It’s been a tough few weeks for Scott Brown but Hearts fans will take his mind off it
SCOTT Brown revels in his role as the pantomime baddie, which is just as well given that he is going to Tynecastle today for a Scottish Cup tie, a place where he says he gets more grief than anywhere else in the land, Rangers included. “I think I get more abuse there than I do at Ibrox,” he says. “Well, abuse that I can hear anyway. As soon as you get the ball at a throw-in, or whatever, you have this much space between you and the first fan. It’s good to hear some of the shouts. They love me there, honestly. [My attitude is] don’t go out wide, the centre circle is mine.”
There are days when Brown is in bad humour and uncommunicative and there are days like Friday when he is buzzing, yapping on about how he never wants to leave Celtic, not even if a Premiership club came in for him, which they haven’t, a fact that he points out in a self-mocking way. He talks about Tynecastle like it’s a bearpit, albeit one that he has never lost in as a Celtic player. Celtic have lost there three times in his years at the club, but he wasn’t involved in any of those defeats.
“Hearts have always been the same, a hard-working team. They play really well at home, especially with the fans behind them. They’re right on top of you. It’s one of those stadiums where you can hear everything every punter says and, whether you like it or not, you have to deal with it. I think everyone gets it at Tynecastle. That’s what Scottish football is all about. It’s always a good tempo and Hearts always come for you in the first 15-20 minutes and try to get the goal. If we can weather the storm we can get the ball down and play.
“You have to go on the park and show them how good you are and what you are made of. Tynecastle has been a good place for me recently. I didn’t win a lot there when I was at Hibs. We were always the underdogs, a bunch of kids just running about kicking people and making it hard for them. I probably get more stick from the Hearts fans as a Celtic player than I did when I was at Hibs. I scored at Tynecastle last season. The ball had gone over the line at our end [the goal wasn’t given] and we ran up the park and scored. I was delighted with that.”
Brown might have been in cheery mode but these past weeks have been difficult for him, not that he wants to revisit the red card against Barcelona and the damage his daft kick at Neymar did to Celtic’s challenge in the Champions League.
He prefers talking about what is ahead of him than what’s in the past, prefers talking about what he has rather than we might have had if it wasn’t for that red at Parkhead. He talks about some of the guys waiting on new contracts – Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley. “I think all the lads want to stay. We’re in the Champions League and that’s why people come here. Sami loves it here, so does Joe. I don’t think people understand in Greece and England just how big a club this is and how good a club this is. Once they come, they don’t want to leave. Hopefully that’s the main thing that keeps them here – and my banter.”
There was talk about Brown being the subject of interest from down south a while back. No offers, but plenty of chat. He says he didn’t want to leave in any event. “What made me stay? Champions League football was the main thing, plus the gaffer was here and he’d shown a lot of faith in me. He made me captain and maybe I owed him. It was a huge decision in my career to either stay at Celtic or go to England. I didn’t want to be a player who moves down to England and maybe goes missing. Does it appeal to me to leave Celtic and go down to England? Not in the slightest. I don’t see why I would swap winning trophies, winning leagues and playing in the Champions League. I know players from England will want to go back home and that’s understandable. But this is a great club, my family is here and I’m not going to beat the occasions I get in the Champions League. Everyone knows that England is where the money is. But if I put my heart before the cash signs, it’s Celtic for me.”
The club now has to come to terms with a long domestic haul without the glamour of Europe. Only vast amounts of money will change Celtic’s landscape and that’s not going to happen. “Even the relegated clubs in England get something like £60m. We only get £2m or £3m if we win the league,” he says, by way of explaining that Celtic have not underachieved in the group. “We’ve got to the Champions League and it’s hard to get into it. There’s not a lot of teams would have wanted to be in that group. I know we only have three points, but three points is better than nothing.”
Life goes on. He talks about new players coming in, maybe the Scottish player of the moment, Dundee United’s Ryan Gauld. You never know. “He got four assists against Partick Thistle last week. That’s more than I’ve had in my career. Everyone is comparing him to Messi. I’ve seen Ryan a few times and he’s a good player. He will get better as he gets older and learn more.”
Brown has some bitter experience this season, but there’s nothing he can do about that now. Tynecastle is enough to be getting on with. A new competition and a new focus.