Alister Brown

Former Player Remembers: Alistair Brown

Alistair Brown played a total of 121 games for Leicester City between 1968 and 1972, starring in the old First and Second Divisions.
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He was top scorer in the City side which won the Second Division title in 1970/71, a feat he repeated the following campaign back in the top flight.

When he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson, Brown reviewed his time at Filbert Street under Matt Gillies, Frank O’Farrell and Jimmy Bloomfield.  

He also talked about his time at West Bromwich Albion and his life since, which included playing for Portland Timbers in the NASL, and for Crystal Palace, Walsall and Port Vale.

Ally was born in Musselburgh, Midlothian in 1951. He became a Leicester apprentice in October 1966.

He recalls: “I was spotted by a Scottish-based Leicester scout. I was only 15 when I went to Filbert Street. I had a two-week trial. Gillies, who was a Scot too, was the manager.

“Bert Johnson was his coach. Other Scots at the Club when I arrived included Davie Gibson, Bobby Roberts, John Sjoberg, Jackie Sinclair, Jimmy Goodfellow, Tom Sweenie and Bill McDerment.”

Ally won a Scottish youth cap and signed professional forms at Leicester on his 17th birthday.

During that season, Gillies left Filbert Street in November 1968. He was replaced by O’Farrell, who took City to their third FA Final in eight years.

After losing 1-0 to Manchester City, the Foxes had to play five games in just over three weeks in order to avoid relegation from the top flight, where they had played for the previous 12 seasons.

This was when Ally burst onto the first team scene: “One of these games was a mid-week match against Sunderland. Filbert Street was absolutely packed. It was my debut and I scored two goals.

“I remember that well. I can remember that game more vividly than many of the games I played. The first goal was a header early in the game, from a Peter Rodrigues cross.

“The second came late in the game when I drove in a cross from Allan Clarke. Things like that you don’t forget! I was surprised to be in the side. The night before I’d been at the pub, not expecting to play!

With the new faces arriving at Leicester, I felt I was being blown out and that I might be wasting my time there. I had happy days at Filbert Street though.

Alistair Brown

“Then I found out the next morning that I was playing that night. At first, I thought that I’d better tell the manager I’d had a couple of pints the previous night but then I thought that he might not pick me.

“So, I didn’t say anything and I scored twice! I also played the next game, a 1-1 draw against Everton, which was in front of a Filbert Street crowd of over 41,000.”  

Unfortunately, Leicester were still relegated at the end of the season, losing the last match 3-2 against Manchester United at Old Trafford, after taking the lead in a game they had to win.

Ally was a cultured inside forward and was a good finisher who could hold the ball up well: “I was never really a good header of the ball. I wasn’t big and dominant like that.

“Throughout my career I tended to play off a centre-forward. For example when I went to West Brom, I played off Jeff Astle at first and then off Cyrille Regis. I preferred to be a no.8 than a no.9.”

In Leicester’s first season back in the Second Division, in 1969/70, Ally established himself in the side, playing alongside the likes of Andy Lochhead and Rodney Fern.

Other players in the side included Peter Shilton, Peter Rodrigues, David Nish, John Sjoberg, Graham Cross, Bobby Roberts, and Len Glover They missed promotion by two points.

The following year, 1970/71, Leicester were promoted back to the top tier as Second Division champions. Ally was the top scorer with 15 goals.  

He added: “I remember scoring in a 1-0 victory at Bristol City to clinch promotion in the last but one game of the season.

“I also scored in the 2-1 victory at Fratton Park in the last game of the season when the trophy was presented.”

Back in the top division the next season, Bloomfield was now the manager, following the departure of O’Farrell to Manchester United.

As a curtain-raiser to the season, Ally was in the team which won the Charity Shield by defeating Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.

He then set a Football League record by scoring only 45 seconds into the new season in a 2-2 draw at Huddersfield Town, for whom future Leicester star Frank Worthington scored.

He continued: “That season, Jon Sammels, Keith Weller and Alan Birchenall arrived from Arsenal, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. We were a bit concerned because they were all cockneys, as was the manager!

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Leicester City 1971/72
Leicester City 1971/72

The 1971/72 City squad, with both the Second Division and Charity Shield trophies.

“Later that season, although I had played in the first 30 games, I went to West Brom, who were managed by Don Howe, a West Brom legend.

“With the new faces arriving at Leicester, I felt I was being blown out and that I might be wasting my time there. I had happy days at Filbert Street, though.

“I remember the speedy wingers John Farrington and Lenny Glover. I had good times under O’Farrell there. When Bloomfield was in charge, Bury, in the fourth Division wanted to sign me.

“No disrespect to Bury but I wanted to play in a higher league than that. I told him that I didn’t want to go there.

“So, he said: ‘You have made a bad decision. You could have gone up there and played for them because you will never play for me again'.

“Those were his words to me. I thought that was strange and it wasn’t much longer before I was on my way.

“West Brom, who were in the top flight, came in about a week later. I didn’t know much about them and didn’t know anybody there, but it seemed like a good move.

“It was a move that worked well for me because I was there for about 12 years. I had a good time there.”

When he left Filbert Street, Ally had played 121 games for City, scoring 35 goals.

Brown said: “I had several managers at West Brom. One of them was Johnny Giles. We had a good team under him and got promoted back to the old First Division in 1976, when I was top scorer.

“He had a few of his Irish lads with him, like Mick Martin and Paddy Mulligan. Giles was as hard as nails. You didn’t mess about with him!

“Our best time was when Ron Atkinson was our manager. We had Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson, Bryan Robson and Remi Moses. That was a good team.

“We should have won the league really in 1978/79 when we finished third. It was a bad winter that year and we missed a few weeks. It seemed to knock us off our stride.

“Laurie Cunningham, who went on to Real Madrid (and briefly played for Leicester in 1985/86), sadly died very young in a car crash in Spain.

“He was probably the best player in our team that season, although Cyrille and myself were scoring goals and Bryan Robson was just coming through then as well and he would have walked into any team.

“Remi Moses was also there. He was a little terrier. I also partnered Tony Brown at West Brom. He was a one-off. He wasn’t a centre-forward and he wasn’t a midfield player.

“He was just a great finisher. He would score goals from anything. He had played up front as a no. 8 alongside Jeff Astle but in our team he was more of a midfield player who had license to go forward.

I had the chance to visit places I’d seen on the television like New York and Los Angeles and places like that. The football wasn’t top class but I enjoyed it and I am glad I did that.

Alistair Brown

“Because of our success in the old First Division, we had a couple of runs in Europe in the UEFA Cup, We reached the UEFA Cup Quarter-Finals in 1978/79, when we lost to Red Star Belgrade.”

In May 1981, Ally went on loan to Portland Timbers in the NASL in the USA: “That was always only going to be a temporary move for the summer. Their manager was Vic Crowe, the ex-Villa manager.

“It was for about 15 weeks. I enjoyed it. I had never been to America and it was good to go out there and play football.

“I had the chance to visit places I’d seen on the television like New York and Los Angeles and places like that. The football wasn’t top class but I enjoyed it and I am glad I did that.”

By the time Ally left West Bromwich Albion in March 1983, he had played 279 league games for the Baggies, scoring 72 league goals.

Between March and August 1983, Ally spent a brief spell at Second Division Crystal Palace: “That was a bad move. It wasn’t Palace’s fault.

“I was at the age when I wasn’t going to uproot the family so I commuted to London. I would travel down on Monday morning and train for three or four days. It never worked out at all.

“I wouldn’t put any blame on Palace or on the manager, Alan Mullery. It was just too late in my career to move there.

“After that I moved back to the West Midlands and joined Walsall (in August 1983). I knew a couple of the lads there and I really enjoyed it. We had a good cup run that year.

“Unfortunately I was only there for just the one year. I was about 33 then I think, and getting near the end. I finished at Port Vale for a couple of years under John Rudge.”

Ally was top scorer in his first season for the Valiants and got promoted with them from the Fourth Division the following year, before retiring May 1986.

He remembered: “When I finished playing, I took over the Cedar Tree pub in Aldridge, which was my local. I had already sunk a few pints in there because it was only round the corner from where I lived.

“I was there for a few years and then ran the Throstles Club. It was nice to see the fans on a Saturday. The place would be rammed. It wasn’t half busy. I enjoyed that.”

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