From USA World Cup hero to Lions legend: Amazing sporting tale of Brown family

Gordon Brown
Lionhearted: Former Scotland and Lions lock Gordon Brown, better known as 'Broon frae Troon' Credit: Allsport 

Has there ever been a more successful sporting family than the Browns - a dynasty that has nurtured international glory over different sports, generations and even continents?

The most famous member of the clan was Gordon Brown. One of Scotland's greatest ever locks, 'Broon frae Troon' sealed his legend on three Lions tours in the Seventies, and was at his peak alongside Willie John McBride on the 1974 tour of South Africa.

His death, aged just 53 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2001, shocked the rugby world.

Gordon was the younger brother of No 8 Peter 'PC' Brown, who remains the only Scot to captain his country to three consecutive wins over the Auld Enemy.

The siblings had a memorable phonecall in 1970 when Peter informed Gordon that he had been picked for the starting line-up for the Five Nations match against Wales in Cardiff.

“Who’s been dropped?” asked Gordon. “You have,” Peter replied.

Peter and Gordon - as well as middle brother John, who played club rugby for Marr RFC - were the sons of Jock Brown, a goalkeeper who helped Clyde win the Scotttish Cup in 1939 and also won an international cap for Scotland.

Jock himself had two brothers who were no slouches on the sporting field: Tom, a goalkeeper for Ipswich Town, and Jim, who emigrated to the United States in search of his father who had deserted the family and ended up playing for the US national team who reached the semi-finals of the inaugural World Cup in 1930. 

He was later signed by both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

All three brothers were excellent golfers (like many in the family); indeed Jock and his other brother Andrew, the second oldest, were scratch players.

Jim's son George also played professional football in the States, winning one international cap for the US in 1957. Jim and George are the only father and son inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in the player category.

If that was not enough, Alex 'Sanny' Lambie - the uncle of Jock, Jim and Tom - was Partick Thistle captain in the 1920s and his great-grandson, Pat Lambie, is the South Africa fly-half.

Pat's grandfather, Nicolas Labuschagne, meanwhile, played international rugby for England in the 1950s and played a key role in bringing the Rugby World Cup to South Africa in 1995.

(From left) Andrew, Jim and Jock Brown with Tom sitting below

The family's incredible sporting history is being chronicled by James Brown - son of George - an editor, who is based in France, in a book provisionally called From Father to Son.

"I never read anything concrete about my family apart from the occasional article," says James. "So at the end of 2014 I started to document my grandfather Jim's career - I went through all the clubs, all the seasons and all the matches - even making contact with opponent clubs to see what they had, like match programmes, pictures etc.

"It was just supposed to be a family item to pass along to everyone but once I got done with my grandfather, I thought I would do the same for every other member who had some kind of sporting career, be it rugby or football.

"So I contacted all the cousins and living family members and they were able to send me very personal items and stories.

"I even got in touch with Tom's family and we hadn't been in touch with them for about 20 years."

James, who himself played football at high school and college level, has put together an initial manuscript, which he has passed to his father George and cousin Peter to ensure accuracy, and has been in touch with a publisher, Beadle Books, in the United States.

And he is hoping that interest in Peter and Gordon - those two Scottish rugby greats of the Seventies - will also lead to interest from UK publishers.

"The facts are going to have to be trimmed out for it to be of interest to the sporting community," James adds. "I'm still struggling with how that will be possible as there is a US market and a bigger British market that would be interested because of the combination of sports."

George Brown, the former National Soccer Hall of Fame president, with Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm in February 2007

James has found out a number of things about his family that he did not know - for example that Gordon was on his way to becoming a goalkeeper, like his father, before switching to the oval ball game.

But of more interest was that Jim - one of the many Scottish players in the US 1930 World Cup squad - had a journeyman career, playing for 14 clubs in all, mainly because of his union activist sentiments.

"Jim is a big name in the history of US soccer but he got bounced from a number of English clubs because of his activism," says James. 

"He scored over 270 goals during his 13-year career but because of his union activities, the official FA transfer lists would try to minimize the reasons why he was on the transfer list, like he couldn't settle down."

The 1930 United World Cup squad pictured in Rio de Janeiro on the way to Uruguay. Jim Brown is in on the ground in the front row (left)

Jim's activism had off-field consequences, too. "Jim and his brothers were riveters by trade and they were given an exemption from fighting in the Second World War when they were all in Troon. 

"At some point Jim saw that down the road the riveters were being paid two and a half times for the same work and he persuaded his brothers to down tools. 

"He was asked to get back to work and not make a fuss due to the War effort but it was something he felt strongly about and declined. Their boss (also their uncle) let them go and tore up their War exemptions.

"Jock went into the Royal Navy and Tom was a Commando who parachuted into China. Jim was exempt because of busted eardrums from years of riveting."

To help complete his research,  James Brown, the author, wants to reach out to the living family members of the 1930 USA World Cup team to exchange clippings, images, letters and documents, etc. He has already found the surviving wife of Bert Patenaude and the great nephew of Andy Auld. 

The other Scottish members he would like information on are Jimmy Gallagher, Bart McGhee, and Alexander "Sandy" Wood.

He also wants to reach out to US soccer collectors (1928-32 and 1950s) in the CT/NY/NJ areas for more information on Jim and George respectively, specifically Soccer Star Magazine 1930 Volume I, No. 20 that shows an action photo of Jim when he played for the NY Giants. 

James can be contacted at robyburns@hotmail.com.

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