Matt Brown began preparation for what would be his final match with Lansing United just as he had for the 13 home matches that had come before for United’s first-ever captain.
In an apartment just off of Abbot Road, less than two miles away from the East Lansing Soccer Complex, in what had become the Brown’s family home away from home for the past two summers, an American twist to his well-established English pregame tradition was on the menu once again.
A little breakfast and then a heavy load of pasta exactly three hours before kickoff.
“Three handfuls, always,” Brown said. “Back home, it’s beans on toast. I always have three pieces of toast and four tins of beans.”
After heartily packing his stomach full of pasta, Brown grabbed the cleats that had been accountable for a club-record 15 career goals which were also inscribed with his daughters’ (Isla, 3 and Sofia, 2) initials and headed to the ELSC for the last time.
“He handles his business like a pro, which is why he has done well for us,” head coach/GM Eric Rudland said. “He takes training and every match very seriously and he really challenges the guys around him to do the same.”
The time leading up to United’s final match was no different for Brown as his consistent professionalism exuded once again. The expected emotions and psychological distractions of a career-ending sendoff were not granted entrance to fog the mind of the captain.
“I was focused,” Brown said. “I was focused on getting a goal for the club and finishing on a good game.”
Which was precisely what Brown accomplished by single-handedly igniting a slumping offense immediately after United and Erie Commodores FC went into halftime drawn 0-0.
Two minutes into the second half, Brown broke the deadlock and scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season. Four minutes following, Brown placed another into the back of the net earning a 2-0 lead on the way to a 3-0 victory in the season’s final match.
“The club has meant so much over the last two years,” Brown said. “It was nice to wrap it up here and finish how we did. I think it was perfect apart from I could have scored three goals (laughs). I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
GARNERING AND RECIPROCATING SUPPORT AS THE FACE OF UNITED
In the 64th minute, Brown walked off the pitch for a final time in Lansing and possibly the last time in his lifelong playing career. He exchanged handshakes and hugs with nearly everyone on the bench and immediately eyed across the pitch and raised his hands for a clap directed towards the rambunctious and respectful Sons of Ransom supporters group who had unrelentlessly repeated the infamous “Super, Super Matt” chant in their captain’s honor.
“I’ve played all levels now and I think it’s near enough time to finish and focus on my coaching and focus on something that’s going to look after my family,” Brown said. “I’m not going to make a living out of the game now, so I should go and make sure I take up something that’s going to look after the family, that’s going to give me a good career.”
With Brown having expectations of attempting to play one final season upon return to his home in Nuneaton, England in August, United’s all-time leading scorer still concluded a special and unique chapter of his lengthy soccer story in Lansing.
“I think it will be tough for him. I know there are a lot of environments (in England) that are just horrible. Teams coached by wheelers and dealers where there’s not a lot of love in the environments,” midfielder Andrew Hill, a former teammate of Brown’s in England and an instrumental character in introducing the idea of Brown playing for United, said after the final match. “So for him to come to a place like this and to be given the captain’s armband, where a lot of people love him around here, it has really meant a lot to him. I’ve talked to him quite a few times about it and he’s definitely going to miss it.”
In a league void of consistent individual club faces or superstars, with the National Premier Soccer League being built on transient rosters comprised of mainly rotating college players, rarely does an NPSL club have a player who fans of all ages and allegiances can identify and gravitate towards as the superstar. An experience that is common among professional sports, but scarce and cherished at the amatuer level.
“Matt helped establish that bond between players and supporters,” Hill said. “I’ve never been in an environment where there has been freindship between the main supporters and the players on the field and he helped establish that foundation and bridge that gap right off the bat. Maybe without him, we wouldn’t have had the relationship we have with the fans that we have today.”
For Brown, United supporters are one of the fundamental reasons he took the pitch every match and the Sons are a unique group that have made his time in Lansing unforgettable after playing the past 10 years with eight different clubs across England, Germany and Belgium before arriving in Lansing.
“I’ve never really experienced many fans that are as dedicated to the club as (the Sons) are,” Brown said. “The stuff they go through for the players, it just makes you want to pay them back with performances like we did (in our final match).”
As for the Sons, Brown has left a similar unforgettable mark in their minds as the club’s first-ever captain.
“He’s been our captain the last two years, he’ll be our captain forever,” Eric Walcott, one of the Sons’ founding members said. “He’ll be that guy that we always think of as the guy who led the team the first couple years.”
MOVING ON, MOVING UP, BUT NEVER ABLE TO FORGET
Brown will return home with his wife Charlotte and their two daughters to Nuneaton on August 18 where he plans to get fit and attempt to play one final season, but with the priority of landing a coaching job on his mind.
“As soon as a good coaching job comes up, I’m going to take the coaching job,” Brown said.
In February, Brown achieved a UEFA B license after nearly a year of training and at a cost of £700 ($1,086), certifying him to coach near the highest levels of European soccer. Two licenses, UEFA A and UEFA Pro, still sit above his license, either of which would qualify him to manage a club in the top levels on a permanent basis.
“Whatever I do, I try and maximize my qualifications,” Brown said. “You don’t need an A license or a Pro license to coach for the academies, but that’s where I want to be. It’s the same as playing the game, you try and learn as much as you can and try and get to the highest level you can. It’s the same in coaching.”
Two years ago, Brown began putting his coaching abilities to the test with Premier League club Leicester City F.C. and hopes to be able to use his connections with the Foxes upon returning to England in search for a high level coaching job.
Upon the Brown’s return to England in mid-August, Matt will be returning to his family’s home with the tifo that was unveiled and presented to him after United’s final match.
The memento will be neatly packed away and personally delivered to the striker’s trophy cabinet that sits in his and Charlotte’s home.
After returning home from Lansing following the 2014 season, Brown cleared a certain area just for Lansing United with an American flag, the ball from his May 18, 2014 hat trick against Michigan Stars FC, a United scarf, as well as other keepsakes that represent Lansing.
“Thank you to everyone for making it a very special two years and giving me and my family memories and friendships that will stay with us for rest of our lives,” Brown said in a final goodbye. “I want to thank Jeremy and his wife Gena for creating the atmosphere which as led to my opportunity. I want to thank Eric (Rudland) and the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity and for also giving me the captain’s armband for the last two years which has been an honor. Last thing, thank you for making the last game very memorable. It could not have ended any better. The banner was perfect. Thank you and God bless from myself and my family. Hope to see you all in the future.”
Matt Brown Career Statistics:
Games played: 27 (2nd)
Minutes: 2,017 (2nd)
Goals: 17 (1st)
Multi-goal games: 6 (1st)
Assists: 2 (4th)
Points: 36 (1st)
Shots: 70 (1st)