Football, contrary to popular belief, did exist before the Premier League was formed. In the same way, Cheltenham Town did have a history before August 1999, when they began life as a Football League club.
In that time, the Robins have had a clutch of players with the surname Brown – I can recall Dennis, who scored both goals in the famous “flying pig” FA Trophy match at Altrincham, and Keith, a tidy midfielder signed from Bath City.
Twice in more recent years, the Robins have had two players called Scott Brown. On Saturday, the one that remains joins a small group to have made 250 appearances for the club in the Football League era.
The 28 year old signed in 2004 as a teenager after being released by Wolves. It was an experience that taught him not to look too far ahead.
“As a young keeper you have to be patient” Brown told me. “You work hard and when you finally make your debut all you want to do is play the next game. That’s always been my approach. Every year you’re in professional football you realise how lucky you are.”
“At 22 or 23 I wondered if I might need to move to play but that might have meant dropping out of the Football League and I didn’t want that. Shane Higgs was really good to me and kept encouraging me because he had been in the same situation behind Steve Book. You just have to be ready to take opportunities when they come up.”
Between them Book, Higgs and Brown have played well over 90% of the Robins’ Football League matches. Higgs has now retired but Book is the latest in a series of goalkeeping coaches Brown has worked with.
“Jim Barron was at the club when I arrived, and I’ve worked with some fantastic people” said Brown.
“I’m good friends with Pat Mountain and I still speak to Alan Fettis quite a bit.”
“I think Steve Book has probably improved me the most. He gives me a lot of confidence and is good at the small things like making sure your starting position is right. Half a yard can make a difference. I look at every goal I concede on the TV or the iPad to see what I could have done better. You only improve by seeing where you are going wrong and trying to rectify it.”
After only 13 appearances in his first four seasons at Cheltenham, Brown gradually became first choice. His tally of 20 clean sheets last season saw him carry off the main end of season awards, so 27 goals conceded in 11 games this season has been a stark and unwelcome contrast.
“At the moment we are going wrong quite a lot as a team and we need to sort it out soon” was his honest assessment of Cheltenham sitting 21st in League 2.
“The gaffer (Mark Yates) and Neil (Howarth, his assistant) can only do so much on the training ground. It seems as if every time we cross the white line we are letting them and the fans down.”
“We looked better against Oxford in the last home game but their first goal came when Steve Elliott missed a header and we didn’t react quickly enough. That’s what we work on and we have to do it in match situations.”
The visit of AFC Wimbledon on Saturday sees the return of former captain Alan Bennett, who left Cheltenham in January. Some fans have expressed the view quite vociferously that the central defender
hasn’t been adequately replaced and Brown is first to acknowledge Bennett’s contribution.
“Alan was fantastic around the club” said Brown. “He was a good player and even if he was out of the team, he was right behind the ones who were in it.”
“Particularly in his first season the back four was very settled. At the moment it can’t be because we’re not doing the jobs we should be. We say if we concede a goal, make it only one. It gives you a chance of winning and it gives Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell a chance up front too, but teams aren’t having to do anything much to score their goals against us.”
“Last season we won a few games with a set play goal and a clean sheet. We have to get a base to build on, and start by being more difficult to beat.”
Brown is the longest serving goalkeeper in terms of time at any of the current clubs in League 2. Only two men (Michael Ingham at York and Barry Roche at Morecambe) have played more games and Brown is the youngest of the three.
“Goalkeepers are supposed to peak at about 30 so hopefully that’ll be right for me as well” Brown joked. “250 games is a nice achievement – but I’d rather have three points against Wimbledon.”
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