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Wayne BrownIf it hadn’t been for a foot injury on the eve of the Nuneaton Borough game then Wayne Brown would have made his 200th Chester league appearance on the final day of the season at Yeovil. He currently stands on 199 and it would be nice to think that he could reach this milestone, on the first day of next season, back in the Football League.

Wayne joined Chester from Weston Super Mare, having previously been released by Bristol City, and is one of only three members of the current City squad to have played for the club in the Football League (Paul Carden and Chris Blackburn are the other two). Having made his debut in the 1996/97 season he is Chester’s longest serving player and, as such, is the only player to have experienced the full range of emotions from the end of the Mark Guterman era, through administration and Terry Smith, to the change of fortune under Stephen Vaughan.

Wayne made his debut in November 1996, against Cardiff City, as understudy to Ronnie Sinclair. It was no dream debut as Wayne was beaten by a deflected Scott Young shot in the closing minutes but he had earlier kept City in the game with a couple of superb saves from Steve White and Jason Fowler. “When I came to the club Ronnie Sinclair and Chris Knowles were the two goalkeepers but Chris was on his way out. I was signed by Kevin Ratcliffe as a young keeper to challenge Ronnie but I didn’t actually do much of a job of this in the first six months” laughs Wayne. “I have to say I can’t remember much about my Chester debut other than that it was against Cardiff and I thought I played alright” As for the best game he has played for Chester, Wayne found it difficult to come up with a favourite. “There have been quite a few games over the years but not so many this season as I have had a lot less to do! I remember a game at Peterborough when we lost and got absolutely battered but I thought I had a really good game, I also recall a pre-season friendly against Everton back in 1998 but that was probably the only decent game I had that season.”

Nationwide Variety Trophy winnerIn 1997/98 Wayne was again second choice to Ronnie and the following season he shared the goalkeeping duties with Neil Cutler (currently trying to stave off relegation to the Conference with Swansea City). In 1999/2000 Wayne finally established himself as first choice keeper but it was a difficult season as City were relegated although Wayne won the Away Supporters Player of the Year award. “The final game of that season, against Peterborough, was a horrible day all round. The emotions that day were incredible. I was at the away end in the second half when someone said that Exeter had equalised against Shrewsbury and the crowd started going mad while Terry Smith was jumping for joy. When the whistle went the crowd just went quiet and there were grown men crying. It wasn’t a nice day but I suppose we deserved to go down in the end. It was a very difficult time under Terry. He arrived as the club’s saviour and within three weeks Kevin Ratcliffe had gone, half the players had gone and he was the manager. Terry didn’t so much coach me as repeat the same drills day after day. I have to bite the bullet here and say that it probably improved me as a goalkeeper though. He used to have a big punch bag and when I came for a cross he would smash me with it pretending it was a defender. I’ve never known a defender hit me so hard and as a result I think I’m much better with crosses now. ”

All those supporters who have watched Wayne over the last few seasons know that he likes to react to the crowd and he admits that, for him, it is all part of the game. “I’d much rather play in a game when there is a bit of atmosphere and the crowd are bawling and shouting. With all due respect to some of the Conference clubs it can be a bit too quiet at some of the grounds. The big games are more of a challenge and I like winding up the fans. For me the banter is all part of the game.” As for the away fans he seems to have upset most, Wayne opts for the supporters of one of the play-off contenders. “The Morecambe fans really love me”, he laughs, “they have always given me grief following an incident when they thought the ball went out of play and I claimed it hadn’t. But it’s all water off a ducks back to me. I enjoy it.”

England v USAAlthough a quiet man off the pitch Wayne has a different personality when he crosses the touchline “I admit I can get quite emotional on the pitch. I’m not as big as some keepers so I need to throw my weight about a bit. That’s the advice my dad has always given me. I learnt a lot from my debut with Bristol City Reserves. It was a derby game, against Rovers, and I was a naive 16 year old. I remember coming for a ball, nice and fairly, when Marcus Stewart came sliding in two footed and caught me in the stomach. That hurt. Since then I’ve learnt to look after myself. Mind you I think I’ve calmed down a bit this season.”

After seven years at the Deva Stadium it is inevitable that Wayne has good memories of some of his former colleagues. “There have been some great characters at Chester, players like Gary Bennett and David Flitcroft. I was really good friends with Ross Davidson (currently playing for Ashford Town in the Ryman League) and I last heard from him when he was released by Shrewsbury. I think he could have done a good job at this level. The defenders in front of me this season have done tremendously well, they’ve been really strong but I remember when I first came that we had a solid defence with players like Peter Jackson, Julian Alsford, Iain Jenkins and Ross. We played some great football when Cyrille Regis was in the side and he was a really nice bloke.”

In the last couple of months Wayne has been coaching the young City keepers and they presented him with a an award before the Stevenage game in recognition of his assistance. “I don’t think I’ve got it in me to be a manager but I’ve really enjoyed coaching the youngsters and wouldn’t mind doing more of this in the future.”

Chas Sumner [Published 5/5/03]
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