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James Brown: Brentford’s only member of the US National Soccer Hall of Fame

That was James Brown, who was born in Kilmarnock on New Year’s Eve 1908. His is a fascinating football (and life) story.

Jimmy made just a single appearance for Brentford, away to Chelsea, on 23 November 1935, when the “tall [6ft], quick-striding, auburn-haired” 26-year-old reserve right winger came into the team as a makeshift centre-forward replacement for the Bees’ out-of-form goalscoring legend Jack Holliday, in a side that had fallen to the fringe of the relegation zone after a run of just two wins in 12 First Division matches.

The Stamford Bridge encounter, played before 56,624 fans, began well for Jimmy, who was brought down by Allan Craig for a penalty after 13 minutes which was converted by George Robson, but two goals in the last 20 minutes from the home side ultimately gave 10th-placed Chelsea a somewhat fortunate 2-1 win which sent the Bees into the bottom two.

The critics felt that while Jimmy “did as well as Holliday would have done” with the few chances he had had in the match, and had “shown promise,” overall “he was not an improvement on Holliday.”

In any event, Jimmy lost his place in the first team for the following weekend’s match at home to Leeds United, as secretary-manager Harry Curtis broke the club’s transfer record prior to that game, with internationals Dai Richards (Wolves/Wales) and centre-forward Dave McCulloch (Hearts/Scotland) signing for a huge (for 1935) combined fee of £10,000. It was a move that transformed Brentford’s fortunes as the team subsequently rose to a finishing position of sixth in their first season in the top division, but severely restricted Jimmy Brown’s opportunities of further first-team outings.

Brown had joined Brentford in May 1934, from fellow Second Division club Manchester United, for whom he had played 40 Second Division games in the preceding two seasons, scoring 17 goals, including two in United’s surprise 4-3 win at Griffin Park in September 1933, which clearly drew him to the attention of the Bees’ management.

He cost Brentford a “substantial fee” (£300) and was signed principally as right-wing cover for Dai Hopkins. Unfortunately for Jimmy, however, Hopkins’ brilliant form and enduring fitness were such that he did not miss a league or cup match between February 1933 and October 1936, a run that encompassed Brown’s entire Griffin Park career, as Jimmy was transferred to Tottenham Hotspur (for £1,000) in September 1936, a month before Hopkins next missed a match, due to being selected to represent Wales against Scotland.

While Jimmy played no part in the first team during Brentford’s Second Division championship campaign in 1934/35, he picked up a winner’s medal, nevertheless, as Brentford reserves beat Millwall reserves 2-1 in the final of the London FA Challenge Cup at Craven Cottage in May 1935.

Brown also had the consolation of finishing as the reserves’ leading scorer that season. Despite his only outing in the first team, 1935/36 was one of near misses for Jimmy as the reserves finished runners-up to Portsmouth, by a single point, in the London Combination, and lost 2-4 to Arsenal Reserves in the final of the London Cup, although Jimmy had some consolation through scoring one of the Bees’ goals in the Arsenal match and in finishing third highest scorer behind fellow Scottish reserve forwards Billy Dunn and Gerry McAloon.

While Brown’s final match for Brentford reserves came in a 3-2 win at Roots Hall against Southend United in September 1936, that was not his last appearance in a Brentford shirt. In late April 1940 he answered a call from his old club to turn out as a “guest” in a 1-2 home defeat against Fulham in a first-round second-leg London War Cup tie, a match in which he scored the Bees’ consolation goal. At the time of the fixture Jimmy was on the books of Southern League Guildford City, a club he had joined in summer 1937 after a single grim season at Spurs in which he played only four times in their mid-table Second Division side before being released.

At Guildford he enjoyed the most fruitful period of the English phase of his football career, scoring 38 and 42 goals, respectively in the 1937/38 and 1938/39 seasons, as Guildford won and finished runners-up in the Southern League, and netting 148 goals in 150 reserve and first-team matches overall for the Surrey side.

But it was not for his football in England that Jimmy earned his place in the Hall of Fame, of course; that was for his exploits as a player in the USA prior to that sojourn.

Jimmy, the oldest of eight children, was raised in Troon on the west coast of Scotland and, at the end of 1927, after completing a five-year apprenticeship as a ships’ riveter at the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company, and just a month before his 19th birthday, he moved to America, ostensibly to join his father, who had abandoned his family and emigrated to New Jersey in 1920.

Having failed to reconcile with his alcoholic father, Jimmy was living with an uncle in Westfield, New Jersey, and working in a metal box factory, when he played his first organised amateur football in America in the early months of 1928 with the local Plainfield Soccer Club, and he spent the subsequent summer playing as an amateur for Bayonne Rovers of the Northern New Jersey League.

Jimmy’s burgeoning talent was soon spotted by the local professional teams, and he changed career in September 1928 when he signed as a professional for the Newark Skeeters for the 1928/29 campaign. When the Skeeters went out of business in autumn 1929, he moved to the New York Giants for the 1929/30 season on a contract worth $50 a match.

Despite having only played organised football for two years, and having been a professional for just 18 months, Jimmy’s meteoric rise continued in early 1930 when he battled his way through a series of trial matches to earn his place in the United States’ squad to contest the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay. Fortunately for Jimmy he qualified to play by dint of his father becoming a naturalised United States citizen and he received notification that he too had been granted citizenship as he sailed to South America on the SS Munargo.

The USA were drawn in Group 4 for the 13-team tournament, which took place in July 1930, exclusively in Montevideo. USA, with Brown on the right wing, defeated Belgium – who, along with France, were the only two leading European countries to accept FIFA’s invitation to take part – 3-0 in their opening match, Jimmy earning an “assist” for the third goal with an “unselfish lob” to scorer Bert Patenaude.

Brown retained his place as USA qualified for the last four, alongside Uruguay, Argentina and Yugoslavia, by defeating Paraguay 3-0 in their second and final group fixture.

In the semi-final in the Estadio Centenario the USA did well to hold a powerful but uncompromising Argentina side to a 0-2 deficit after an hour, particularly as they had been effectively reduced to nine men from the 20th minute onwards, due to injuries caused largely by their opponents’ physical tactics.

However, they subsequently collapsed in the face of the South Americans’ onslaught, and conceded four further goals, including three in the last five minutes, to trail 0-6 before, in the last minute, Jimmy became the only Scot/American/ex-Brentford player (to date) to score in a World Cup semi-final when he neatly converted a pass from injured team-mate Andy Auld, who had lost his front teeth thanks to an Argentinian boot!

Following the World Cup, which had gone virtually unreported by the press in the UK, Jimmy stayed in the United States playing with the New York Soccer Club, Brooklyn Wanderers and the Newark Americans until August 1932, when, with professional soccer in the USA on the verge of one of its periodic collapses, he decided to try his luck in his home islands and, thanks largely to new Manchester United secretary-manager Scott Duncan’s connections with the New York Soccer Association, he joined the Old Trafford club for a reputed £1,700 fee.

In the summer of 1940, the war effectively forced Jimmy’s retirement from professional football in the UK, and he returned to the Troon shipyard, initially alongside two of his brothers, building minesweepers and frigates for the Royal Navy. However, he did manage two final wartime appearances as a “guest” for Scottish First Division club Clyde in early 1941.

He remained in Scotland until 1948 when, following the premature death, from tuberculosis, of his eldest son, James, the family (wife Mary, son George and daughter Margaret) moved back to the United States for good. They initially settled in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Jimmy revived the Connecticut Soccer League and formed a team, Greenport United, so that he could continue to play with and coach son George.

Following his retirement as a player Jimmy coached the Brunswick School soccer team for 22 years, as well as the Elizabeth Falcons of the American Soccer League, and he remained involved in reviving, developing and guiding local soccer programs for the rest of his life. Jimmy was inducted to the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1986 and died on 9 November 1994, in New Jersey, aged 85.

Alongside Jimmy, there is a second member of the family, with west London connections, who is also in the Hall of Fame. That is Jimmy’s aforementioned son, George Cormack Brown, who was born on 19 August 1935 at 69 Camborne Avenue, Ealing, while Jimmy was on Brentford’s books.

Like his father, George was also capped by the USA, appearing in a 1957 World Cup qualifying match against Mexico in Mexico City, and was an American Soccer League “All-Star” and leading goalscorer between 1953 and 1956.

George, a wonderful character, lives near Philadelphia, and will be in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field on 23 July, less than a month before his 88th birthday, and 83 years after he recalls attending a match as a small boy, with his father, in west London, that was probably Jimmy’s final Brentford appearance against Fulham!

The Browns have a fascinating family history, and if this article has stimulated your interest in them, I would highly recommend the book a third member of the dynasty – James Brown, the vice president of the Society for American Soccer History, and son of George and grandson of Jimmy – has written about them, entitled Mud, Blood and StudsHere you can also discover Jimmy’s professional footballing brothers and how famous Scottish and South African international rugby union branches of the family fit into their family tree!

Source: Brentford Football Club