WHEN Dundee chief executive Scot Gardiner invited John Brown to be interim manager in February, he knew he was not getting a shrinking violet.
Indeed, with Dundee’s survival chances looking bleak at the bottom of the Scottish Premier League, Brown’s ability to stir things up was one reason why Gardiner wanted to hire him.
However, it has since also got him into a lot of trouble. Gardiner has stressed to Brown that this has to stop: no more talking about Rangers, and no more talking in depth about other clubs, even if that is likely to put an end to his invariably colourful turns of phrase in newspapers.
It is an order backed by Dundee’s new American investors, who are intent on promoting the club as a family-friendly place. Steps have been taken to ensure that Brown is aware of the dangers of speaking his mind – particularly about events that don’t concern Dundee.
“We’ve had to say: ‘John, you now see this is how the game is’,” said Gardiner. “I think he took over with 13 games left and before the season had started, before we’d kicked a ball, he’d had three SFA charges. Some managers might go five years without getting one.
“They are all related to things that he’s said in the papers, so if that affects his job then it affects Dundee and I’m there to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Brown was censured by the Scottish Football Association at the end of last season after comments made about referee Alan Muir, following the match which confirmed Dundee’s relegation after Aberdeen’s Peter Pawlett earned a penalty through simulation.
The Dundee manager will return to Hampden Park next week to contest two of the latest notices of complaint made against him by the SFA. The first is for calling former Dundee goalkeeper Robert Douglas a liar in a newspaper interview, and the second concerns comments made in another interview in which, according to the charge levelled at him, he was “suggesting the use of violence” in connection with Charles Green, the former Rangers chief executive.
It is the number of times that Brown has been drawn into the debate about the Ibrox club, where he spent nine years as a player and later took up a coaching post, that has begun to exercise Dundee, although Gardiner appreciates that it is a two-way street: journalists phone up Brown for his views on Rangers, and he is happy to entertain them with his often trenchant thoughts on the matter. The result is usually the receipt of a letter on SFA-headed notepaper.
“Your truth is someone else’s disrepute charge,” acknowledged Gardiner yesterday. “John’s the go-to guy when something happens at Rangers and he can’t be that guy any more because he has a very serious job to do for Dundee,” he added. “John’s sole focus is Dundee, going forward. He’s very clear about that now. I think you’ll see that.”
It wasn’t an easy baptism at Dundee for Brown, who had to deal with a section of Dundee fans who were angered by his appointment. Although he was a much-admired player for Dundee in the mid 1980s, many struggled to disassociate Brown from Rangers. His much ridiculed, although since partly vindicated, rant on the steps at Ibrox last summer didn’t help. Neither did his willingness to comment on Rangers’ affairs since taking over at Dundee.
However much he admires Brown’s determination to tell it as it is, Gardiner has stressed to him that he has to be cute about what he says in a public forum.
“Sadly you’re not able just to tell people what you think and that’s not acceptable to the SFA for a manager just to tell you what he thinks,” said Gardiner. “So we have to address that, along with John, and make sure he’s not in the papers every week for the wrong reasons.
Dundee, who were recently taken over by a new, part-American controlled consortium, have now ordered Brown to avoid being lured into offering comment on the situation at Ibrox, and, especially, to desist from using images of violence.
Brown was disgusted by Green’s comment that Ally McCoist had to win a trophy this season, on top of League One. He assured reporters that had his directors issued him with that instruction, he would have “taken every one of them by the throat”. That earned him a charge for breaking Rule 82: making offensive comments and suggesting the use of violence.
Although they will support him as he defends himself on Thursday, Dundee’s desire for Brown to stop earning headlines with his hard-hitting views on Rangers is part of a drive to restore the reputation of the Dens Park club. Gardiner accepts that Dundee’s conduct in recent years has been less than exemplary after two administrations.
“We’re working very, very hard to get our reputation back because there’s been a lot of hard moments in the last ten years,” said Gardiner.
Even a recent experiment as a supporter-owned club ended with recriminations and bitter infighting. This month the Football Partner group, backed with finance sourced in Texas, took control of the club after a protracted process that required the Dundee supporters’ society to vote to allow their majority shareholding to be reduced.
“The Americans are Ivy League, blue chip companies and individuals who have invested in us and we have to remember that we are 120 years old this year,” said Gardiner.
“I’m working hard to get the club back to where it was off the field, earning respect and behaving in a certain manner as it once did and was respected for. John knows his part now and how we intend to conduct ourselves as a football club. If you call John about Rangers he has to realise it doesn’t matter. For Dundee fans, it’s very important his focus is only on Dundee. They have to fully believe that their manager is only concerned about the well-being of their team.”