‘I couldn’t play up front, couldn’t really cross, positional sense was not my thing...’ - Scott Brown’s teething troubles on the road to 700 games

There was one immediate thought from Scott Brown when the Celtic captain was alerted to the fact he had “ticked off” a “great milestone” in playing his 700th competitive senior games at the weekend. “There are still a few more left in the tank,” said the 34-year-old.

Scott Brown is tackled by Philip McGuire (left) and Paul Sheerin during his Hibs debut against Aberdeen in May 2003. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Scott Brown is tackled by Philip McGuire (left) and Paul Sheerin during his Hibs debut against Aberdeen in May 2003. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

The Fifer’s natural enthusiasm for football, and winning football games, is key to what has provided him with his longevity. It was so unbridled when he was half the age he is now and a budding prospect at Hibernian, he concedes the club didn’t really know what to do with him. When it came to 3 May, 2003, it became a case that then Easter Road manager Bobby Williamson had to unleash him in the club’s first team. He remembers that day vividly. It brought a substitute outing in a 2-1 win over Aberdeen.

“I hit the bar with a header. I caused Russell Anderson all sorts of problems,” Brown said. “Me and Deeks [Derek Riordan] came on. Garry O’Connor and Tam McManus both got injured and I came on as a striker and so did Deeks. After about 10 games I realised that I couldn’t play up front. I slowly got moved out wide and then they realised that I couldn’t really cross the ball. I slowly got moved back. Then they realised ‘positional sense is not his thing at 17’. So they just said: ‘Aye, wee man, go and run about and tackle people’. That is what I did. It is a privileged position to have played 700. It was a great opportunity to play at Hibs and I owe a lot of thanks to Bobby Williamson who gave me my first game and put together such a young team.”

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Williamson had long considered giving Brown his big breakthrough. He just didn’t know where to offer it. “I was involved in one of the cup games before it. I was on the bench against Rangers [in the League Cup in October 2002], but I didn’t get on,” said the veteran. “They didn’t know if I was a striker or a winger. Eventually there were a couple of injuries. Mixu Paatelainen got injured. Tam McManus was playing up front with Gaz [Garry O’Connor]. They both got injured in the same game. Tam has done his calf, Gary has done his hammy. Luckily enough. Deeks was always in and about at the time so I never had the opportunity to go on. I played the first game – baggy strip, one size fits all, Le Coq Sportif. It was lovely... It fitted Mixu and it fitted me... You can imagine how skinny I was as a 17-year-old boy. But it was good. I have fond memories of that time and still speak to a few of the boys who are at Hibs now.”

Brown doesn’t regret failing to stay the course in the forward line, with his late career adaptability allowing him to remake himself into an inspirational and savvy midfield sitter where once it seemed he was destined to be perceived as a combustible clatterer. “I think that worked out for the best. I played Livi and scored two goals in the next game [after my debut]. So I don’t know what happened there. But after that they realised I couldn’t have hit the back of the net.”

All of 21 major honours later – the first a League Cup success with Hibs in March 2007 – and a glittering decade as a Celtic captain who could become Scottish football’s first team leader to steer a team to a record 10 straight titles, it is little wonder he would pass up the chance to impart any advice to his 17-year-old self.

“I don’t think I would change anything. I have learned winning games and learned after defeats as well,” he said. “I had great times at Hibs and I made the right decision coming here [in 2007]. I’m glad I stayed here instead of going away to Australia [last year].

“I could have been rash and gone to England to a team that’s maybe fighting relegation…. or been really rash and gone to Australia to play the last two or three seasons and actually seen the sun and improved my golf. You have to realise the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. For a few people who leave here there’s always going to be some who hit the highs, but for my career I have ticked off everything I wanted.”