I was lucky enough to be asked to write an article on one of my favourite ever United players for The Republik of Mancunia who are bringing out a book on Red’s Academy graduates:
Most chants by football fans aren’t entirely accurate if we’re being completely honest. Anderson never did defecate on Cesc Fabregas – while was hardly better than Kleberson if we’re going down the candid route, Nemanja Vidic probably wouldn’t commit any form of homicide, regardless of the fact he was perfectly capable of it and as far as I’m aware any Roy Keane’s clothing had absolutely no magical powers.
One chant that isn’t only true but also sung regularly at away games and even the odd home one is the song regarding a certain Wesley Brown being the hardest man in all the town. Brown may have left Old Trafford some years ago but he remains as popular as ever as a home grown player who came good, gave his all, won the lot and only left when he was deemed surplus to requirements- even though we’ve arguably needed him ever since.
My first memory of Brown was during the Summer of 1998 when at a testimonial match at Old Trafford the then-academy defender faced up against the likes of Eric Cantona, Jean Pierre Papin and Martin Dahlin. Papin may have given him the slip to nick one from a corner but Brown more than redeemed himself by taking the ball off Paul Gascoigne as though he was removing a pack of tampons from a mischievous child at the supermarket. This was the same ‘Gazza’ who’d hit the headlines for not making the England World Cup squad that Summer and Brown was more than equal to the task of disarming him.
The treble-winning season saw Wes- for some reason he seems one of the few players we all feel comfortable using their first name- used sporadically in the first team, with the Champions League really showcasing his talents. Brown was thrown in against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and you almost felt sorry for the likes of Rivaldo and Stefan Effenberg as this teenager from Longsight flew into them with the sort of challenges normally reserved for Ardwick Pits.
While playing for the first team during those teenage years- mainly as a right back- Brown showed his talents at centre back for the academy and the reserves- twice picking up the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year award.
The 1999-2000 season should’ve seen Brown stake a claim at the heart of United’s defence alongside Jaap Stam, but unfortunately injury saw him miss the entire campaign. It’s with a twinge of sadness we often look back at Brown’s United career as despite the fact he won seven titles and two Champions Leagues and made over 350 appearances for the Reds- it should have been a lot more. Brown suffered from a string of injuries which prevented him from reaching the consistent heights his talents deserved – Sir Alex once labelled him the country’s most naturally gifted defender, few would dare to disagree with either of them.
Brown’s finest moment in a Red shirt came at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow when at the end of a campaign that had seen him play over 50 times his left footed cross found the head of Cristiano Ronaldo for United’s Champions League Final opener.
Brown’s Old Trafford career wound down after Moscow as injuries again hampered his career- he managed just 13 appearances in 2008-09 and 15 in his final season at the club.
At a time when plastic tough guys make cynical challenges before hiding behind the referee or taking to social media to show their bravado, one man stands alone as a true hard man who was the perfect exponent of the crunching tackle. An academy graduate who made the fans proud and more than a few wingers wince in pain. Altogether now “he’s big he’s bad…”
You can buy the book on Amazon with all proceeds going to the Trafford MacMillan Wellbeing Centre which helps people diagnosed with cancer: Made In Manchester