There aren’t many players you can look back on and say that they define a team. But hear the words ‘Jamie’ and ‘Brown’ and it immediately conjures up memories of the Mark Morris era. The desire, the battles, the will-to-win.
But also the ease in which detractors were able to write them off. Often dismissed as “workman like” or a team that was stronger than their individual parts, nobody epitomises that better than ‘Browner.’ The fact that he went on to feature in multiple play-off finals and lead a team out at Wembley shows there was more quality there than his sometimes-unflattering reputation deserved. Not that the Magpies’ faithful ever bought into that. Across his five seasons at The Avenue, Brown made over 200 appearances en route to establishing himself as a firm fans favourite with his all action displays in the heart of midfield, before transforming into a target man with a telepathic understanding with Matt Groves. The fact that he was also a handy emergency goalkeeper, well that was just an added bonus!
Signed by Mark Morris (more commonly known as “Gups” to the players), Brown would be a part of the manager’s new policy off signing young, hungry players to help his side bounce back from relegation in 2001. Playing for Wessex Premier side BAT Sports (Now Totton & Eling), Jamie recalls how Ray Collins, part of the BAT management team helped secure his move to the Avenue.
“I moved to Dorchester when I was nineteen. I’d been playing well up top and my Dad said I could play higher. Ray Collins had a connection with Mark Morris and he recommended me to Gups and I was due to go training with the side in pre-season.” But Brown didn’t exactly make a great first impression to Morris.
"There was a bit of miscommunication about training. I thought it was at the ground. I got to the stadium and found out it was actually at Bovington. My Dad had come along as a bit of support, so I got to training with him about 45 minutes late.”
“When I got there, I could see it was a step up from where I'd been. You had Jem running and prancing about, and him and Lonners [Matt Lonnon] were pinging these balls about and I looked at it and thought I really fancied it. Then I got a bit nervous.”
When Gups asked if I was ready to do some running, I said something silly like; "Oh, I've had a sandwich", so I didn't even train at first! I think I'd only had a Mars Bar or something, but I just froze. God knows what he thought he'd got to come along, here’s a kid with his dad, turning up late and not wanting to train. But next session I got involved and after a few sessions and pre-season, I got offered a deal. I was on £45 a week and £20 a point."
Getting into the set-up was one thing, winning all the players over was a slightly different matter. With competition for places fierce, no one wanted to lose their place in the starting lineup.
"You had to fight to get into the team. Matt Lonnon was in the midfield and he was a very good player but wasn't everyone's cup of tea. We were sat having some food one time and he got stuck into me about what I was doing here, saying I wasn't good enough and that sort of thing. I said to him I didn't know what he's on about but he kept on going, it was weird as everyone else seemed fine. But I ended up winning him over in training. We had this drill where you be pinging the ball to one another and have to bring it down, and he'd be smashing these balls at me, but I could give it some back and had a touch. After that and a few games, he tapped me on the back after one session and said; "you're okay", and we were fine after that."
In hindsight, it was more of a test than any sort of grudge or professional jealousy.
"Senior players used to test the youngsters and that's probably what it was. The older players used to do it to new lads all the time and sometime Gups would have to cool it down a bit. I would do it to youngsters a bit as I was older, although you couldn't do it now. The game's not like that. But Gups knew when to step in if he felt it went too far."
On the pitch, the new squad had gelled well and in his first season, the team narrowly missed out on promotion, finishing third. But a winning mentality was beginning to foster and standards were high.
"The squad was so deep with quality. You'd always have to be on your game. Gups used to run us hard and we'd be well drilled. Everyone knew their job. Being on the losing side in training was horrible. We all knew what we were doing and we trained as we played.
There was one night when I was driving in for training and as soon as got onto the motorway, there was a blizzard. I rang Gups and said how bad it was and he told me I still had to come in or he would fine me. We were training at the TA centre in Dorchester and it had these awful floodlights. Gups just ran us all night… 12-minute runs!
“I had these old-style Adidas Predator boots with the tongue and the elastic strap that went over the top and under the sole. I had to keep stopping as snow would get wedged under the strap and I'd have to pick it out. I said to Gups as I ran past that this was ridiculous and he just said; "I don't give a ****, Browner, run!" And we did. He used to run us all the time."
"We had one away game where it was called off on the coach up and we stopped on the way back and Gups got load of booze in and let us do what we wanted. We were all smashed on the bus. Absolutely out of it! But we knew we'd be getting it Tuesday. A 12-minute run again and if we were lucky on Thursday we might get to see a football.
“I was always on of the ones at the front. Jem, Rads and me would usually be the front three. Pre-season we'd usually end up doing runs up to Maiden Castle, with doggies [sprints] up the castle and then back to the Stadium. Del Tayler used to look after the three of us though and we'd cram into the boot of his car and he'd give us a lift back to the ground! Gups must have known but never said anything, all the other lads would wonder how we got back so quick!"
In only his second start for the club, Browner had an early opportunity to show his new gaffer his versatility.
"Early on we had a game against Grantham and Orms (Mark Ormerod) had to come off after he broke his thumb. Gups was looking for someone to keep and I said I would. I had a brilliant game and we won one-nil. My Dad was a goalkeeper and my brother played for Chester in goal and is still goalkeeping coach at Oxford United, so I'd grown up around ‘keepers. I played in goal three times for Dorch in the end and I think we only lost once."
The first season didn't provide the promotion that the club desired, but it did provide a trophy in the form of the Southern League Cup, following a two-legged victory over Kings Lynn.
"The Kings Lynn away game was strange. We turned up late due to the coach getting stuck in traffic; Next to no warn up; then back on the coach after we'd won. It was so quick, in and out and back on the bus and away. It was a strange game but good to win over the two games."
And that trophy led to another the following season as the team won the Dr Marten’s Eastern Division in 02-03.
"As a collective, we were so good. The squad could cover suspensions and injuries and we made no real additions. We had no standout players, no superstars and no 'privilege players'. Justin Keeler would be back defending corners, Matty Holmes never shied away from anything. When Keeler would go forward, Rads could push on a bit and Skunk [Andy Harris] would tuck in and cover. There was a lot of travel and but we all worked so hard. It was a pleasure to be around the team."
And with travel to the likes of Stamford, Kings Lynn, Corby and Spalding, there was a lot of time to be around the team. Not that the coach journey’s ever felt like a chore.
"I used to get picked up at Rownhams services and for about four or five years I pretty much lived in Bournemouth on weekends. The bus was always a good trip after we won. Even if we were getting in at 2am from a midweek game it didn't seem to matter. The trips up were always funny… Skunk [Andy Harris] was behind a lot of that. He'd pick an item and we'd have to bring it along or get fined a tenner. Some weeks they were easy to find, other weeks it would be something like bring a 12' record. You'd be thinking about where the hell you'd find one of them! There would be a game every week on there as well. We had remote control cars with little obstacle courses on the tables, we'd be playing Buckeroo the next week."
"We'd always have a few cans on the way home. I remember one time we stopped at some old service station on the way home from Grantham and the two women working there said they'd just closed but we could help ourselves to what we wanted! So, we've all come out with our arms full of crisps, chocolate, all sorts of stuff, just anything we could grab. We just picked it up and got back on the bus. We pulled away a few minutes later thinking 'has that just happened?'
After we'd get back from a Saturday game it would be in, change and back out again. We had some brilliant nights out. One thing I will say though, if we lost the bus was silent on the way back. We hated losing!"
Losing was not a frequent occurrence, so when things weren't going the right way, tensions could sometimes boil over between teammates. One such incident involved two good friends in Andy Harris and Martin Shepherd having a heated exchange on the pitch.
"I can't remember where we were playing, but Skunk got sent off for this silly second yellow. He's ran across from central to left back and absolutely cleaned out the bloke and then obviously tried whacking the ball into the crowd. He wasn't even subtle! So, he's got his second yellow and a red, and as he's walking off him and Shep end up having a bit of a row and start pushing each other. A few of us are trying to separate them but they've ended up coming to half blows. Well, Shep has these massive hands with fingers like sausages… and he's a big bloke. We had to pull them apart before it kicked off and push Skunk towards the changing rooms before Shep whacked him with his shovel hands. Skunk was sulking on the bus home but they made up. Skunk has always been a bit of a boy, he's a funny lad. He loved the attention and we loved giving it to him."
With promotion secured and a return to the Dr. Martens Premier Division, a new task lay ahead: qualifying for the soon-to-be-formed Conference South. It was an eventful season, including one notable event that New Year’s Day involving Messieurs Brown and Claridge.
"After the 8-0, the press had destroyed us. It was all 'who eight all the magpies’ and stuff like that. I had my then girlfriend and a load of my mates at the game and I'd been sent off for two yellows at five-nil, I think. It was embarrassing. We completely folded.
“We knew we had to turn up in the return fixture and we were playing pretty well. We'd gone one up but got pegged back and Claridge was in the referee’s ear all game trying to run the game. He was just mugging us off, goading us all, and there was no need for it. In the end, it was Mark Rawlinson who was getting proper pissed off with him and he said that he needed shutting up. Thirty seconds later and it was right in front of the main stand, Claridge has the ball and it's there for me, so I've gone in. I don't know if I've jumped in, slid or whatever, but I've not gone in to injure him, there was no intent to hurt him. But I've absolutely folded him in half."
"Next thing I know, I've got players on top of me and everyone has piled in. I remember Mark Robinson stuck his finger in my eye and I got a few kicks. So, I had a finger in one eye and was trying to look out the good one to see who had booted me and I just see Claridge volley me when I was down. I know he said his bit in the press after and in his book, but I know what I saw. He definitely kicked me. We got a draw in the end and some pride back and no one said anything to me in the changing room after. It was just a reaction challenge, a chance encounter. I certainly don't regret it."
Though the challenge and subsequent mayhem had thousands of eye-witnesses, the alleged follow up in the car park post-match is nothing more than an old wives’ tale.
"After the match, I've walked out the front of the ground and Claridge happens to be there - and he's raging at me! I'm stood there thinking 'what the…’ and he’s dropped his bag and is shouting at me. I've dropped my bag in case he did come at me as I don't want to be stood there with a bloody great big bag if he's going to throw a punch at me. There is a bit of verbal between us, but we were at least 10 yards away from each other. There was never a scrap, we never fought, no punches or anything, we just ended up moving away.”
But if there was any lingering animosity between the two, it didn't show when they last crossed paths next.
"I saw him when I was at Gosport. We had the FA Trophy semi-final and shockingly I was suspended for it. I'm sat in the stand watching and Steve Claridge ended up sitting pretty much right in front of me. The game goes on and we're looking likely to get to the final, and with about three minutes to go, he gets up, turns to me, shakes my hand and tells me to enjoy the day at Wembley.”
The season ended on a much more positive note, as we’d win the play-off final at Exeter City’s St James’ Park.
"We shouldn't have had to go through the playoffs really, I thought we were good enough to get there automatically. But they say playoffs are the best way to do it! Bath away in the semi-final was a great day. We had good battles with them and by then Lawsy and Woody [David Laws and Paul Wood] had come in and given us a boost.
“The final at Exeter was brilliant. I remember getting the ball right in front of the bench and just as I was about to put the ball back into the box, I heard Benji telling me not to do it. I've put the ball in anyway, Woody scored with a header and we're two up! I said to Benji in the celebrations; "I told you so!" He just told me to shut up and not go bigtime!
“It was a big relief when we won, the bus journey home was brilliant with Gups singing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way', a few beers and I think I went out with Rads after."
Going out with Rads wasn't an infrequent occurrence, but it did almost cause a major issue with the manager.
"One New Year's Eve Jem, Rads and I decided to go out in Bridport dressed as hippies. Stupid suits, wigs, glasses, the lot. We only drank Red Bull as we had Weymouth the next day, but no one would recognise us out in Bridport and there weren't camera phones or anything like that. Next day, Gups comes over to our bench in the changing room absolutely fuming, throws down a copy of the Echo and says, "Recognise these three?" The Echo had only taken a picture of the three of us! He told us we'd better play well. Fortunately, we all ended up having good games. Gups just said to us, "You got away with one there lads!”
Having become founding members of the Conference South, the club would agonisingly miss out on the play-offs in the first season, following a last-day capitulation at Bognor Regis. It was a season of change in many ways, with Jamie finding himself playing a more advanced position up front alongside Matt Groves, following David Laws’ departure in the early part of the season.
"I had been an attacking midfielder at BAT so Gups said to have a go up top with Groover and I enjoyed it. We both seemed to know what the other would be doing. I wasn't a born striker - winning a tackle used to be like scoring a goal for me - but teams would be scared of us. We used to do the same kick off each week; Kick off, ball back to the midfield, long ball into the left corner and I'd try and nod it into Groover. We'd often get a corner or a throw in. It was classic non-league! We'd end up with two players on us and things like that. I enjoyed the attention of being man marked.
But one person Brown did not enjoy the attention of was Yeading’s Nevin Saroya. The first meeting between the pair would leave Brown bloodied and subsequent meetings between the two clubs were always feisty affairs.
"Yeading had this centre back called Nevin Saroya and I hated him. I detested him and he detested me. Everyone else I'd shake hands with after and have a beer with in the bar. But not him. It was personal.
“He did me at their place with an elbow; splitting my cheekbone, took hair off where my sideburn was, the lot. I got done both sides of my face that game and there were threats made after the game and all sorts. It was a cup game and we ended up drawing so the replay was a few days later. Gups said to me before be careful about what you're going to do. I told him if he started me, he knows what will happen. Straight from kick off we've gone for the normal routine, ball into the left corner, he's come across from centre back, way out of position to try and do me. But I knew he was coming. I can still feel it on my elbow now as it chipped the bone. We kicked lumps out of each other for the rest of the game, but he was hurt and wasn't the same."
Physical battles aside, the new forward role was paying dividends as Brown, Groover and Keeler were all in-and-around the leading scorers for the most part of the season. Justin Keeler was a player who could be frustrating and brilliant in equal parts, and it wasn't just the fans who held this view.
"Keeler was a space cadet! Some games he'd be all over the place and we'd be telling Gups he needed to take him off. We'd get told; "No! Not a chance! He'll bang one in in a bit!”
"We'd always do the drill in training where Gups would point left of right, but he'd say which way we had to run. Keeler could never do it - he couldn't work it out. But he had one hell of a shot on him. He'd be stood on the touchline getting chalk on his heels, next thing you knew, he's scored from miles out or from a ridiculous angle."
“I remember one game I broke up play on the edge of our own box, played it out to Keeler and he was off like a speedboat with no driver! Straight into the corner, no thought about what he'd do at all! He was so quick! Groover was up top but I think he overtook him by the half way line! He's got to the corner and pulled it back towards Groover but it wasn't a good ball. I've ran onto it though on the edge of the box and smashed it in. It wasn't meant for me at all!"
It had been a successful first season in the new Conference South for the club, and for Jamie personally, in his new role. All achieved without the presence of the influential Matty Holmes, who had retired following the victory at Exeter.
"He's the best and most respected player I've played with by a mile. He was the only player ever to tell me off that actually sank in. After I got red carded in the 8-0, we were in the dressing room after and he said he was disappointed in me. It hurt; it was like getting told off by a parent. I did get sent off again a few days later but it did sink in."
"You knew playing the ball to him was safe. I could run my bollocks off to get the ball back, once I'd given it to him, I could have a rest. He could tackle, would go up for headers, never wasted the ball. He didn't always need protecting but teams would target him so we'd have to make sure that didn't always happen. I tried cutting him up in training once and I still couldn't get anywhere near him."
It wasn't all positive though, Matty did have one knack that would never fail to irritate Brown.
"He used to have this old car and I used to fancy myself a bit as a car man. On the way to training I'd sometimes see him doddering along at 26mph on the inside lane, so I'd go roaring past him on the outside, tunes blaring, he'd give me a little wave and I would be about 15 minutes ahead of him by the time we were off the motorway. I don't know how he did it but he'd always get to training first. I'd pull in and he'd be there getting his bag out the boot or whatever and say hello. It used to piss me right off! He must have known every little back road in Dorset."
The following season saw the Magpies finish eighth and Brown rewarded with another new contract. But it could have been very different. It could have raised a lot of eyebrows.
"Garry Hill wanted to sign me when he was at Weymouth. My deal was coming up, they were putting a lot of money in and as a lad in my early twenties, going full time really appealed to me. I ended up going there to speak to them and I remember wearing a hat, scarf, all sorts so people didn't recognise me. Nothing came of it in the end though."
Staying at The Avenue, there would be a big change when Mark Morris departed during the pre-season of 06/07. His departure would ultimately start a chain of events that would see Brown leave the club not long after.
"I'd not long signed a new deal but Gups left in pre-season after it got a bit stale. We'd had a few injuries the previous season and struggled a bit. I think Gups wanted to bring some new players in which weren’t coming. Mick Jenkins ended up taking over and straight away took the captaincy off me and gave it to Scott Morgan. It became a shambles. The team talks were boring, players were leaving. Groover and I travelled to Weston-super-Mare with Mick and we quickly realised we weren't on the same page."
"Eastleigh had come in for me and their manager, Paul Doswell, was keen to take me. I could literally see the floodlights of Eastleigh's ground from my house, was still in my early/mid-twenties and was feeling a bit stagnant at Dorchester. So, I said I'd wanted to leave. The move had all been agreed I played my last game for Dorch, scored a penalty and it felt a good way to go out. I spoke to Mick after the game and he said the move was off due to the fee not being enough. I was livid. A few days later the move happened. He'd been trying to string me along."
The club would struggle for a while following Morris’ departure and Brown can see why given Morris’ management skills.
"It annoys me when people say he played long ball as there was more to it than that. People talk about trying to 'play the right way'. A winning way is the right way.
“Gups made it simple and he would often say to me to ignore what other people say and that I'd always be first on a manager's team sheet. "Get in our box, get the ball, get out, give it to someone better." Gups and Benji were both brilliant. Benji was a mate and was more like one of us, Gups would always be telling stories on the bus but he had that respect from the lads."
Reflecting on his time at the club, there are nothing but fond memories.
"I wouldn't change my time there for the world and I hope the club gets back on its feet. I almost came back a couple of times but it would take me two-and-a-half to three hours to get there sometimes. You don't mind the travel when you're younger but it is a long way to go. It always felt like a family club. Other clubs seemed quite corporate. People like Kate and Del Taylor, the backroom staff etc. I used to be sponsored by the DTFC Supporters Club and every year they gave me these little handmade horseshoes. I'd always keep one in my bag and my boy has one of them now. I'll always remember that."
“I’ve got some amazing memories from games over the years. Obviously, the Weymouth ones were epic to play in. The crowd and atmosphere were always special. The play-off final at Exeter was amazing with Gups singing ‘My Way’ on the coach after but personally for me was the game at Crawley in 2003. They were such a great side but we played some great football that day. I scored a brace with the first being a header from a corner, front post. The second was a screamer from a fair old distance into the top corner. We won 3-2... Great memories! “
"It's difficult to sum up my time at the club really as it was my start in the game at that level. The lads and team around me made me believe I could achieve anything. I wasn't the best footballer, as I kept getting told, but it was my first realisation of what a club should be."
With his time at the club has being recognised by the fans with a seat in his name, Brown can't wait to get back to The Avenue to see it: "It's my proudest moment in football. I'm prouder of this than leading Gosport out at Wembley. To have a pat on the back from the people who watched me is such an honour. Anyone I come across I tell them what's happened! I told my wife about it and she's sponsored it with my boy's name, Walter. I'm buzzing."
After five excellent seasons at the Avenue that included silverware and memories still spoken about to this day, Jamie can rightfully take his place in club folklore and will be able to head back to the Avenue for a visit as soon as possible. However soon that may be remains to be seen, but either way, Matty Holmes will probably know a quicker route.
Words: Stuart Voss
Images: Idris Martin
Jamie has kindly been sponsored by his son, Walter. You can sponsor a legend as part of our Sponsor a Seat campaign by clicking here.