Without question, the defining moment in Sandy Brown’s Everton career came in the Goodison derby of December 1969 and tainted an otherwise exemplary spell with the club. Trailing 1-0 and chasing the game, the Liverpool forward Peter Thompson burst forward and struck a cross into the Everton penalty area, which had it been left would have drifted harmlessly wide. And yet, under little pressure and inexplicably misjudging the flight of the ball, there was Sandy Brown, diving in to head the ball into his own net. It was, and remains, a classic own goal, becoming part of the local football lexicon. Even 40 years later, when Liverpool’s John Arne Riise headed a similarly catastrophic effort into his own goal in a Champions League semi-final, it was referred to by gleeful Evertonians and distraught Liverpudlians as ‘a Sandy Brown’.
The own goal was uncharacteristic of Brown, who provided Everton with eight years of unstintingly reliable if unspectacular service. However, as every successful manager will attest, behind every great team is a staunch utility player, a man who can be counted upon to fill an unfamiliar role, give his all, and carry off the trick with composure and skill. In Everton’s so-called ‘golden era’, Sandy Brown was that man.
Signed from Partick Thistle in September 1963 for £38,000, he filled every position in his Everton career – including goalkeeper on one occasion, after Gordon West was sent off – without ever really making any position his own, something more attributable to the excellence of his team-mates than any fundamental flaw in his play. Ostensibly a defender, he also slotted in as an auxiliary centre forward – as witness his goal-scoring appearances against Real Zaragoza in the 1966/67 European Cup Winners’ Cup and his headed goal in the Goodison derby earlier that season. In his favoured role of overlapping full back, Brown would probably have made the grade in most other First Division sides.
His game was sometimes overly reliant on his physical presence, which tended to compensate for an occasionally inconsistent reading of the game, and also found him trouble with referees. It was Brown’s sending off for punching Johnny Giles in the early stages of a November 1964 league game against Leeds that precipitated the so-called ‘Battle of Goodison’.
Despite playing four times in Everton’s march on Wembley in 1966, he was left out of the team that won the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. Yet when Everton won the League Championship four years later, he played a part in all but six games, starting 31 times.
A popular character, both on the terraces and in the dressing room, as Catterick broke up his second Championship-winning team Brown was sold to Shrewsbury Town in 1971. He returned to Merseyside a year later and helped Southport to the 1972/73 Fourth Division title before moving into non-league football with Fleetwood. In later years he ran a Blackpool guest house and worked in a biscuit factory.