Brown never doubted he would know how it feels to walk in the footsteps of the likes of Paul Lambert and Tom Boyd sooner or later. He won the title under then captain Stephen McManus four years ago. But, like manager Neil Lennon, he has acknowledged that leading the side to glory adds an extra special dimension.
It doesn’t feel like vindication, he insists, since he knew he made the right decision to sign for Celtic rather than Rangers in 2007. But there was an undeniable sweetness in being the skipper when the side finally wrested the title back from their Ibrox rivals. “I would not have signed for Celtic if I did not think it was the right club for me,” he said. “In my first season we had so many highs – we won the league and it was brilliant. After that it has not been quite as good, but this season has topped everything.”
Even the minor let-down of being denied the opportunity to parade around Rugby Park with the trophy was brushed off by Brown yesterday, as he reflected on the achievement. “Another five weeks is all right after four years,” he shrugged, with reference to how long Celtic have had to endure being left in Rangers’ slipstream. “I am not really sure why this is either,” he wondered, when asked why the formal presentation is being delayed so long. “It would have been great to have the trophy – but we will get that in time,” he added.
Brown thoroughly enjoyed the occasion even in the absence of the trophy, which will be presented to the players at the final home game against Hearts. He had the best of both worlds – he played in the first half as Celtic racked up a four-goal lead, and then sat back and relaxed on the sidelines as the visitors continued their canter towards victory.
He was replaced a minute into the second-half after feeling a “niggle” in his groin. “Better to be safe than sorry,” he said, ahead of this weekend’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Hearts at Hampden Park.
Although he is the type who wants to play every minute of each game, Brown enjoyed watching his side, who, he revealed, had been told to “express yourselves” by Lennon.
“I was on the bench and Charlie [Mulgrew] came off as well. At the time we were four or 5-0 up and we knew it was going to be one of those good days,” he said. “We were talking to each other and thinking how good this could be.” It was a very different experience to watching from his sofa as Celtic slipped three goals behind Kilmarnock in the first half of that pivotal meeting back in October. Brown was injured and tuned in as his side exhibited every sign that they were missing their inspirational skipper.
“I had faith in the lads to go out and make a point,” he said. “They definitely made a point. That’s when our season changed, because it put pressure on Rangers as well. I think they also dropped points that day.
“It was hard to take,” he added, when asked how he felt at half-time, knowing he could not affect the situation. “But we came back from 3-0 down to 3-3. There’s not a lot of clubs who can do that. It showed how good the team spirit is and what the lads can do, no matter if we are one or two down. We know we have done it before.”
They could not quite overcome the three-goal lead Rangers established against Celtic in the last Old Firm fixture, and Brown is relishing the opportunity to square the series of four league games this season against their oldest rivals. “We were favourites at Ibrox – and that’s the first time that has happened in as many years as I can think of,” he said. “Whatever happened happened, but we can now bring them back to our place and we definitely want revenge.”
Although the league is wrapped up, other challenges await Celtic, including a significant one on Sunday. “This season is definitely not over,” he said. “We have a semi-final and hopefully a final, and five big games left in the league as well.”
Brown knows he will be a target for the Hearts supporters on Sunday after his association with Hibs. The all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup semi-final of 2006 is another game he missed due to injury, perhaps fortunately. “I love an injury!” he smiled, looking back at a game which Hibs lost 4-0. “I was in the stand – me and Derek Riordan. I think I had broken my foot or my ankle. That was a hard one to take.”
He elected to keep under wraps what the team did to celebrate on Saturday night, following the triumphant return to Parkhead. But he was happy to reveal his choice as Celtic’s player of the year, with Charlie Mulgrew edging ahead of James Forrest. The team, he said, is “perfect” as it is. Brown believes they are well equipped to deal with the challenge of the Champions League qualifiers, which begin in July. “Winning the league by 18 points shows we don’t need older, experienced pros. The lads are mature enough to understand that it is a big club,” he said. “There is lot of pressure on us to win every week and they want to be here and enjoy it. They want to win trophies.”