In his new book, the Celtic captain reveals that the death of his sister from cancer was the hardest time of his life and how he was determined not to let the tragedy defeat him
There was, understandably, much mirth about the expected banalities that any book – ostensibly at least – by Scott Brown would be cluttered with. Celtic and Scotland captain the 30-year-old may be, but he has also forever played up to the devil-may-care, “daft laddie” persona. To such an extent that even as he launched his autobiography yesterday, he joked he couldn’t read it and would require to get the audiobook to know what his writer, Mark Henderson, had put on the page.
The reality is that what cleaves its way into the reader’s heart from those pages are the circumstances surrounding the bereavement tattooed on the heart of Brown. Months after he joined Celtic in a £4.4 million move from Hibernian in the summer of 2007, his sister Fiona was told she had terminal cancer. Aged 21, she died a week after he claimed his first championship with the club in May 2009. That title came only days after Tommy Burns, the man who had proved such a mentor to him in making the move to Glasgow, had lost his life to the same skin condition.
“Tommy sent my wee sister flowers when she first found out, saying ‘we’ll get through this together’. It shows you what kind of guy he was. Tommy wasn’t in as much… but…when in, he would always ask how Fiona was getting on, and if she needed someone to phone to pass on his number. He also gave me his wife’s number in case Fiona couldn’t get a hold of him, and Rosemary is a lovely person.”
Brown’s recollections of “the hardest time of my life” are delivered devoid of any mawkishness. The love, the pain, the loss and need to find a way through the grief are all given expression in unadorned, and as a result all the more powerful, vignettes.
“I just went into a room and sat on my own,” he says of hearing the news that nothing more could be done for his sister. “[When] she got the cancer she read up about it and told my mum, ‘I’m going to die – it tells you there is a good chance you could die’. My mum kept trying to be positive for as long as she could and she kept believing
Fiona would beat it but it kept coming back.”
Brown tells of how he was given time off with “no questions” by the club as he tried to help his sister enjoy her final few months; about the “joy” for the University of Dundee student as she was presented with her degree by professors at the family’s Hill O’ Beath home and how, on the night of the title win at Tannadice, he was driven straight there by team-mate Steven Pressley. “I went to see if my wee sister was alright, to see how she was and [give] her my medal.”
Brown admits in the book that his head “wasn’t right” for football often during those times, and simply went in the aftermath of her death, as another campaign loomed. “I didn’t really care about the season at that time. Everyone was offering their congratulations about winning the league but in my mind I didn’t want to play football. I just wanted to go home. Gordon [Strachan[ told me to go and do whatever I needed to do and that he would see me whenever I returned. He was brilliant. He was always in contact, making sure everything was alright and it was the same with Peter Lawwell.
“I didn’t really want to go back for pre-season. I still couldn’t believe it. The shock was still in my system, and it was still quite raw, but then I was thinking to myself, ‘Why am I being so moody, so lazy, and not interested in football?’ I knew my wee sister wouldn’t want me to do that. She would want me to go and enjoy my life, even though I think about her all the time when I go on the park.”
As reflective as Brown proved yesterday, the sweary-word quips slipped from his mouth like nervous ticks when the subject matter was his professional journey – his tome, the proceeds from which will go to charity, entitled My Celtic Story. In person, he did not dwell too much on family tragedy that he had to deal with during his first year. “A lot of people have personal problems,” he said. “You can’t let it beat you. You have to be strong for everyone as well as for your career.”
Brown joked that “looking back, I can’t believe the club’s put up with me these nine years!” “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. There’s been highs and lows but it’s all about how you come out the other side. It’s been good fun doing the book. Hours of sitting down and talking s***! [Though] there’s a few things I’ve done that I won’t be telling in the book…”
It is a document that charts a journey few thought Brown capable of making, frankly. “When I first signed for Celtic nobody would ever have believed I would be Celtic captain one day, let alone Scotland captain. I was slightly immature. Slightly. I have matured a bit now. But at the time people thought I was just a wee hot-headed… person. But the love of playing football and will to win pulled me through.
“It’s still in there. I want to win week in and week out. Now I just don’t go fighting as much with referees and 11 opposing players. I have mellowed that way. When Lenny [Neil Lennon] came in as manager he put a lot of responsibility on me. I think that’s what matured me a lot. He used to say that I reminded him of himself. F*** knows how that was – I could run!”
His run through of highlights included reaching the Champions League last 16 and being made captain by Tony Mowbray. Now, Brown is in the running for a testimonial, with the current season his ninth at Celtic. “That will be good. I’ve not sat down or talked about it with anyone at the club, but they have said I can have a testimonial at the stadium and that’s brilliant from Peter. Can you be suspended from your own testimonial…?”