At home, with the Browns
TONY Brown the footballer is familiar to all Albion fans.
But what about Tony Brown the husband, father and family man?
Wife Irene and son Paul, opened the doors to their home this week to give an exclusive interview and rare insight into the man they know.
Q. So, Irene, how did you and Tony meet?
A (Irene): It was in a nightclub. He was with a friend, I was with someone else but the girl he was with I knew. The next night we went out for a drink and he was in the Manor House in Wednesbury. And then six weeks later we went to the Cedar Club and as he came down the stairs we started chatting and that was it. He said he'd been driving around Wednesbury looking for me. Whether that was true, I don't know...I'd like to think it was!
Q. So how was it dating a footballer?
A. I didn't know he was a footballer. I was only 20 years-old then and we had few dates. He had a Manchester accent and told me his job as a plumber had brought him to the Midlands. We must have been on about six dates when one day he said 'we're going somewhere tonight...but I don't know if you'll like it'. We went into this room and everyone knew who he was. It turns out it was an Albion Supporters Club do. I asked him why we were there and he said 'I play for them'. By the time I got home my mum and dad were asleep but I woke my dad up - he was an avid Baggies fan - and told him 'a West Bromwich Albion player has dropped me home.' I told dad his name was Tony Brown and he said he would ask about him at work to find out what the lads knew about him. That was the Monday, on the Wednesday I had another date planned but by then my dad had been told by the lads at his work that Tony was already engaged. So I decided I wouldn't see Tony again. But then on the morning of our date, my dad came home and said ‘no, no he's not engaged...they got the wrong lad'. So we went on the date and carried on seeing each other. We got married two years later, on 15 June, 1969.
Q. We see Tony the footballer and commentator. But what's Tony, the husband, like?
A. He's a normal guy. People used to come up to me when he was a player and say 'Tony's on tour', or 'Tony's away...That must be tough', but for me it was the life I knew since I married him. I've only been married once and so I've always had that side of it in my life. It wasn't hard for me. Tony is just very down to earth, friendly, honest and he lives for football. Luckily I'm not a TV fanatic - he can watch football every night and I'll just read. That's been something that's worked well for us. We're a good combination. As a person he likes discipline, manners. When he was a player, he'd often be down if Albion had lost. He'd come in but then when the children arrived he'd soon be playing with them. He was back to being a husband and a father again.
Q. Were you a football fan? If not, were you converted?
A. I wasn't into football but that was a good side back then. They were often expected to win. But these days I get so stressed when Albion play. I have to go for a walk before the results come out but back then I wasn't stressed. I have no idea why that was - maybe it's because the kids kept me busy back then? These days I go for a walk and then wait for the game to be over before I check the score. I was never like that before.
Q. When did the penny drop that he was more than just another footballer?
A. It was a while before I realised. I would be at work and listen to people, mainly men, talking about football with such passion and it become obvious that he was more than a sport. I think it really hit home after Tony finished (playing) when people would talk about him and it became clear football was their life - yet he was part of that.
Q. Paul, what was it like having a legend as a dad?
A. (Paul). All I knew is that he was 'dad'. When you're young and want to go out, he would give you a lift, give you money, give you advice. I saw him on TV, or read newspaper clippings but I never viewed him as Bomber Brown - to me he was dad. I went to Queen Mary's school in Walsall and it was then it hit home. There were a lot of West Brom fans and they were speaking about my dad being Bomber in this awe-struck way. He was my dad. But the only reason I'm awestruck is because he's my dad, not because he's Bomber Brown.
Q. Is there anything people don't know about him? What makes him tick during the week?
A. (Irene) It's football, football, football. But he does like 24 and Homeland. He's also into the Broadwalk Empire. But that's between the football. He likes his gardening too and a bit of golf.
(Paul) I remember once when I was playing for the school and one of the parents said 'this ball is a disgrace, your team haven't blown it up properly' and they threw it back onto the pitch. That sparked a melee. There were kids crying on the pitch, parents fighting and dad was in the middle trying to split everyone up...
(Irene interjects) I remember that. Tony stepped in and was saying 'you're a disgrace...this is a children's football match, I cannot believe I'm watching grown men fighting'. That sums up his attitude to life and showing good manners. He got a letter from the teacher some time later thanking him for splitting up the fight.
(Paul) He loves being remembered by people. The amount of times I read Twitter and I see people mention they saw him in the supermarket or shopping. That sums him up. He'll see someone in a Wolves shirt at Merry Hill and have a bit of banter with them.
(Irene) The one time we were at Merry Hill and this lad, probably no older than 10-years-old, ran up to Tony. He couldn't believe someone so young would be interested.
Q. You mentioned golf earlier - I didn't realise this was a passion
A. (Paul) Yes, I used to play for Staffordshire county and he was my caddy. The reaction of the other players was often interesting. There was me trying to play and the bloke carrying my clubs is Bomber Brown. He'd caddy for me and ask what club I should use - I'd say 'Well, it's108 yards...a 4 iron?' He'd reply: 'Yes, if that's what you think'. So I'd send it way over the back and he'd turn and say 'see Paul, I knew it was a 5 iron!' Cheers for that dad. I think he enjoyed it.
Q. What does this week mean to you?
A. (Irene) It's very emotional. I'm trying to keep calm. What an achievement and...well…[pauses] I might actually shed a few tears myself. We'll have our tissues ready.
(Paul) I think I'll get emotional too. That's not me either but it's such a big thing. How many former players have statues? When it gets unveiled that's when we'll think 'wow this is a big thing.'
Q. He took some 60 penalties. He never got fazed. But might we see some cracks this Thursday?
A. (Paul) I think we will. I heard him do a piece for Free Radio and he admitted there might be tears. If you listen to the highlights package you can hear Tom Ross or a colleague commentating and then you hear a big 'YES' in the background. He really does care about the club. It's his club.
(Irene) If you cut him open he'll be navy blue-and-white.
Q. Did he take defeats badly.
A. (Irene) Yes. He was like that at times. But with the children, after an hour he'd play and the family would soon get him over it.
Q. Finally, how would Tony have coped with football these days?
A. (Irene) It's hard to compare. He would be professional because he sleeps, eats, drinks football but he wouldn't have had a big flashy car or change his values. He wouldn't have been any different and there's no way in this world I would have worn those big heels you see some women wear!
(Paul interjects) ...And dad would have worn black boots. Definitely.
Q. And a final question for Mrs Brown: did you do his hair?
A. (Irene) Yes I did. The perm would take two hours to do. He would sit there patiently. But he trusted me. He wouldn't have gone to a hairdressers so it was down to me. I think the fact he trusted me with his hair is a good sign...
Q. Paul, any chance of him joining Twitter?
A. (Paul) No chance...
All at wba.co.uk would like to thank the Browns for their hospitality.