The Big Interview: Eddy Brown

Eddy Brown would sit for hours on the crumbling old wall outside Deepdale Royal Infirmary and listen to Bill Shankly talk about his life, his loves and most importantly football.

"You could never forget Bill Shankly, simply because Shanks would never allow you to forget him – he completely sold himself to you," recalled Brown.

"I'd just turned pro with North End and would call for Bill every morning. He lived in a terrace near the old Deepdale bus depot.

"We'd walk up Deepdale Road to training with Bill telling me 'son, you have to be fast, fit and dedicated.'

"He taught more about football than I ever thought possible. He said football was all about the soul, enjoying your life, but always keep striving for that bit extra.

"He could be crude, rude and outspoken, but it would be football for breakfast, dinner and tea. He was an astonishing and genuine man and football was his obsession. Bill was a preacher, but he always preached with a smile on his face.

"If I hadn't started at Preston and not met Bill Shankly, who was so kind to me, I don't think I'd have made a living out of football."

Shankly, who became one of the greatest managers of all time as he built a Liverpool empire that was to dominate English football and later Europe for the best part of two decades, famously once said: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

It somehow embodied the spirit of the Scottish legend who put pen to paper at Deepdale for a meagre 10 signing-on fee from Carlisle long before he guided Liverpool to championships galore, two FA Cup wins and UEFA Cup glory.

"Bill became famous for that phrase when he was manager at Anfield but I knew Shanks would be one of the greatest managers of all time," added Brown.

"He was always hungry for information and always up with the latest developments.

"He had an incredibly sharp mind and was way ahead of his time. To think he started at Workington and then set in motion one of the football revivals of the 20th century with Liverpool, is testament to the great man.

"It is fitting that Preston have commemorated Bill Shankly by naming the spion kop after him."

Born in Jutland Street, in shouting distance of Deepdale, Brown had watched Shankly as a kid when he attended St Ignatius School where one of the masters, Jimmy Green, also happened to be a North End director.

By the time he was 12, though, Brown was studying in Guernsey for religous training at the famous De La Salle Religous Teaching College.

"I was known as Brother John there and stayed for eight years, during which time I was evacuated to London when the Germans invaded !

"I had A levels in French, Latin, English and history but when the chance came in football I walked out on God – but I didn't fall out with him. I still go to church every Sunday.

"When I came back to Preston, I went and knocked on the door at Deepdale. I just turned up one day and said 'I'm a centre-forward, any chance of a trial. For all they knew I could have been Pope John Paul the 23rd.

"The guy who answered the door threw a few balls out on to the car park on Lowthorpe Road to show what I could do and I didn't manage to trap any of them.

"They didn't seem too enthusiastic about me. A few days later, though, they got in contact and said they were short of a striker for the A team. I played in the game at Whittingham and scored a hat-trick.

"That's how my North End career began. I signed for 7 a week and Tommy Finney was the top earner on 20. Looking back, it seems incredible now."

A month later he made his first team debut against Leeds, but after just 30 games Brown went south as part of a makeweight deal that brought Southampton's scoring sensation Charlie Wayman to Deepdale.

He bagged 34 goals in 59 starts for a struggling Saints team but his 'best four years in football' came with Birmingham although he journeyed to Coventry, Leyton Orient and Wigan Rovers where he held the job of player, manager and pools promoter before finally hanging up his boots.

For a number nine who readily admits he 'could not head for toffee and had no left foot', his 189 league goals in 399 outings would have had the Premiership cheque books opening faster than a Newmarket sprinter.

But there was far more to his game than goals.

Brown would regularly quote Shakespeare. His devotion to the playwright was real. He called his son Mark Anthony. and would quote the bard by the yard. And he was 40 years ahead of the game when it came to celebrations.

"That fella from Stratford did put a few good words together. 'To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles.' I quote that every day.

Humour

"I'd shake hands with the corner flag when I scored, or the opposing goalkeeper, and I'd have a chat with the policeman behind the goal or give him a comic cuddle.

"It might seem a bit mundane now but it caused a sensation when I first started doing my crazy celebrations.

"Yes, I was eccentric. Not crackers. Just eccentric."

He is still held in such esteem at Birmingham, they named Brown 'Blues all-time greatest striker' – ahead of Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford – at a special St Andrews award last year. When he was 70, comedian and Birmingham fan Jasper Carrott arrived at a surprise party in Preston.

He played in the 1956 FA Cup final for Brum after scoring twice in the semi against Sunderland. He might be 78 next birthday, but his humour is still as dry as the Sahara.

He joked: "The Queen came up to me afterwards and said that if I was playing the following year she wouldn't come. Yes I was that bad.

"But those years at Birmingham were special. I played in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup for them in every European capital except Paris. We beat Barcleona 4-3 and Inter Milan.

"My favourite memory was thrashing Liverpool 9-1 at St Andrews and I grabbed a hat-trick.

"I was the first male football model too. A clothes company asked me to show some garments for them at a fashion show in Birmingham. I was on the cat-walk modelling a pair of light blue pyjamas, a patterned silk dressing gown and the most fetching pair of yellow buckskin slippers you've ever seen.

"I was straight into the manager's office the very the next day. He said this modelling business has to stop immediately. We can't have this sort of nonsense in the newspapers. Can you imagine that happening today? It would be 'see my agent then, boss.'"

When he quit professional football Brown taught at Preston's Catholic College where he discovered and nurtured the talents of Mark Lawrenson, later to play for North End and Liverpool. But he will always be remembered for his love of life, his kindness to friends and colleagues, and the pleasure he gave to millions of football fans from Deepdale to the amateur fields of his beloved Broughton Amateurs.

"Football was very good to me, but life is for living. Look at me. I am still getting a kick out of football and I have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin.

"I was one-footed, could run a bit, never a great player but I played in the glory position. Centre-forward. It is still, and always will be, the greatest game in the world. I was very lucky and I'd do the same thing over again if I could.

"Next time, though, I want to come back as Tom Finney – the greatest footballer the game has ever seen."