The early footballing life of James Craig Brown showed plenty of promise and included representative matches for Scotland at Schoolboy, Youth and Junior levels. In the senior ranks, whilst his career with Rangers never got off the ground, he was part of the Dundee squad that took the League title in 1962. A spell with Falkirk followed a good number of years with Dundee, but eventually knee problems came around once too often and he was forced to quit the game at the relatively young age of 27.
Not wanting to move away from the game he loved, Craig moved into coaching, and it was from his position as Assistant Manager to Willie McLean at Motherwell that he was to move from in August 1977, to become Clyde manager.
Craig inherited a reasonable squad of good individual players, which, after a few personnel changes, became a squad that won the Second Division title in his first season as manager (77/78). Highlights included a 7-0 midweek win over Meadowbank, and a 4-0 win over Stranraer in the final match of the season to clinch the title. Only twenty players were used during this campaign; goalie John Arrol played in every match, while Neil Hood finished top goal scorer with 21 goals. A Civic Reception was held in Rutherglen Town Hall to recognise both the club’s first 100 years and also to acknowledge this title win.
The following season saw Clyde make a sensational start, and at one stage looked potential Division One title challengers. Before November was through, Clyde had beaten Premier League Motherwell 3-1 at Shawfield in the League Cup, whilst in the League journeys to Clydebank and Stirling had returned 4-1 wins, St Johnstone had been beaten in a 6-4 thriller, and the following week Dundee had gone down 2-1, again at Shawfield. It didn’t last though, and factors such as injury to star player Joe Ward had an impact as we eventually finished ninth.
The following season saw a slump that ended with relegation back to where we had come from, the Second Division. Perhaps the only highlight of the latter campaign was a 2-2 draw with Rangers in a Scottish Cup 3rd round tie at Shawfield, where the general consensus was that “we were robbed”.
Season 80/81 started well, but a mid-season collapse meant we were destined to spend another season in the Second Division. At the start of the following season (81/82) Craig raided Gartcosh United, and signed Pat Nevin, Tommy McQueen, Paul Flexney and Gerry Hendry. Although Gerry didn’t make it, the others proved more than astute purchases. Pat Nevin would be a terror to Second Division defences, while Tommy McQueen and Paul Flexney shored up the defence significantly. Tommy was our only ever-present that season, while Danny Masterton was our top goalscorer, returning 24 goals. When the dust had settled, we had again won the Second Division, this time setting records along the way for most wins (24), fewest defeats (4) and most points (59). After this promotion Clyde were never out of Division One under Craig Brown’s tenure.
One of the major highlights of the next few Division One years under Craig was another Scottish Cup 3rd round tie against Premier League Motherwell. The first game, at Shawfield, was notable for a horizontal Ross McFarlane dive and clearing header to keep the score at 0-0. The replay at Fir Park was sensational. Motherwell raced into a 3-1 lead by half-time, but midway through the second half Jim Dempsey got one back, then with only minutes left Stevie Evans equalised to take the tie into extra-time. An own goal by Motherwell’s Bobby Flavell put us into the lead, and we survived an all-out onslaught by Motherwell to take our first Premier League scalp on foreign soil.
One of the major aspects of Craig’s time as Clyde manager was his business acumen in the transfer market. In total Craig transferred out eleven players, for a total exceeding £500000. The eleven can even be stretched to a full team in 4-4-2 formation:-
Steve Archibald (£20000); Jim Boyd (£25000), Paul Flexney (£55000), Mark Clougherty (£13500), Tommy McQueen (£40000); Pat Nevin (£95000), Brian Ahern (£40000), Ian Ferguson (£60000), Gerry McCabe (£55000); Joe Ward (£80000), Ray Deans (£30000)
- In a League Cup match at Hampden, just before Craig’s time as Clyde manager, John Arrol broke his leg and Steve Archibald took over in goal, so that’s why Steve ended up in that position in the “team” above!
- Jim Kean was part of the deal that took Brian Ahern to Ayr United.
All that talent adds up to a figure of over £500000. In his seven years at the club Craig never really spent much money at all on players, so if we say he spent (at most) £30000 in his time here, it means he brought in an additional income to the club of somewhere around £70000 per season.
Transfer dealings weren’t the only way Craig turned the clubs finances around though. Off the pitch, an innovative deal with the British Oxygen Company saw the name “BOC” displayed on the jersey of a senior team in Scotland for the first time. Whilst Hibs can lay claim to having the first jersey sponsor (Bukta), it has to be pointed out that Bukta were already supplying strips to Hibs. Clyde’s deal with BOC was the first involving an independent sponsor.
Statistically speaking, Craig’s Clyde played 409 matches in total. They won 136, drew 117 and lost 156, so they didn’t lose in 60% of matches! In total over the seven years he used 67 players, and gave 55 players their Clyde debut. Craig’s final signing for Clyde was Stuart Millar, who would go on to become Clyde manager, but who never played a game for the Bully Wee under Craig – instead it was left to Craig’s successor John Clark to give Stuart his Clyde debut.
In terms of appearances Brian Ahern is top, with 271 appearances, a figure that would have been significantly greater had he not moved to Ayr United for a couple of seasons; in second place comes Tommy O’Neill with 245 appearances, while in third comes John Brogan, with 197 appearances.
When it comes to goalscoring, Danny Masterton is easily number one, with 76 goals from 131 games. Second, due to a quirk of the statistics, is Tommy O’Neill, with 53 goals in his 245 appearances, whilst in third comes Derek “Freddie” Frye with 48 goals from 104 matches, which is a clearly a much better goals-per-game ratio than Tommy.
Other statistics include Brian Ahern being the top penalty taker in Craig’s time, with only 2 misses out of 31 attempts; Robert Reilly being Craig’s favourite person, because he selected Robert more times than any other player to sit beside him on the bench; and Steve Evans being the player who broke over 100 years of “tradition” when Craig played him in the first team because up to then Clyde never had a first team player whose surname began with the letter "E"...
Craig was also appointed a Director at Shawfield, so when he moved on in 1986 to become Andy Roxburgh’s assistant, then seven years after that Scotland manager, he can rightly claim to have been the first Clyde Director to become national team manager. Relative success as national team manager can be assessed by knowing that Craig had 70 games in charge of Scotland, before moving on to manage other club teams.
Craig’s other honours include the award of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999, while in 2010 he was inducted into the SFA Hall of Fame.
But it is his first seven years as a manager in his own right, where Craig learned his trade while significantly improving both Clyde’s league and financial status, which rightly earns Craig a place in the Clyde FC Hall of Fame.