Friday 4 May 2018 05:54, UK
Scott Brown was once a team-mate of Wayne Rooney only to spend the peak years of his career in non-league football after suffering serious injury and personal tragedy. Now, at 32, he has bounced back as a title winner with Accrington Stanley.
There is a lot to like about the resurgence of Accrington Stanley under John Coleman. The same man who once lifted the club out of the seventh tier during his time as their player-manager, has now guided Stanley back into the third tier for the first time since reforming in 1968. The Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt calls it a miracle.
Everyone else calls it the club that wouldn't die.
But amid all the heart-warming stories, whether it be Coleman returning to secure a fourth promotion or star striker Billy Kee becoming the League Two top scorer despite battling depression, there is none more compelling than that of the player in Stanley's midfield. A man whose career looked lost to injury and heartache only for it to be rediscovered.
Scott Brown's story is the career that wouldn't end.
He has enjoyed this promotion. So much so that he attracted media attention by admitting he had lost his phone and house keys after Stanley secured it against Yeovil. He did not let it sour his evening. "It was up there with one of the best nights that I have had in football, to be honest," Brown tells Sky Sports. "It was the perfect night."
Brown has had plenty of tough ones. He was a highly-rated as a youngster, a team-mate of Wayne Rooney for Everton and England schoolboys before moving to Bristol City. But after a switch to Cheltenham - "with the idea of doing well and pushing back up the leagues" - he broke his leg in only his fourth game for his new team. The ramifications would last years.
"It was a bad one," he says. "It was a double leg fracture and I dislocated my ankle. It was horrible. The specialist told me that I would be lucky to walk properly again let alone play football. But I had a really good physio in Ian Weston at Cheltenham who helped my day to day by picking me up and taking me to training. He literally did everything for me.
"I had a limp for about nine months that I just could not get rid of. Then one day it just sort of stopped and I was able to run properly. I got back playing but I still had the pin in my leg and it was causing problems irritating the bone. So I had to have that out. That was another nine months. In the end, I missed the best part of two-and-a-half years just with the injury."
Away from football, there were weightier issues to cope with. "There are things that are personal," he adds. "I lost a child. I had a son and we lost him." Brown had a little baby girl soon after but it was a dark time that affected him deeply. "It was very hard," he adds. "I just felt empty for a couple of years and I could not snap out of it."
It accounts for a curious career. During what should have been his peak years, Brown found himself bouncing around the National League with Fleetwood, York and Macclesfield. At the age of 27, while going through the pain of a divorce, he dropped into the sixth tier with Chester. "I had to get my own house and basically start from scratch again," he explains.
"With football you can earn a grand a week and then go to earning a hundred a week. It is a big drop and it was very hard. You are wondering where that next bit of money is coming from because obviously I was struggling financially as well. I ended up at Southport and I didn't really know where my career was going to end up.
"That was the last chance saloon."
The penny had dropped. "I realised I had to crack on here," he adds. "I could not stay in that rut." But Brown still needed someone to help unlock his potential. That lucky break came when Coleman, in between his two stints at Accrington Stanley, was appointed as Southport manager in December 2013. He made Brown captain. It was the start of the change.
John Coleman explains how Accrington Stanley have achieved their unlikely success this season.
"I was still fighting away and fighting away but the gaffer came in and gave me a new lease of life," says Brown. "I owe a hell of a lot to him. He knows that himself. It is hard in non-league. The football is a lot tougher and it is not really my game. It is more physical stuff. But I managed to adapt my game and everything has fallen into place now.
"I always had belief because I knew I could play football. It is my life and it is all I have ever done. Now I have kicked on again. The gaffer is a guy who gets the best out of people. He just gives you that licence to go and express yourself. He makes you feel like you're a great player. I am coming to the latter stages of my career but I am playing my best football."
Coleman took him to Accrington in 2016 after almost five years out of the Football League. Now, at the age of 32, Brown is celebrating the fifth promotion of his career as a senior figure in a side that has won the League Two title. Brown even managed to get his first goal of the season - a spectacular left-footed strike - in a 4-0 win at Wycombe last month.
His contract is up in the summer and he would love the chance to have another crack at the division where he made his debut for Bristol City almost 14 years ago. "I would love to stay," he admits. "I love everything about it here so hopefully there will be something there for me. The squads that the gaffer builds are squads that you want to be a part of."
But whatever happens from now on, Brown counts himself lucky to have had a long career in the game. He is grateful to his family, without whom he would not be here. To long-time agent Lee Philpott who stuck by him when hope had been all but extinguished. And to Coleman, the manager who gave him the second chance he has grasped so impressively.
"I just go into every game thinking it could be my last," he says. "That is the only way to approach it now."