Sunday is a landmark day for the Wellington Phoenix Football Club and for one player in particular. In the 119th match of the club’s existence, Tim Brown will become the first player to make 100 appearances for the Phoenix.
Sunday is a landmark day for the Wellington Phoenix Football Club and for one player in particular. In the 119th match of the club-s existence, Tim Brown will become the first player to make 100 appearances for the Phoenix.
Brown was one of the first signings made by coach Ricki Herbert upon the club-s inception in 2007. He sat alongside inaugural skipper Ross Aloisi and goalkeeper Mark Paston in the very first player press conference and spoke about his pride at signing for a club based in his home-town. He-d recently signed a new contract with the Newcastle Jets, for who he made ten appearances in the 2006/07 season, but when it became apparent professional football was available in Wellington, the Jets graciously agreed to release him.
It was a false start of sorts for Brown with illness and injury preventing him from making his Phoenix debut until round six of season one. He came off the bench in the 4-1 win against Perth Glory and after another appearance as a substitute against the Roar the following week, he started for the first time in the Labour Weekend loss to the Mariners at Westpac Stadium.
Brown found himself in and out of the side for the remainder of the 2007/08 campaign, never starting three successive games and finishing the season with eleven appearances (including eight starts), five yellow cards and no goals. The 2008/09 season started in similar fashion with Brown not involved at all in the Pre-Season Cup, or the first three regular season games. He was first sighted off the bench in rounds four and five.
If you were to look for a turning point in Tim Brown-s Phoenix career, it came on Sunday 28 September 2008. The Phoenix were bottom of the league with just two points and three goals from their first five games of the season. When Sydney came to town for their round six clash, both Andrew Durante and Jon McKain were unavailable and Ricki Herbert preferred Brown in midfield to Michael Ferrante who had been pretty much ever-present since day one of the club. His faith was to be rewarded and an A-League career which had stuttered along was fired into life.
Brown took a nasty head knock during the game, but returned to the fold, swathed in bandages, and scored the winner in a 2-1 victory – his first goal for the Phoenix. From then on, he started every match until he was sent off in the penultimate game of the season against Adelaide United.
Since that clash with Sydney in September 2008, the Phoenix have played 92 A-League matches and Brown has played 86 of them. They-ve all been starts and he-s only been subbed off six times in those 86 games. In terms of longevity, consistency and remaining injury-free, his is an impressive record.
It was during the 2009/10 season that Brown started to gain prominence as a goal-scoring midfielder. Having scored just three goals in his first two seasons, he netted eight times in 2009/10 and was instrumental in the Phoenix-s run to the Preliminary Final. He scored a crucial goal in the home playoff match against Newcastle, having stepped up (with his head again bandaged incidentally) to coolly slot a penalty in the shoot-out against Perth a fortnight previously. He scored another six goals last season and has three to his name so far in 2011/12. His next goal will draw him level with Shane Smeltz-s 21 for the Phoenix, leaving only Paul Ifill ahead of him on the all-time goal-scoring list.
While Brown-s goals are often the result of well-timed runs into the penalty area and an ability to get on the end of crosses, his most memorable strike came earlier this season against Sydney FC, when an audacious fifty-yard lob caught former team-mate Liam Reddy off his line. In typical fashion, Brown had bundled Nicky Carle off the ball on half-way to win possession and the long range strike which followed will be a contender for goal of the season.
The other stat which has kept pace with Brown-s goal-scoring is his tally of bookings. Since collecting one in his very first Phoenix appearance, Brown-s name has been scribbled in the referee-s notebook more often than any other Phoenix player. A yellow card in his hundredth game (not that I-m suggesting he aims to get one) would mean a neat 25 in 100 appearances. He-s perhaps a victim of his own combativeness, making him a target for eagle-eyed officials, but he can also be clumsy and over-vigorous in the challenge. Apart from the ridiculous booking he received earlier this season for dropping the ball behind his head to a team-mate instead of taking a throw-in himself, it-s hard to remember a yellow card he-s been given which was overly harsh. Like his central midfield partner Vince Lia, Brown just seems destined to pick up bookings as part and parcel of his style of play.
Brown has, at times, polarised Phoenix fans. The calls for him to be dropped in favour of a more cultured midfielder have been heard almost since the start of his Phoenix career, and have intensified recently. His critics focus on a lack of attacking creativity and a supposed absence for periods of a game.
To put my cards on the table, I-m a Tim Brown fan. At his best, I believe he provides a combative force in the middle of the park, a source of goals and an allegiance to the shirt that drives him to chase lost causes and harry opponents deep into injury time of crucial games. He-s often been singled out as one of the club-s fittest players and his aerobic capacity is rarely questioned.
However, I-ll admit (and he probably would too), that he hasn-t quite had the impact on matches this season that he has in the past. It was suggested to me after the Sydney FC game that maybe he just needs a break. Others have had time off with injuries, but Brown has played all but one game this season (he was suspended) and that includes every minute of the seven matches in the last month.
My hope – and educated guess – is that Brown will re-discover the energy and vigour of two seasons ago and again be a vital part of the Phoenix-s run to a third successive play-off campaign. Ricki Herbert likes his players to show loyalty, courage and energy in equal parts and he knows he-ll get all three most weeks from his number six.
No summary of Tim Brown would be complete without mention of his manner off the field. He is, without a doubt, one of the nicest and most articulate men, let alone sportsmen, I-ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. His intelligence and courtesy mark him out as an extremely impressive individual.
It-s been well documented that the “One Shot for Glory” campaign which saw the New Zealand public throw its support behind the All Whites ultimately successful run to the 2010 FIFA World Cup was Brown-s brainchild. The fact injury prevented him from playing in South Africa was an ironic tragedy.
Along with his good mate Ben Sigmund, he-s an ambassador for the Lifeflight Trust which saves countless lives through its rescue aircraft. He is unfailingly generous with his time, often spotted signing autographs for young fans, while chatting with the older ones. In media interviews, his answers and observations are eloquent and incisive.
Brown will be joined shortly in the hundred-club by Daniel (currently on 97 matches) and Tony Lochhead (95). But as we reach the occasion of the very first Phoenix centurion, I can think of no-one who deserves the honour more than Tim Brown. He epitomises what the football club is all about – a tight-knit group of players who are acutely aware of the Wellington Phoenix-s place in the capital-s sporting landscape and who pull on the shirt each week on behalf of their city to give everything in search of success.
2007/08: 11 appearances (8 starts), 0 goals
2008/09: 17 appearances (15 starts), 3 goals
2009/10: 27 appearances (27 starts), 8 goals
2010/11: 30 appearances (30 starts), 6 goals
2011/12: 14 appearances (14 starts), 3 goals
TOTAL: 99 appearances (94 starts), 20 goals