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Adios, Terry Brown

It may have taken a few games longer than it should have done, and it may have come to a head in what amounted to be a very teary time at KM last night, but the inevitable has now finally happened.

Terry Brown is gone.

As you can tell, SC is gone too, although given that he was still part time is no surprise whatsoever. And am I allowed myself just one more time to get angry with that arrangement that has now finally ended?

Obviously, things are still up in the air a bit, Banter Bassey is caretaker after all. And it’s still pretty striking to see the SSN Breaking News yellow strap with the ominous “Terry Brown sacked by AFC Wimbledon” – as if the club statement wasn’t enough to make it final.

The wait for the news to arrive, even though he pretty much resigned last night, was a bit like waiting for somebody to break some unpleasant news to you – you know it was going to happen, but there were little doubts in your mind that still convinced you it wasn’t going to happen.

It is going to be strange – and with no little adjustment needed – to not see him around the place as manager any more. For some AFCW fans, TB is the only manager they’ve ever known for this incarnation of the Dons, and for them this is going to be a major headfuck.

Like everything though, all eras must pass. All chapters must be ended at some point, and it’s a shame that this particular one wasn’t settled in a nicer fashion – looking back, the club must have wished that they had taken the advice of what a fair few fans were saying and let him retire (or leave) gracefully at the end of last season, and leaving people wanting more.

Last night wasn’t the fairytale ending, if it was a movie it would have been those sort of ones where you needed lots of Kleenex – no, not those sort, the other sort of those films which leaves you drowing a small village with the amount of tears you shed.

But what is done is done.

Thinking about his reign at AFCW, I would say that there were two different eras of TB at the club – the non-league heroics and the Football League adventure. And it will be the former one that will earn him his legend status, while the latter one will be consigned to the dustbin of convenience, alongside Allen Batsford’s time in division four, and Bobby Gould post 1988…

So, where to start? At the beginning I suppose. When TB came after the failure of DA in the Ryman Premier, he took over a club that was in a little bit of a similar way to what it is right now. No, we weren’t near the bottom as we are at this time, but it lacked direction and with a previous regime that had finally run out of ideas.

And he came with a reputation – he had done similar at Aldershot, and at the time of being in the poxy Ryman Premier being in the Conference was the holy grail for us. But he had done it in the past, and his remit was to do it again. Even if he was an outsider, and people were wanting more WFC related names.

We started OK, he wanted his own style and his own way of things that were a lot more professional than this fledgling re-incarnation had seen before (remember that this was post-Darlogate). He was rebuilding, he was assured when you spoke to him about it, and he was a genuinely approachable man as well.

But then, he seemed to represent how the club wanted to be seen too – firm but not brash, “gentlemanly”, not at all thuggish or blokeish. A kind of lower-middle class British sort of chap. He suited us, and we suited him.

The thing was, he hadn’t been at this level of football for a bit, and he was still ring rusty for games (as somebody put it to your editor a couple of games into the new season, “I thought things were going to be better?”).

Still, we stabilised, got in Jon Main – the first big money signing we made – and we kept in touch at the top. Back then, the big rival was Chelmsford, who spent more than we claimed to have, and we had a nemesis in Jeff King. Looking back at it now, it seemed so quaint, but at the time it was a genuine rivalry.

You know exactly how that season panned out – just watch old tapes of Football Hurts. What it did show was that TB was a manager who had a fair bit of luck at the right time. The Staines game could have changed things to the point where we would be still suffering the consequences today (and that is no exaggeration either).

But TB did what nobody else could have done – got us out of Turdeyland.

For that alone, he earnt himself big bonus points, although he was going into the Conference South which, let’s face it, we would have been happy to spend a couple more years than we did back then.

When people talk about his best time at the club, it will be the build up to, and including, Eastlands. But I think the BSS was as much an achievement too – we still had Chelmsford, plus old friends the Axewounds, not to mention some semi-familiar names like Barf City and Newport.

And while it got hairy in places – A Divot at Thurrock, Jamie Pullen’s last minute penalty save at WSM – we also saw some scintilating stuff from that team too. Proper good stuff (which I think he tried to recreate in the Football League), and when we finally left the Beaverdome with the draw that got us into the Conference, it seemed he was back where he belonged.

One thing is clear at this moment – there will be some Conference sides keeping an eye out on whether he fancies coming back as manager for their side after he recharges his batteries. For us though, he was the right man to stabilise us in the division some term League 2.5 – he had experience at Aldershot of the same thing, he said he had learnt and we believed him. After all, why shouldn’t we have done?

Some of the Conference was an eye-opener, some of it was actually quite disappointing. One of his greatest skills back then though was to adapt to the division as it was then, not what it was before. That became quite apparent during the latter days of the first Conf season, when our part-time approach clearly wasn’t working.

So we went full time, which turned out to be less of an upheaval than many feared. Then, as is the case now, it was needs must. We started with a live-at-home-with-mum approach, which seemed to fall by the wayside as quickly as it took to iron a few t-shirts. And whether it was because it was one of the most open (ie weakest) divisions for a while, or whether teams just held off for that season because of the Crawley money train, but it seemed to do the trick for us – we even led the division, although by the time we surrendered at Broadfield (in a game that looking back was a sign of things to eventually come) it was the playoffs for us.

From that moment when we made the push from that defeat in Sussex to the playoff final, that was the perfect managerial storm for TB. Everything we seemed to do worked at that point – the tactics clicked, the players were focused, and there was a confidence within the whole setup that we never saw since.

We pretty much secured the playoffs easily back then, and something was going to take us to Manchester. The two playoff semis against Fleetwood were the signs of a club going for it, although I would say the away one was the hardest and therefore the best victory. This was the purplest of all purple patches.

And then there was Eastlands.

Before the game, when everyone’s arse was twitching like it never twitched before, SW19 wrote the following about what it meant to TB:

And possibly for TB too. Your editor bumped into our manager at KM yesterday, and while he was his normal approachable self, he seemed a bit more agitated than usual. As one may well expect. I’m definitely not saying that defeat to Luton should see him sacked, in fact that would be an act of stupidity, but one cannot help but think that time is ticking on him to be a manager in the Football League.

He would need to get promotion either this season or next, because after that it would become very difficult to see him taking us to that next stage. One suspects he knows this himself – at times, he must look at contemporaries like Graham Westley, Steve Evans, John Still and Chris Wilder managing League sides and wondering why he isn’t up there with them.

He must also see people like Dean Holdsworth becoming a League manager in under five years, so you can’t blame TB for having sleepless nights right now. What is in his favour is that he has proven he’s learnt from mistakes with Aldershot and not repeated them too often at AFCW (think of how we went full time). And it seems like the side he’s taking into the final is the most on-form one he’s ever managed.

Is he ready to be a Football League manager? Yes. Does he deserve to be one? Certainly. Do you always get what you deserve? Well….

OK, today has proven one bit of that wrong, but at the time it was very genuinely expressed. TB had always fallen short at the last hurdle, to the point that it was cruel. Surely this was going to be his time?

Remember earlier about the luck he had? Well, we one partly because we planned like we never planned before (or since…) for that one, but we and he was lucky that we were up against Gary Brabin and his lack of planning.

To this day, I will never understand why Luton only turned up on the Friday, giving us the advantage with currying favour with Citeh. I will never understand why they turned up on the day at 1330. I will never understand why their player decided to chip it in the penalty shootout.

But I will understand the overwhelming emotion and elation of that pinnacle of his career.

When he spazzed out and did that mock penalty kick in front of us, that may have got the biggest cheer of the lot. Not only did we do it, but he did it too. Terry Brown, lifelong non-league stalwart was now a manager in the Football League.

And he deserved it.

We all buzzed off that for months, and we could even overlook the strange little comments about “deadwood” and saying that he knew more about League Two than Paulo di Canio. In fact, we used it as further proof that he was the man…

This is the second part of TB’s tenure with us, the Football League years. And one that looking back on it, I just cannot seem to get my head around.

His big problem was that he didn’t have nearly the gravitas in the FL as he did in the backwaters. Perhaps understandable, given his background in management – Wokingham, Hayes (pre-Handy days), the reformed Aldershot and the reformed Wimbledon.

Maybe it was because he was an old-fashioned non-league manager? By that, I mean that he cut his teeth against the Wokings and Leigh RMIs rather than the ex-League sides that now dominate the Conference. I don’t think he was fully convincing as a manager against the ex-big clubs in non-league, and needless to say you have to be exceptionally so in the FL.

These days, if he was starting out, he wouldn’t have got much further than the Conference South in level. Maybe at one of the few remaining “traditional” type of non-league outfit in the Conference, but would he really be at a Luton or Mansfield if he didn’t cut his teeth 20 years prior?

Even so, the way his FL career slowly withered and died is still baffling. We still had the nucleus of the Eastlands side until this summer, yet that was struggling. TB was never one for defence at the best of times – look at old Football Hurts programmes – yet he and SC could never solve it even when he had to.

I guess he believed two things that were clearly painfully untrue : the first is that the Conference is as good as the Football League. It isn’t – if it was, our style of play would have yielded far better results. I don’t know whether he genuinely thought there wasn’t much of a gap, or whether he just didn’t allow himself to admit it, but it’s a lie that people in non-league still peddle.

Secondly, and perhaps the major factor why he’s now our ex-manager – for whatever reason, he decided to be the non-league Barcelona. He tried to recreate what he did in the Conference South in the Football League, and it just didn’t happen. While there was a bit of idealism in his non-league tenure, he was able to be pragmatic as and when needed – Eastlands and the Beaverdome are your evidence.

As we know, he came very close to suffering after THAT Plymouth game what he has now had today. There’s no point in going over old ground any more, it’s been bad enough to experience without bringing it up in a tribute. But I think the Wizard of Oz summed his attitude best in this piece from April:

Terry Brown, born in 1952, is a devotee of this golden era; he believes in the romance of football, the expression of the freedom of the spirit, the essence of entertainment.

“Terry Brown wants the crowd to applaud the trapeze artist on the high wire; he hates the thought of the safety net. It is why he took a punt on Andre Blackman.”

He does not willingly accept the reality of the game, the constriction imposed by accountability, the stifling of the individual. He wants the crowd to applaud the trapeze artist on the high wire; he hates the thought of the safety net. It is why he took a punt on Andre Blackman.

To be blunt, he was out of his comfort zone in the Football League. He always seemed more comfortable whenever he could deal with non-league sides or players – some cynical bastard (no, not me) suggested that when he signed Byron Harrison, he was more concerned with the fact he played for Ashford rather than him being a Football League striker.

When things go wrong with a managerial career, the problems that weren’t problems before are problems now. The lack of dealing with the defence caused a deep and probably permanent damage to the effectiveness and confidence of the rest of the squad.

He was as secure as the mountains when he was in non-league, yet in the 91 Club he never gave that vibe of assurance that we needed. It was as though he had to convince himself that he was learning, that he could lift the team, that he could turn it around, when the evidence to the contrary was too great to ignore.

And when your manager doesn’t believe in his own abilities, why should anyone else?

Effectively, his fate was sealed in pre-season just gone, although it took us until this time to finally realise it. Losing 7-0 to Reading was painful to the point that I don’t think his confidence in his ability really recovered from that. I was doing work for the nationals for that game, and afterwards, I saw him knock over a mop-and-bucket and for no reason whatsoever he threw it around the corridor. It was the classic sign of somebody who was under a fair amount of pressure even at such an early stage.

And when he took the players in on their day off to look at the Burton video nasty and we got stuffed 5-1 in the next game, things had finally changed. That infamous statement is now no longer relevant, but when it got released the relationship between management, club and supporters seemed to change, probably forever. Despite the bon mots in today’s press release, I don’t entirely believe it was 100% amicable.

Still, we’ll forget about that all within a couple of months. Already, TB has said that he will be at Wycombe on Saturday, although I hope that it doesn’t become a situation where him being there overshadows what the new manager is trying to achieve. Our next boss needs that opportunity without the old guard distracting matters.

But the last 24 hours has unleashed a torrent of genuine effection, some very real sadness and no little sorrow. We’ll remember Eastlands, and Hampton, and Staines. Not to mention when he turned up to pre-season looking like he had just come from a safari.

Or any other stories involving him that you’ve forgotten until now.

History will be good to TB, just as it was to Allen Batsford. Only older heads remember his less-than-successful stint in the Football League, and that’s only recalled apologetically. As the club’s statement today said, he and SC will always be remembered for the three promotions in five seasons. And for a former carpet salesman who was a lowly non-league lifer, that’s not a bad return.

Even if he did look like Richard Briers…