From Arsenal to playing for Tottenham v Arsenal, in one day.

Laurie Brown – one of the few players who played for Arsenal and Tottenham, and indeed surely the only player who signed for Tottenham from Arsenal and then played for Tottenham against Arsenal the next day.

Plus a player who played in two of the most memorable Arsenal – Tottenham matches of the 1960s.

So, to begin…

The basic facts of the life of Laurence Brown, known universally as Laurie can be seen for the bullets points.

  • 22 August 1937: Laurie Brown born
  • 18 August 1961: Laurie Brown purchased by Arsenal from Northampton Town
  • 19 August 1961: Laurie Brown played his first game for Arsenal
  • 28 December 1963: Laurie Brown last senior game for Arsenal
  • 21 February 1964: Laurie Brown sold to Tottenham
  • 30 September 1998: Laurie Brown died aged just 61.

But of course tucked away in that is the bit that interests most of us – he played for Arsenal played against Tottenham. and then went to Tottenham and played against Arsenal.  And not just in any old matches either.

Here are his playing records for the two clubs:

  • Arsenal 1961-64 (Apps 109, 2 Goals )
  • Tottenham 1964-66 (Apps 65, 3 Goals)

Laurie Brown was born in Shildon, County Durham and started out as a centre forward with Bishop Auckland and then after a brief try out at Darlington, moved back to non-league football with Woking.

Laurie remained an amateur until the 1960 Olympic Games, being a member of the Great Britain side at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  Great Britain came 8th in the competition.

He then signed for Northampton, and was the club’s top scorer in 1960-61 as they were promoted to the Third Division.  

It was Northampton who moved him to central defence, and he continued to play there after that.

Years Club Games Goals
1958 Bishop Auckland
1959 Darlington 3 0
1959 Woking
1960 Bishop Auckland
1960/1 Northampton Town 33 22
1961/4 Arsenal 109 2
1964/6 Tottenham H 62 3
1966/8 Norwich City 81 2
1968/70 Bradford PA

He moved  to Arsenal for £35,000.  Here is his record with Arsenal…

Season League Games :League Goals League pos
1961/2 41 0 10
1962/3 38 1 7
1963/4 22 1 8
Total 101 2

This was the era in which Tottenham were trying to push forwards and emulate the Arsenal of the 1930s to early 1950s.  In 1963/4 Tottenham came fourth in the league, but slipped to sixth in 1964/5, and by 1965/6 they had fallen back to 8th – thus Laurie ended up both times playing for teams that were just a little above mid-table.

Obviously it is the £40,000 move to Tottenham that is remembered most – but within that there is an interesting fact.   Throughout his career he was a central defender who occasionally came up for the corners etc, and very occasionally knocked in a goal.  Tottenham however had the notion that although he had never played centre forward, he could actually be a centre forward in waiting – and he could be of use in that position without any time on the training field.

But before we get into that, it is worth contemplating Laurie’s north London derbies.  For example…

6 October 1962: Laurie played in the 4-4 draw at White Hart Lane; a game in which Arsenal came from 4-2 down to get the point.

Tottenham had won the league in 1961, and then come third and in 1962/3 ended up second.   A week before the derby match they had beaten Nottingham Forest 9-2, and in this game went three up in 26 minutes.

David Court however got one back and then got a second to take it to 3-2, but Jones made it 4-2 to Tottenham before half time.   The home fans celebrated in that way that they can at Tottenham, just before the wheels fall off the bus.  (Mind you, to be fair, we can do just the same!)

So it was that on 53 minutes George Eastham laid on a perfect pass for John MacLeod who scored and with 17 minutes to go Geoff Strong picked up a through ball and got the equaliser.

The Arsenal team on the day was John McClelland, Eddie Magill, Billy McCullough, John Snedden, Laurie Brown, Vic Groves, John MacLeod, Geoff Strong, David Court, George Eastham, Alan Skirton.

15 October 1963:   Arsenal and Tottenham played at Highbury and drew 4-4 again, Laurie Brown taking the number 4 shirt for Arsenal and Eastham (2) Baker and Strong getting our goals.

 21 February 1964: Tottenham signed Laurie Brown just one day before the derby and amazingly pushed him straight into their team for the match the next day!

Tottenham were top of the league at the start of this match (although they slipped away later to finish fourth).  But they had lost two and drawn one of their three games, scoring just one goal across all three before this match, hence the need for desperate measures.

Even more extraordinary than the fact that Laurie was thrown into the match at centre forward (a position he had never played for Arsenal, his main experience in this position being with Northampton – and even they had felt he was better suited to defence) was the fact that in order to make this switch Nicholson, the Tottenham manager at the time) dropped England international Bobby Smith.

Bobby Smith openly objected to the decision to be replaced by a man from the club down the road signed the day before and who had never played centre forward in his life.   The quote the papers carried was, “What other manager in the First Division would go out and buy a half-back to play centre-forward?”

Somehow the ploy worked and Tottenham won 3-1.  Laurie Brown had been out of the Arsenal team since the end of the previous year, and his number 4 shirt had been taken over by Vic Groves, with Ian Ure and John Sneddon playing at the centre of the defence.

Of course for Laurie it was all wonderful.  As we have noted he had been playing in the reserves following the arrival on the scene of Sneddon, and anyway Arsenal had the rather promising Terry Neill lurking in the squad too.

Indeed Laurie hit the post on 13 minutes, Geoff Strong gave Arsenal the lead on 43 minutes and then on half time Greaves scored a penalty.  A header from Laurie Brown was handled on the line – not a sending off offence in those days of course.

Cliff Jones got two more for Tottenham and they stayed top of the league.  Arsenal, in the second year of the Wright era, sank without trace – this game being the first of seven without a win.  Indeed between 22 February 1964 and the end of the season on April 18 Arsenal won just two of their ten league games.   They ended the season with a 0-5 away defeat to Liverpool.  Wright however was not sacked and went on to manage Arsenal for another two years.

In contrast to Billy Wright’s position (which was criticised in the press) Tottenham’s management won plaudits.   After the match the press went wild in their praise of Nicholson’s ability to judge transfers and handle players.  The notion of a resurgence of the side under the  Tottenham Double winning manager of 1961 (noted in comparison to a very ordinary Arsenal side under Wright who were in the process of making mediocrity their trademark) were never far away from the typewriters of Fleet Street.

But the hype didn’t work for Laurie.  That first game for Tottenham was his best game and although he played nine games at centre forward, he clearly wasn’t the man for the job, and Nicholson’s move in buying Laurie Brown now looks like nothing more than a wild gamble which didn’t work, taken in the midst of a run that threatened the push for the championship. The press quickly forgot all the things they said (of course), and life returned to normal, with the only difference being that Laurie was playing in the reserves in white rather than red.

Ultimately Laurie made a come back for Tottenham back where he had played for Arsenal – in defence, but then Tottenham signed Mike England and Laurie Brown left London for Norwich City in September 1966.

But the whole affair also marked the end for Bobby Smith who dared to counter the popular hype around the club and stand up to Nicholson.  He was allowed just two more Tottenham games and then was transferred to Brighton and Hove Albion.

Laurie moved on from Norwich to Bradford Park Avenue, where he was player-manager, but the club were relegated from the Football League.  He then went to Altrincham again as player-manager in August 1969, resigning 13 months later.  He later managed King’s Lynn and Stockton and according to one source, Tow Law, although I am not sure if this was as a player-manager or just manager.   It is certainly possible that he played, since he would have been 34 at the time he was at King’s Lynn

Here is his management record

1968–1969 Bradford Park Avenue )
1969–1970 Altrincham
1970–1971 King’s Lynn
Tow Law

Beyond football, I have read that Laurie was the father of hockey international Karen Brown and that after football he was a publican and milkman.   He died in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham.

As always, if I have got any of this wrong, please do let me know – if at all possible with a source for your information.  And if there is anything you can add, please do write in.

2 Replies to “From Arsenal to playing for Tottenham v Arsenal, in one day.”

  1. Amazing, thanks for clarifying this weird piece of transfer history. Living in suburban North London I used to watch both Spurs (supported by all my relatives and friends) and Arsenal. The early & mid sixties were halcyon days for Spurs and frankly Arsenal were a bit of a joke. But what about those amazing derbies? I was among the 68,000 crowd at Highbury on that night in October 63 when we left the ground with Spurs 4-2 up and walking up St Thomas’s Road heard 2 massive roars from the crowd – well you know the rest. But that Laurie Brown transfer, on the eve of the derby at WHL (which I also saw) was seemed beyond belief and maybe, as you intimate, Bill Nicholson had had a fall out with Bobby Smith who was known to like a tipple or two.
    At Spurs we were used to classy football but Billy McCullough etc offered another side of the game. Mind you I loved George Eastham, so skilfull, who created innumerable goals for Joe Baker (whom I saw knock Ron Yeats of Liverpool unconscious in one of those frequent bouts of fisticuffs in the 1960’s).
    Well here’s hoping for Spurs to win the title after 55 years – looks like Arsenal are treading water and much as I admire him it’s probably time for Wenger to retire.

  2. Yes, certainly A great piece of history, I was also at the game as a thirteen year old so well summed up by Chris on an October evening, It was the biggest crowd I ever went to in my Highbury days, officially just under 68000. I was at the old clock end and with five minutes to go began to make our way out losing 4-2 and remember being seriously scared being in the biggest crush I can ever remember at Highbury, when suddenly in the space of a couple of minutes we were level at 4-4, Euphoria , Pandemonium, the place was going mad. Also I loved the reference to Joe Baker, Joe was my idol, a player that doesn’t get the praise he deserves, a great centre forward in his day with a record of around 100 goals in 150 games. The big Ron Yeats saga was one of the memorable moments from the sixties. Yeats , who was an enormous man kicked Joe throughout the game, a fifth round FA cup tie, until Joe lost it, he had to jump to hit him and caught square on the jaw, the whole crowd went hush and Yeats just stood there, then like a giant oak tree began to crumble, he never recovered, both players were sent off but Yeats was carried off. Liverpool however recently promoted to old first division, with Leyton Orient would you believe, won the game 2-1 and went on to great success.

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