Scott Brown caps Scotland return with win: different Hampden experience, ex-Celtic boss comes to watch, next Ayr raid is Ibrox

In his first match as Ayr United manager, Brown gets better of Davidson under watchful eye of O’Neill

Almost 20 years to the day since his first senior appearance at the national stadium, Scott Brown resumed his nascent managerial career at the scene of so many of his dramas and successes.

After 13 trophy wins and 30 matches here for Scotland, the majority as skipper, the always box-office Brown returned to Hampden Park as manager of Ayr United to secure a win over ten-man Queen’s Park. He later said that it gave him as much satisfaction as any of these previous exploits.

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And who would question that? “Broonie, Broonie!” chorused the quickly won over Ayr United supporters. Over 900 – nearly half the crowd – made the journey. Brown applauded them at the end though his first assignment, almost as soon as the final whistle sounded, was to pose for a selfie with a ball boy.

New Ayr United manager Scott Brown speaks to former Celtic boss Martin O'Neill at Hampden.New Ayr United manager Scott Brown speaks to former Celtic boss Martin O'Neill at Hampden.
New Ayr United manager Scott Brown speaks to former Celtic boss Martin O'Neill at Hampden.

“I am back in Scotland!” he smiled afterwards. “I got peace and quiet down the road [in England]. The kids are fantastic. They don’t want to see a battle, two teams pinging it long. Two teams tried to play football. Hopefully all the kids and all the fans enjoyed the game but I am just delighted to get the first win.”

Someone else was presumably delighted for him – Martin O’Neill. Although Brown never played under the former Celtic manager, O’Neill paid him the ultimate compliment by choosing to watch his first match as manager in Scotland over Celtic v Ross County. The pair were seen chatting on the touchline half an hour before kick-off.

O’Neill – in town for ‘An Evening With’ event in Motherwell – was a guest of Queen’s Park investor Willie Haughey and had appeared behind Brown as if in an apparition as the manager watched his players warm up. “I turned round and it was Martin!” Brown said. “Any tips I can steal from him you need to listen.

“I know him through the Celtic Foundation and going different places with him. He is a huge person for Celtic and what he’s done for Celtic in the last 20 years. He came here instead of going to Celtic Park, which was nice of him!”

Brown celebrates at full time after the win over Queen's Park.Brown celebrates at full time after the win over Queen's Park.
Brown celebrates at full time after the win over Queen's Park.

Brown named former Celtic team-mate Aiden McGeady on the bench after stressing when he was unveiled that no-one could expect more favourable treatment than others, although the No.10 is on the comeback after injury. McGeady almost sealed the win after being sent on with 15 minutes left but his lofted shot hit the top of the net. Brown had already turned away over something that had irked him. “The lads tell me he almost dinked the goalie,” he said later.

Most of what Brown saw he liked, including two very good goals. The first, five minutes before the break, was a well-struck free-kick from Jamie Murphy and the second, the winner, was a header from Mark McKenzie after 74 minutes. The assist was from substitute Fraser Bryden, brought on by Brown seconds after the hosts had equalised in 64 minutes through Ruari Paton. The manager clearly knows what he’s doing.

Brown had ordered the subs to start warming up just a few minutes in. He cut an initially anguished figure. How much longer the hair he has grown out will stay so dark remains to be seen. “Pass the ball!” he shouted – expletive omitted. The demand echoed around an almost empty Hampden.

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One would be tempted to write that this was a completely unfamiliar experience for someone used to playing so regularly in front of packed stands here. That would be to forget an admittedly forgettable last season at Parkhead when neither Celtic nor him played here. It would also overlook his last appearance at an even emptier national stadium when he lifted the Scottish Cup mid-pandemic following a penalty shootout victory over Hearts on one of the most surreal afternoons ever known at Hampden.

The spotlight might have been on Brown, but it ought to have been shared with Callum Davidson, for whom this was a first home game in charge of Queen's Park. He of course has plenty of memories created here, not only with Scotland. Davidson and Brown played once at Hampden together in a 2-0 win over Macedonia in 2009. They greeted each other warmly before kick-off and then kept their distance throughout as Davidson and assistant Liam Craig sought to tap back into the Hampden synergy that yielded two major trophies in a single season while at St Johnstone. Again, in front of empty stands.

Just under 2,000 were in attendance to see Davidson’s hopes of enjoying a winning – or even non-losing – start at home dashed by a red card midway through the second half for Sean Welsh after a second bookable offence, a foul on McKenzie. His first yellow was for a foul on the same player – although, tellingly, it was recorded as ‘foul’ (with inverted commas included) by the Queen’s Park X feed. Murphy scored the resultant free-kick to further infuriate the hosts. “The Ayr player actually slipped,” said Davidson.

The new manager has been quick to make his mark at the club so this was a setback in a Championship six-pointer – though aren’t they all six-pointers in a dog-eat-dog division?

Davidson has quickly earned favour with the traditionalists after reversing the decision of his predecessor Robin Veldman when it comes to dugout use. The home dugout is back where it always was – well, since 1903 – at the west end of the ground.

As for Brown, his next away stop after a Somerset Park debut against Dundee United? Ibrox, would you believe.