Scott brown

PUSHING BOUNDARIES AT AYR UNITED

Michael Hamilton

Last season ended bitterly for Ayr United fans at the hands of Partick Thistle in the play-offs. This season, fans were optimistic of another push for promotion. With the big name signing of Aiden McGeady as player/technical manager and the new North Stand underway, maybe this could be the year that long awaited promotion could be on the cards. A poor start to the season, though, saw Ayr lose four out of their five opening games and the team sitting second bottom of the league in early January. The club decided it needed new leadership if it was to save its season; leadership in the shape of one of Scotland’s most decorated midfielders, Celtic and Scotland legend Scott Brown.

Brown the player was a serial winner, 23 major honours with Celtic and Hibs and 55 caps for his country. He was an integral part of, and club captain for, Celtic’s most recent nine in a row and the club’s record-breaking quadruple treble. Brown was keen to move into coaching after his career and laterally at Celtic began to help with the under 21s learning from experienced coaches, Tommy McIntyre and Steven Friel. He left Celtic in 2021, after 14 successful years at the club and joined Aberdeen as player-coach, working as an assistant manager to Stephen Glass. He continued to learn from Glass, having already picked up a lot working under numerous greats at Celtic and Scotland but initially there wasn’t much difference for Brown between his playing and player/coaching role.

“I probably played more at Aberdeen than I expected to. I was trying to speak to the lads as normal and be part of it. My coaching was really limited to the day after the game as I was really focused on keeping myself as fit as possible. I knew going to Aberdeen, I didn’t have many years left and I wanted to learn as much as possible and if I could help and support some of the younger ones as well, they could steal things from me like I did with senior players and managers I worked with. I learned as much from Glassy as I could, he’s managed at a good level for 10-12 years and I learned about the small details of setup, play and pressing against teams. I would speak to the other coaches and the individual specialists at the club, how to analyse data on the computers, performance metrics and really anything I could soak up.”

Brown was lucky to work under some great managers at Celtic and the three that influenced him most were Gordon Strachan, Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers. He worked with Strachan at both Celtic and Scotland and knew his style and what to expect, but Rodgers’ arrival at Celtic had a big impact on Brown and his style of play and attention to detail was a big part of that.

“He was a breath of fresh air when he came in. Body fat, diet, metres per second you moved, really getting into the science of the game and it was great to have that learning curve under a young manager who wanted to express the way he wanted us to play.”

Brown keeps in touch with all three of these coaches who have impacted his career, whether it be relating to young players, maybe pulling the odd favour or if he has any issues. Something that will benefit him and surely Ayr United over his tenure.

Brown spent just over a year at Fleetwood Town in League One in England. The side had just escaped relegation the year before and Brown and Whittaker took over in May, just after the season ended. Brown and Whittaker had a successful time at Fleetwood, the threat of relegation removed with a comfortable mid-table finish, and they took the club to the fifth round of the FA Cup, the furthest they had ever gone in the club’s history.

“I could maybe have played another year if I had wanted to, but I felt it was the right time to go and take the opportunity to go to England. We had a good first year, good league performance and a great cup run which really helped the club. Sadly, in the second, we got off to a bad start and you either get the support of the club or you don’t. We learned a lot and it gave us a good understanding of what football was like… a fantastic learning curve and we can take all those learnings on to Ayr now.”

Brown is keen to take these learnings to Ayr and use all this experience he has learned from former managers and his own spell in charge at Fleetwood to turn Ayr into a more dominant side.

“We want to control games. We want to be better on the ball, in possession and then be a good counter-pressing side. As soon as we lose the ball can we react? Can we get back into shape? It also has to be entertaining, our last home game was extremely entertaining, a 4-3 win against Partick Thistle, but we can’t be losing that many goals, and us losing 2-3 goals a game isn’t happening.”

Brown has been impressed with the club and the players from the moment he arrived, and the players’ attitude has been excellent.

“The attitude to try and get better is exactly what we want. The lads’ willingness to listen to small details, take information on, sometimes in much longer sessions is brilliant, they take it on well. I’m looking for reactions, no-one is perfect but the reaction to making a mistake, losing a goal, that’s what we want, and the lads have been brilliant so far.

“We are taking it one game at a time. We have a big game away next at Inverness, and it’s extremely tight and that’s why it is such an exciting league. We win a couple of games, and we jump right up the table.”

As clichéd as it sounds, that is very much the message from my meeting with Brown. One game at a time, not looking too far into the future or getting ahead of themselves. The initial challenge is to keep Ayr in the Championship and hopefully the new stand will help the club become more sustainable. Extra revenue and the opportunity to play for one of Scotland’s best could hopefully lure some new talent if Brown and Whittaker feel this is what they need. Brown wants to push boundaries and make the team and the club the best it can be.

Ayr United fans would be permitted to feel optimistic again after the disappointment of last season. With Brown’s footballing resume and managerial experience now at the helm, the club is in great hands and if he can bring a fraction of his own success to Ayr, the next few years could be some of Ayr’s best.