Remembering former Spurs man Noel Brotherston:
Noel Brotherston was a highly skilful winger who had a great knack of being able to read challenges and turn at pace. Brotherston would go onto enjoy a successful career with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers, as well as for his country Northern Ireland on the international stage. However, in this article I will be focusing mainly on Brotherston’s time at our beloved Spurs, as well as touching on his career as a whole. This is a commemorative piece intended to remember a much loved footballer who in other years could quite easily have gone onto become a household name at the world famous Tottenham Hotspur. Noel Brotherston was born on the 18th of November 1956 in Dundonald, (just east of Belfast) Northern Ireland, the son of James and Eleanor. The young Noel Brotherston grew up in Dundonald’s Ballybeen estate where he played for Glentoran’s youth team during the Northern Ireland troubles. The Ballybeen estate was a close knit community where everybody knew one another. Brotherston was one of four children (Noel had three sisters Gael, Janet and Nicola) and his father worked in the Belfast shipyards. As a child Brotherston was inspired by the legendary George Best who Noel had a big poster of up in his room, with all of Best’s scars and many injuries on show. Ironically Noel was scouted by the same guy (Bob Bishop) who had discovered George Best, Bishop had actually been at this particular game to scout another boy when he came across the talented Noel. He quickly recommended the tricky winger to a number of clubs. Described by his wife Lynne as a calm and quietly spoken man, Noel Brotherston was actually a Leeds United fan as a boy however, it was Bill Nicholson’s Spurs who impressed Noel’s father the most, so much in fact that the 15 year old Noel decided to sign for the north London club in the early 1970’s as a 15 year old. Initially Noel found life in north London very difficult and life in his home town of Dundonald must have felt a million miles away for the young Noel, and that’s why Spurs put him in digs with young players from Wales, Scotland and of course Ireland at mrs Crossley’s house in Haringey. However, life changed for Noel when he met his future wife Lynne a local girl from Tottenham, one New Year’s Eve at the local British Queen public house.
Noel would frequently bump into Lynne in the area near White Hart Lane as Lynne’s parents ran a fish and chip shop on the high road, and after paying Lynne’s fare one day on the bus, the pair would get on like a house on fire. This really helped Brotherston to settle into life in the English capital. During my interview with Lynne she described Noel’s Spurs career as “ living the dream. ” (Noel was the great Alan Gilzean’s boot boy) Brotherston had managed to work his way up the ranks at Spurs and he went onto become an important member of the Spurs side which won the 1974 FA youth cup under the tutelage of the much respected Pat Welton. The pacy Brotherston would also go onto become a regular in the Spurs reserves. Brotherston was performing well for Spurs at reserve team level when he was called up to play for the first team for their league game against Aston Villa on March 13 1976 at White Hart Lane to replace the injured Jimmy Neighbour (his one and only competitive appearance for the Lilywhites). However, Noel was replaced by Martin Robinson in the second half and the Northern Irishman felt that he hadn’t performed his best on the day, despite giving 100%. Life for Noel at Spurs after that game wasn’t easy as he wasn’t favoured by the then Spurs manager and fellow countryman Terry Neill. Brotherston had been regularly training with the first team before Neill had arrived and before winger Peter Taylor had signed for Spurs. At the end of the 1976/77 season and after four memorable years at Spurs, Neill decided to give Brotherston a free transfer. The likes of Charlton and Leyton Orient all came after Noel but after a phone call from Jimmy Smith from Blackburn Rovers, and after much deliberation between him and Lynne, Noel decided to sign for the then second division club. Brotherston would go onto spend 11 memorable years with Blackburn who, he struck up a great relationship with the clubs fans. Known for his long jinking runs down the wings, Noel really showcased just how skilful a player he was. With great balance and good vision on the ball, Brotherston was a tricky winger who felt that the artistry of the game wasn’t expressible in British football. In that way it’s a pity that a move to French side Saint Etienne broke down when Noel was at Blackburn (the French club had come to watch Noel play).
During his time at Blackburn Noel endeared himself to the Blackburn faithful, and it was his positivity and ability to do the unexpected with the ball which had the Blackburn fans on the edge of their seats. Doing my research on Noel I discovered just how loved and admired he was by fans of the ‘ Rovers ‘. He was a hero to many at the time with his charismatic hairstyle and superb footballing ability. Brotherston also had a good eye for goal and during his first season with Blackburn he finished it as top scorer. Brotherston became a,regular under a number of different managers at the Lancashire club before he departed Ewood Park for Bury who he spent two seasons with. Brotherston then moved to Swedish side Motala AIF after a chance encounter with a Swedish scout in Blackburn. He would go onto spend two enjoyable years with the Swedish semi professional club. Brotherston would return to England where he ended his career with non league side Chorley Town. However, it was Noel Brotherston’s time at Blackburn Rovers which was the pinnacle of his club career. Brotherston received high praise from fans and journalists alike during his time there, and during one interview with full back Kenny Samson in Shoot magazine the former Arsenal man described the former Blackburn man as the most skilful player that he ever had to defend against. However, leaving Brotherston’s club career to one side, it was in fact his international career with Northern Ireland which was the pinnacle of Noel’s footballing career as a whole. Brotherston was capped from schoolboy level right up until senior level with his country who he was so proud to represent. Lynne describes Noel’s time with Northern Ireland as being wonderful all the way through. In total Noel won 27 caps for his country between 1980 to 1985. Brotherston helped Northern Ireland to qualify for the 1982 World Cup which he played in however, his biggest contribution was scoring the goal against Wales in 1980 which secured Northern Ireland the British championships trophy.
Another highlight for Noel was his footballing hero George Best singing his praises on television during the 1982 World Cup as well as playing in the final qualifying match against Israel at Windsor Park (having played in all the qualifying matches to get to the World Cup). Going back to Noel’s time at Spurs, Lynne said that it was a club that he had such fond memories of with it being his first club. The club of Martin Chivers, Alan Gilzean, Pat Jennings and Ralph Coates always had a special place in Noel’s heart until the day that he died, and that is so wonderful to know. Following his retirement from the game Noel went into the painting and decorating business, he also worked for Blackburn Rovers in their legends lounge on match days. Brotherston later played regularly for the Blackburn Rovers veteran team (the modern day legends team, right up until his untimely passing). The skilful winger who had gone onto become a cult hero with Blackburn Rovers and Northern Ireland, tragically passed away aged just 38, after suffering a heart attack on the fifth of May 1995, the season that Blackburn won the Premier League for the first and only time in their history. The much loved family man who loved his boys Lee and Ryan who would have been so proud to see them grown up and carrying on the Brotherston name with two beautiful granddaughters, Evie and Clara, had a funeral fitting of the great man he was. His service in Blackburn was packed with people who loved and admired him so well. Many of his former Spurs teammates attended the funeral including his close friends from the Tottenham youth team Neil McNab, Ian Cranstone and Wayne Cegielski. The gentleman who everybody that met liked was, in many ways a hero to Blackburn Rovers and his country Northern Ireland, and that speaks volumes in itself. I think all at Spurs ought to be very proud of what Noel went onto achieve in the game, and what a lovely man he went onto become. A huge thank you must go to Noel’s wife Lynne who so kindly invited me into her house to do an interview. Without Lynne’s cooperation I would not have been able to write this article.