Book Review: Brown Out! by Brian Belton

I spent most of my flight to Washington reading a new book by Brian Belton (author of several Hammers related tomes) called BROWN OUT! It was a slightly weird book in some ways – neither one thing nor the other. It was part biography, part hagiography, part history of the last decade or so at Upton Park. It certainly puts Terry Brown’s side of the story – and no bad thing too, but I did wonder how the book had actually come about. As a commercial enterprise I can’t see how it can have worked, so the reader is left asking if Mr Brown dipped into his substantial pockets to contribute to the costs of writing and publishing it. If that was the case, the reader should have been told somewhere in the book. But maybe I am nitpicking.

Belton writes in an engaging manner and isn’t backward in inserting himself into the narrative. On occasion this can irritate, but there’s no doubt about it that the man is a Hammer through and through, so he usually gets away with it as the reader can easily relate to his own experience.

Although I quite enjoyed the book I felt there were some incidents which were glossed over a little – Harry Redknapp’s departure being one. If you’re going to write a book like this you need to give the reader some kind of insight or detail that he hadn’t had before. In this, I think Belton fails in a number of areas. Anyone who reads this book is going to have quite a bit of knowledge about what happened, so a rehash of the facts isn’t going to suffice. It has to be said that on other occasions Belton does indeed give good insight into what went on – the Bond saga being a prime example. In his description of the players’ reaction and the financial aspects, he tolf me quite a bit that I didn’t know.

So all in all, this book is like the curate’s egg – good in parts. But well worth a read.



13 Responses to Book Review: Brown Out! by Brian Belton

  1. Steve Bull says:

    DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK….. It took long enough to get rid of the vermin that is BRO…. (Can’t even bring myself to say his name) so why should we continue to give him the exposure he continues to crave. You will never be forgotten Mr Brown so by not buying this book, we will be helping to put him back under that stone from whence he came. Rant over. Cheers.

  2. Brian Belton says:

    ‘Brown Out’ is a book that concerns itself partly with the nature of justice. It does not demand that its readers to be ‘forgetful’, in fact it contains a few reminders about the nature of events, many of which have been generally remembered mostly according to tabloid sensationalism.
    A vivid memory I called upon in writing the book was the advice of Professor Ifor Edwards. In his retirement years during the 1970s Ifor made the journey from his North Wales home twice a week to teach young training teachers, social workers and youth workers at North East London Polytechnic about social history. He was an ardent supporter of Swansea City, but he wasn’t wrong about everything. He would constantly remind his students, most of whom like myself were working in the East End of London, ‘Look at both sides of the coin, particularly the other side.’ ‘Brown Out’ tries to do this.
    I learnt a great deal about Terry Brown as a club Chairman by looking at his early days. I believe it is hard not to. How Brown progressed from sweeping factory floors to running a multimillion pound business must tell the reader something quite powerful about the man; about determination and focus and fighting against the odds. Part of the mechanics of the discrimination levelled at Brown is that he has been seen as someone who made his money out of West Ham and that is where his personal history began and ended. This is not so. He arrived at Upton Park a wealthy man and in fact did not need, in terms of his personal financial situation, an income from football administration (a notion that would have been laughable in the 1980s).

    Brown was consulted about the book, but was quite insistent that I write the book in the way I wanted. He was generous in his advice and allowed me some accesses to the masses of material he has connected with his dealings with the club; he did want the book to be accurate, but then so did I! There is of course a much more elaborate story to be told, but that will have to wait until time and conditions allow.
    The vast majority of material that has been written about Brown seems to be basically ill informed and/or based on hearsay and red-top page-filler gossip. My book attemts to say something different about Brown’s reign at Upton Park (and this of course cannot avoid going over areas that many of us know a bit about), but as a committed historian of the club (13 books to date) I do question what has been written previously even though I have found much of it is patently incorrect and I have not been in any way a tool of Terry Brown.

    There is much I haven’t given Brown praise for that perhaps he deserves. The West Ham Learning Zone and community work (I have done a great deal of work with this facet of the club and Brown was a good friend to the Learning Zone during his time at West Ham) are cases on point. These have sparked interest in local and personal history and aided literacy achievements amongst some of Newham’s most neglected young people.
    Do you ‘remember’ the campaign run by the Sun to keep the Bobby Moore collection in the UK? It was the West Ham Board under Brown that bought the collection for the club and set up the museum. That has been closed because our history seems to mean nothing to anyone now running the club (or to the likes of Matthew it seems). One day maybe other club’s with a great heritage, such as Man U, Celtic, Rangers, Liverpool and Arsenal will close their museums but somehow I doubt it.
    Brown is often taken to task for making a profit from his shares that he bought for the asking price and sold to someone who would pay the money he got for them. If this is problematic then the entire society needs to change to come into line with his ethical norms. When you sell your house, don’t take the best market price, rather sell it pretty much close to what you paid for it!
    The claims that Brown borrowed from the club in order to purchase his initial stake were not covered in the book because of the evidence that he borrowed one penny from the club when he purchased his shares. Without this the claim is just groundless. I never came across any evidence for this and the club’s financial records exist so this ‘claim’ can be checked out. Under the Companies Acts a company cannot make loans to anyone for the purchase of its own shares. This is different from a structured “buy back”.
    I have made no attempt to write an apology for Terry Brown and he certainly hasn’t looked for one. History evolves as we come to know more about the past. As a historian I must write according to what I find out more than according to what I am told by unreliable secondary sources.
    The Nazis were perhaps the most infamous group that wanted history to remain unquestioned and yes it is probably safer just to ‘leave it alone’ (keep schtom). But ignorance is what underlies all prejudice and discrimination is literally a lack of wider knowledge. My grandfather, with the rest of stokers at Beckton Gas, faced up to Mosely’s brown shirts on the streets of East London. He fought the Nazis in Norway and my uncle helped liberate the concentration camps. My mum and dad spent the War dodging Hitler’s bombs and I marched with the seminal Anti-Nazi league as a young man from Burke Secondary Modern School in Plaistow. Across the years West Ham were always there. I would never purposely do those people who loved the club down. You will understand that it is hard for me not to tell the truth as I understand it; that justice is important to me. But if I am proved wrong then I will put my hands up and stand corrected and watch history be made more accurate.
    We are unwilling to even review our precious prejudices because it is a hard task; even committing to them over our dead bodies – we rely on them to make sense of the world when nothing seems to make sense (hence the brown shirts). But everything moves on. Even the way we (including me) see Terry Brown. ‘Brown Out’ does point out the mistakes the board made over the last part of the 20th Century and it does not try to change anybodies mind – people change people’s minds not books on West Ham, no matter how much a writer might like to think so. It is a view based on a relatively new or different perspective; it condemns no one and exists as an homage to the club’s supporters. It is they and not Brown, who are quite clearly the heroes of the book.

  3. chris says:

    A very confusing time for me as a fan,losing quality players then buying afew cheap ones all the time ,booing in the stands,who was to blame for the loss of so many good players ,using west ham to fund other business ventures,not buying a striker when they all got injured the season we went down with roeder,infact im still not sure what happened perhaps because i dont want to.

  4. Brian Belton says:

    Just to clear up the question about Terry Brown’s involvement with ‘Brown Out’ – he in no way sponsored it or commissioned it. The book was commissioned by the publiser in the normal way. It terms of sales it is doing ok, but like most books in terms of the writer it will be doing well if it covers the costs of writing it. ‘Brown Out’ niether set out to do down Brown nor big him up, it seeks to set out events as close to the facts as possible. For sure, if you want to just believe everything that gets published in the papers best not to buy the book, but most of the people doing that writing are not fans but folk wanting to (understandably) grab headlines and get reader’s attention by route one – provoking outrage, anger and resentment. But fair play, we know that happens and no one tries to make out otherwise. There is no evidence to show that Brown used West Ham to fund other business ventures, as the book shows he came to West Ham with his own wealth well established with a rock solid business portfolio that generated its own resources. Using West Ham as a sort of informal bank was niether possible or desirable given Brown’s business position and the external controls via company law. Time to move on maybe?

  5. col says:

    The fact that the book ios called Brown out yet delves very little into the brown out/whislte campaign shows that it has not really covered the Brown years in full.

    It doesn´t delve into why brown was making half a million a year out of the club or any other of the points raised by these campaigns to oust him. Had it done so we may have seen a very different book.

  6. crazyhorse says:

    Brown is a toe rag and we dont need the media to convince us of what he is.And that statement written by you Mr Belton was splashed on knees up mother brown days ago,and i still hate brown and no book or any of its literature will change that.Good riddance to him, now west ham can always look forward instead of having to scrimp and scrape like we did when brown was in charge,and we wont have to look over our shoulfer at the relegation zone again.We now have a great chairman and the future is bright

  7. Steve Bull says:

    Sorry Mr Belton but I think you’ve ‘boobed’ big time writing this book. You’re going to be accused of attempting to ‘smooth things over’ by association and that is a foolish move in my book. Perhaps you should have gauged the feelings towards Mr Brown a little better before embarking on your latest venture? I do hope it doesn’t jeopardise future book sales as I have brought and read some of your previous publications and found them a good read. Good luck.

  8. andrew says:

    Good on you Brian, I am a hammer and you also taught me at the YM many years ago.
    I can certainly understand the frustration that many fans felt about Brown and unfortunately old habits die hard.

    Not sure why it was important that this book was written but if we are to consider all aspects of past events of the club then it may turn out to be an important book in historical terms. I don’t go with the apologist notion that other fans have writen here or am I interested in holding ‘irrational’ resentments. Of course mistakes were made at board level but tell me what board at any club in this country has not made mistakes.

    I too will read this book because I would rather have an informed perspective and be prepared to revise my own ideas and feelings of the brown era.

    We are now in a new chapter at west ham and who knows what the future will hold for us all? However, lets all make sure we fully understand the past and move on from it as you say.

    Keep up the good work Brian, there are plenty of us who will recognise the significance of your work in relation to west ham.

  9. WHU Kim says:

    I know Brown was a life long Hammer, I saw him at enough reserve games whilst he was Chairman to understand that. It still does not make up for the fact that as a chairman of a football club he reigned over some of the most embarrassing and tainted periods at the club. He he was a wealthy man, which as already pointed out, makes the excess salary even more unacceptable. I wont be buying the book to read how he was misunderstood or whatever other excuses are being put up. There was no misunderstanding seeing some of the countries finest youth products being sold off, there was no misunderstanding listening to him saying it was our turn to go down, to appoint the hapless Roeder because he was a cheap option, to pay Redknapp £300,000 not to sell Rio. As for the author saying time to move on, if that’s the case why bring out a book!

  10. Rob says:

    So, he was a wealthy man and didn’t need an income from football administration. Maybe you should explain, then, why he had a massive salary – over £500,000 pa, 3rd highest in the Premier League at one time – plus massive pension contributions, plus bonus payments in the £000’s for league positions etc. Not much information concerning these extra payments was generally known until the official offer document from the Icelanders was released.

    It seems, Mr Belton, that you have some perverse desire to prove everybody wrong when the facts are there for all to see.

    Brown was an amateur, his business methods were a sham and he ran WHU like a back street builders with no real planning.

    By his own admission WHU were only days away from administration when Chelsea suddenly appeared with £6m for Johnson. Make that into sound business control if you can.

    Martin Samuel some years ago explained all of Brown’s history, and how his buisness methods had caused so many problems for WHU and I really can’t see what your book offers as an addition to the information that is already in the public domain.

    And I have to wonder whether you really want to inform the world about Mr Brown, or you’ve simply run out of topics.

  11. nr2iron says:

    The great thing about all this is that Brown actually is out and at points of my life i thought he would be chairman forever and in that scenario we as a football club could NEVER have moved forward and for that reason i have no interest in reading about his good(sic) points.

  12. Chris Scull says:

    I’ve just finished the book and I have to say how underwhelmed and cheated I feel..

    The entire book is a Terry Brown puff piece without question. You’ll struggle to find a single criticism of the man- who’s track record UNDOUBTEDLY leads ample room for critic. For a book called ‘Brown Out’ to be so ‘pro’ the subject to which it seeks to objectively analyse smacks of farce.

    The prose is both inconsistent, oxymoronic and blatantly biased; the text is strewn with examples of this.

    Belton will criticize the Bond scheme but somehow liberate Brown of any blame- then close the chapter in question by saying its invention was the act of a ‘classy… and slick entrepreneur’. He criticizes its invention but marvels at Brown’s capitalist ideologies. Here’s a criticism- Arsenal’s board invested in their own bond scheme, Terry Brown didn’t. Mug off in that regard.

    Belton is overly and brutally critical of Redknapp, Pardew and to a lesser extent Bonds, yet somehow concludes with more a less a list of all their accomplishments under the proviso of ‘all Brown achieved in his time as Chairman’ at the conclusion. I just don’t understand how Belton could have done this- I found this conclusion to the ‘Brown homage book’ even more of a slap in the face as a reader. If Redknapp was so useless why did Brown keep him for as long as he did. If Pardew was ill-prepared for management why did Brown appoint him and refuse to sack him? If Redknapp was such a spendthrift why did Brown continue to sign the cheques? (Redknapp is even accused of selling Lampard in one bile-filled chapter, this as everyone knows, he did not).

    I lost count of the platitudes dished out to Brown throughout the book- it seeks to defend him and his honour throughout to the point where Belton runs out of platitudes and repeats them in the conclusion. As if there was any doubt before the book even starts there is a disclaimer to say Terry always acted in the best interests of West Ham to the authors knowledge and an acknowledgement of thanks to Terry and his wife!

    Belton’s obvious disdain for supporters action groups, from HISA to WHISTLE, is as transparent as it is pro-Brown. The protesters are painted as adolescent naïve troublemakers while Brown emerges a West Ham saint on a divine mission to save the club in the face of adversity.

    Furthermore, in Belton’s desperation to leave the reader without doubt as to the kind of ‘saviour’ Brown is we’re told damn right lies.

    “The profit he made from his sale of shares after many years would probably have been bettered if he had invested his time, effort and money he sank into West Ham elsewhere”- Pg 261.

    As Terry will tell you himself, and as Paul Aldridge told me, Terry and his board never, EVER, invested any of their own money into the club. And a return of 30 odd million, without even counting his wages and bonus throughout his tenure, you think he could have done better than that?! Get out of town.

    If the book makes a statement and error like this any reader can be in no doubt about what else lies in store. From the reference to ‘BAG Windows’ being a team sponsor in the early 90’s to the fact that the book includes pictures of the ‘Tabor protests’ yet never mentions Michael Tabor or his offer once, this book is poorly researched, biased and lacking anything new or interesting about the entire era. Indeed all relating to Terry’s early years seems to be taken word for word from an interview Terry did for The Times a few years ago.

    The prose is additionally convoluted and strewn with superfluous, but nonetheless impressive big words, and I dare any reader to find the quotations at the start of each chapter anything less than pretentious.

    If anyone is in any doubt about what I have to say here then go to the bookshop a read a page or two of the conclusion. I feel cheated and remain convinced Terry Brown wrote this farcical book himself.

  13. John B says:

    “Brown Out – Cash In ?”

    For an accomplished West Ham historian and chronicler, who so firmly establishes his roots in the local area, I like most find it staggering that Belton can write so comfortable an apologia for Terry Brown. That is of course until you realise that every Blog and reply resounds to the ‘Ker-ching’ of the cash register. I have not and will not buy or read this book. I have no issue with contributing to Mr Belton’s bank balance, what I do object to is being manipulated into doing so.

    I do not doubt the credentials of Belton’s roots or passion, but in writing this book he has entirely neglected a fundamental aspect of the whole debacle. He repeatedly affirms his desire to seperate ‘fact’ from tabloid sensationalism, and above he states that “I must write according to what I find out more than according to what I am told by unreliable secondary sources.”

    This is at best naive and at worst outright divisive. You cannot write a history of Terence Brown’s tenure at West Ham from a supposedly objective standpoint and then ask the very people who were so deeply affected by it to sit back and simply accept it as ‘the truth.’ As a historian Belton knows only too well that history is not the dry, empirical collection of ‘facts,’ and the ‘truth’ is not the correct ordering of these facts to suit one viewpoint or another.

    Historical facts are only ever of any use when viewed in context: their cause & effect, what they subsequently lead to, and the impact they have at that time. It is a fact that Brown arrived at West Ham already a wealthy man, it is a fact that there was nothing illegal about his buy back of shares and it is a fact that there was also nothing illegal about the Bond Scheme.

    It is also a fact that Brown invested less than £2 million in West Ham and left with close to £40 million and (until the board decided otherwise) an income of 1.5 million per year. It is also a fact that he used the shares he bought at a pittance, to ensure his reign over the club, to force out the likes of the Gold brothers, and to deter any other potential suitors, until his retirement fund was guaranteed by television rights and foreign investment.

    It was also a sad fact that hundreds of life long supporters like my father tore up their Season Tickets in protest at the Bond Scheme in which Brown was instrumental. I watched and remember well the ticket confetti littering the pitch at the end of that season – you won’t find that fact in any balance sheet, Brown archive or report from Companies House – yet please do not forget that I like the thousands of my fellow Season Ticket holders am of course merely “an unreliable secondary source.”

    Five years ago today our club were just weeks away from relegation with publicly declared debt of £63 million. Debt incurred as a result of a building programme that seemed to have no contingency in it’s business plan for the Championship. What we really needed was an astute chairman with a background in finance and accountancy to put together a stable, long term strategy to get the club back to the cash rich Premiership as soon as possible.

    What we got in return for our loyalty was a fire sale of the only assets capable of doing so. Brown’s rescue package was lauded by accountants as little short of miraculous. The board nestled in the safety of parachute payments to keep the Banks at bay, and both relished and relied upon a couple of profitable promotion struggles to keep the Bentleys gleaming and salaries unchecked.

    “Everything moves on,” continues Belton “even the way we (including me) see Terry Brown.” No it doesn’t. Belton knows as well as I do that West Ham fans will not forgive the years of Brown’s financial mismanagement. As much as the board got fat on the fierce loyalty that kept the turnstiles revolving through the Championship seasons, so Belton will feed off our resentment and anger from the hardback launch, through the paperback months and long after ‘Brown Out’ languishes in the remainder bins and book clubs.

    My father died in 1996 having never again set foot in Upton Park. I continue to renew my Season Ticket – fact.

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