Terry Brown: a Eulogy
At some point even an adolescent has to grow up and become more professional. Peter Parker knew it the longer he continued as Spiderman, Molly Ringwald was savvy enough to forge a non-acting post-Breakfast Club career, and AFC Wimbledon have now learnt painfully that if they are to grow in the future, they must leave the past behind. The past, in this case, being Terry Brown.
To outsiders, jettisoning a manager who on the basis of his achievements would be afforded legendary status may seem madness, but the truth is AFC Wimbledon have been listing badly as they struggle to continue to adjust to the rigours of the Football League. The second half of last season should have been a wake-up call. Instead, the early omens this term are for a relegation battle with a squad that should be comfortably ensconced in mid-table.
Last season, many expected the Dons to carry on their momentum from their Conference play-off victory over Luton and challenge again for a second successive promotion. But Wimbledon were not moneybags Crawley with the resources to easily adjust to the demands of League 2, and after an impressive start faded. By the end of the season, Brown’s squad were one of the most out-of-form teams in the division and were lucky that their early season points haul avoided them being pulled into a relegation scrap.
In truth, the summer would have been a better time to dispense of Brown’s services and let a new man come in with fresh ideas. But sacking a manager who was still adjusting to his first Football League post at the age of 59, and who had led the club to three promotions, seemed a tad harsh and not the way that a fan-run club such a AFC Wimbledon went about things.
But even by September this season, it was clear something was wrong. After an opening day win against an out-of-sorts Chesterfield, the Dons started to leak goals at an alarming rate. First six were shipped to Burton Albion before goalkeeper Seb Brown picked a further five out of his net against Bradford. A 2-2 draw against fellow strugglers Dagenham is the only point Wimbledon have picked up since and with a goal difference of -11 already, major changes were needed to a side that had been dropping steadily for the past ten months.
With a more objective look, it’s no surprise that Brown has departed Kingsmeadow on the back of such a run and it can’t have been an easy decision for the fans that make up the AFC Wimbledon board. No matter how bad the results, the amount of affection for the former Aldershot and Hayes boss in South London was evident given the volume of tweets praising his time at the club following last night’s home defeat to Torquay.
At a time when the Dons were in danger is getting stuck in the Isthmian Premier following two failed promotion attempts, Brown’s non-league knowledge and experience was exactly what was required at the time. The Conference South championship followed the season after and he oversaw what could have been a difficult transition when the club went full-time in the Conference National with no adverse effects.
But football is littered with managers who’ve struggled to make the step up from non-league to the Football League and sadly Brown has proved no exception. At the age of 60 now, this was probably his only shot at managing in the 92 and even though his CV is impressive, the final memories are sadly somewhat less glorious than he deserves.
That Brown is a savvy non-league manager isn’t beyond doubt. That he’s also one of the most genuine, likeable and most gentlemanly bosses in football is also well-known – he would often spend time chatting to the Kingsmeadow faithful during matches and carried himself with dignity throughout, right to the end.
His commitment to playing attractive, attacking football was admirable and served the Dons well in the Conference, but at Football League level the solidity wasn’t there and mistakes and gaps were more regularly punished. The lack of full-time coaching staff didn’t help either, while the departure of assistant manager Marcus Gayle to take charge of Staines Town deprived him of a big personality on the backroom staff.
And, ultimately, for all the players brought to the club, a look at AFC’s current midfield sees the same four that starred in the Conference. AFC Wimbledon may be at their highest point in their short history, but, for better or worse, are still clinging onto parts of their non-league history that define the club.
Dons fans I’ve spoken to have nothing other than gratitude and respect for Terry Brown and his record in non-league will surely mean a Conference club will inevitably come knocking for him when the managerial sacking season starts in earnest.
As for Wimbledon, they may have lost a man entrenched with their recent identity, but this is also the opportunity for a new era as a full professional club in the Football League. They don’t need to overstretch themselves financially like many of their contemporaries but what they do need is a League equivalent of Brown – an experienced campaigner at this level with the common touch and connection with the fans who are the heart and soul of this unique League 2 club.