunfermline but it’s not the same. Since I left school, I’ve always had a senior club and there were a few years when I was managing at junior level. But not this year, I’m afraid.
“I’ve got grandbairns that keep me busy and I’m getting out on my bike. I’m doing things I haven’t really done before, but I’m not ready to do them on a permanent basis. I want to keep going, I’m as ambitious and enthusiastic as I ever was and I have a desire to work. That’s the way I am. Nothing has diminished my interest in the game. Football is the only thing I’ve ever been interested in since I was a boy. I still want to be involved at the highest level possible.”
Browns admits his wife may be finding this experience as difficult as he is.
“I’m in the house a lot more than I ever was,” he laughed. “Since I left school at 15, I’ve only been out of work six weeks over all those years, so this is an unusual occurrence. It’s strange being in the house all the time and I’m probably getting in Anne’s way. I was talking to Jimmy Calderwood the other day and he was saying it’s a different lifestyle. It’s not one I’m looking at long-term. If I was ready to pack in football, I would. But I’m not.”
Being told by Hibs at the end of June that his contract as assistant manager would not be renewed was difficult to digest. “I realise finances at football clubs are tight at the moment,” acknowledged Brown. “If I’d known five or six weeks ago, or had any indication or warning that this might happen, I’d have no complaint. I only signed a year’s contract. But to be told four days before your contract is up that you won’t be getting a new one is difficult. There aren’t many jobs where you get four days’ notice. I didn’t think it had to happen that way but that’s the way football goes.
“It was too late to get another job. I’d already turned down the chance of another job in the belief I was going to be at Hibs. It’s disappointing the way it happened, but that’s the way it is.”
Not only does Brown crave a return to football, he still has designs on becoming a manager in his own right. “That’s what I always wanted to do,” he continued.
“I thought I was nearly there when the Hibs job came up (in November last year). There are never any guarantees but I was a wee bit disappointed I never got the opportunity. I felt the time was right for me with the experience I had, knowing the game in Scotland and knowing what was required at the Hibs. I went there with my eyes open. I knew the situation at the club.”
He had, of course, joined Hibs in September last year as No.2 to Colin Calderwood after he and Jefferies were dismissed by Hearts in August. The pair won the Scottish Cup with the Tynecastle club in 1998 during a period Brown regards as his most exhilarating in football. He and Jefferies then helped secure European football in their second spell in charge. Having worked on both sides of Edinburgh’s footballing divide, Brown considers himself a staunch supporter of both teams.
“Going from Hearts to Hibs was a difficult move and I knew that at the time,” he explained. “To work with both teams has been great. They are two massive clubs. I just wish it had turned out a wee bit better. Last season brought two major disappointments for me – not getting the Hibs job and the way the season finished with the Scottish Cup final.
“I used to go to Easter Road and Tynecastle as a kid and I think I’m one of these unique people who has great affection for both clubs. I have huge affection for Hearts after two spells there. The first one in particular was just a fantastic experience, the best time of my football life. We had great success during that period. Going to Hibs was a huge thing for me as well.
“I want the two clubs to do well. I think it’s important, especially with the demise of Rangers, to have two clubs the size of Hibs and Hearts doing well. It might fill a wee void with supporters going to games if Hibs and Hearts can be successful. No way do I want either club to do badly. They are my two teams. I’m probably unique in that sense.”
Brown’s contribution to Hearts is greater than across the city for the simple reason he spent several years at Tynecastle, as opposed to months at Easter Road. The legacy he and Jefferies left continues in the shape of the current Hearts manager, John McGlynn. “It was us who brought him in to begin with. Jim is from Wallyford and so is John. When I played for Raith Rovers I used to train Musselburgh Windsor on a Wednesday night and John played for Musselburgh Windsor under-16s. So I’ve had an association with John since he was 15.
“When I was manager of Musselburgh Athletic, John was one of my players. Jim and I have known him all these years and he’s always been an enthusiastic boy.
“He always had designs on coaching so when we went to Hearts we wanted him there. We knew he had assets we could use and he was a great acquisition. He came in as our youth coach to start with and obviously he’s progressed from there, gone to Raith Rovers and now come back.
“I’ve known him so long and I wish him well. He deserves to do well because he’s a good type. He has ambition to get to the top and to end up manager of Hearts is a great achievement.”
Ambition and enthusiasm are attributes Brown knows a thing or two about himself. In recent weeks, both Billy and Anne Brown have experienced just how difficult they are to contain.