Great Britain

Obituary: Bobby Brown, Rangers and Scotland football international who managed the ‘Wembley Wizards’

Bobby Brown, who has died at the age of 96
Bobby Brown, who has died at the age of 96

Bobby Brown, football manager. Born: 19 March 1923. Died: 15 January 2020, aged 96.

Bobby Brown, who has died aged 96, was a landmark figure in the world of Scottish football, which he served with distinction as both player and manager.

As the country’s oldest internationalist, earning his first honours during the Second World War, and Rangers’ oldest player, he was a link to another era when agents, brightly-coloured boots and executive boxes were figments of the imagination.

Although he will always be associated with the famous 1967 Wembley win over world champions England in his first full international as manager, he had previously enjoyed a highly successful career as goalkeeper for Queens Park, Rangers and Scotland, while his achievements in his first managerial post with St Johnstone led to his Scotland appointment.

Had war not intervened he would surely have won more than five full caps – while with Rangers he won three League titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups in the course of around 300 games. He was the last surviving member of Rangers’ legendary Iron ­Curtain defence and the last amateur to represent Scotland when first fully capped against Belgium in 1946 from Queens Park. Later he was delighted to be inducted into Rangers’ and Scottish Football’s Halls of Fame.

In the competitive and sometimes hard world of professional football he was always the complete gentleman of impeccable integrity whose approachability, friendliness and sense of fellowship endeared him to all. Once retired from football his commercial astuteness and determination to carve out another career led to business success.

Robert Brown was born in Dunipace, Sirlingshire, to parents James and Georgina, older brother of Agnes. His father was an engineer at Bonnybridge Power Station and Bobby first attended Dunipace Primary School where a classmate was future fellow internationalist Billy Steel. When he was aged six, the family moved to the small village of Torwood nearby where Bobby attended school and began playing football, his interest sparked by his father taking him to Falkirk games at Brockville. Later at school in Larbert he tasted organised football for the first time, and his first success, winning the local Schools’ Cup.

But it was at Falkirk High School that he really gathered momentum, when he came under the inspiring influence of PE teacher Hugh Brown, father of Craig, later Scotland manager. Schoolboy representative honours followed as his form began attracting interest and in April 1940 after a Saturday morning school game, Queens Park officials invited him to play against Celtic at Parkhead that afternoon, which he did, weeks after his 17th birthday.

A creditable 4-4 draw launched his senior career with the Hampden side and in a busy final year he was also school captain, sports champion and obtained several Highers. Next he began a PE course at Jordanhill College while excelling for the Spiders, one report proclaiming:“Young Brown is coming on like an oil tanker on fire!”

In November 1942 he joined the Fleet Air Arm at Dartmouth where, after completing pilot training and playing in several forces representative matches for which he earned resounding plaudits, he was transferred to Portsmouth as a fitness instructor and then Plymouth.

While there he met future wife Ruth Knight, a Wren in the Signals regiment, who brought him his telegram when he was selected for his first Scotland XI in a War ­Charities game in 1944. He represented Scotland in another five wartime matches, three Victory Internationals and eight League internationals. In July 1946, he ­married Ruth in her home town of ­Plymstock, Devon.

On 4 May 1946 he had made his Rangers debut against ­Airdrie. Under iconic manger Bill Struth he was part of the first team to win the fabled treble in 1948/9, the only ever present throughout and was the last man in the near impenetrable Iron Curtain defence behind Young, Shaw, McColl, Woodburn and Cox. Following an upset defeat at Tynecastle in 1952, he was dropped after almost five years of ­consecutive games, thereafter featuring only occasionally until his final appearance in January 1956. Always part-time as a PE teacher, latterly at Alloa Academy, he loved being at Ibrox where players who he considered ‘a band of brothers’ received the best of everything.

After two final seasons with Falkirk he later managed St Johnstone, where he did sterling work, twice winning the old 2nd Division before stabilising them in the top tier.

As Scotland manager, Wembley 1967 was the undoubted highlight, the first defeat England had suffered in 20 games and first as world champions. His team selection was spot on and he deserved special credit for fielding two outstanding debutants, Ronnie Simpson and Jim McCalliog. He was unfortunate not to lead Scotland to the 1970 World Cup, undone by dreadful refereeing in a crucial tie against West Germany, while player call offs, unavailability and injuries plagued his final years at the helm, before he finished in 1971. He always regretted only being able to field the 1967 team once.

Bobby and Ruth enjoyed 37 happy years together including regular summer holidays in her home county, a favourite location. They had three daughters, Carolyn, Alison and Gillian, and from 1967 lived in Helensburgh. Sadly Ruth died from cancer in 1983.

After football Bobby became involved in property development, operating a seafront coffee shop and a restaurant before being a self-employed agent dealing in quality giftware. His was a full life well lived, embracing various activities. He was an outdoors enthusiast who went on many excursions with his church rambling club, climbed many Munros, was a Rotarian involved in charity fundraising, and enjoyed foreign travel with friend Katharine Ferguson. As a member of St Michael’s Episcopal Church, his faith was important to him while football and Rangers remained a lifelong interest.

An unfailingly cheerful smartly-dressed individual who was excellent company and a gentleman to his fingertips, Bobby Brown will be well remembered. He is survived by his sister, daughters and many grand and great grandchildren.

JACK DAVIDSON