In March 1995 at the age of 18 Andy Brownrigg left Edgar Street to join then Premier League side Norwich City for £100,000. He had played 8 Football League games for Hereford United and was tipped for stardom, but just over 10 years later he was homeless and addicted to drink, drugs and gambling. He was admitted to the Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic in 2008 and has turned his life around.
Matt Healey continues the series.
Andy Brownrigg was born in Sheffield on the 2nd August 1976. Hence why he was given the nickname “Sheff” and not because he was a Jamie Oliver fan.
Its a mild and clear January morning as we conduct the telephone interview and I’m looking out of the window towards Hereford Racecourse and picturing the scene “I’ve got some great memories of running around the track for our training exercises when I played for Hereford United” Brownrigg tells me.
He started out as a YTS at Rotherham United, but ended up being sacked from the club “We use to get free tickets for games in the Yorkshire area, I used to think I was a bit of an entrepreneur and used to sell the tickets to my mates to make a bit of extra cash. I got found out and was then thrown out of the club”
Brownrigg then got a job away from football. “My dad said I had to get a income. I could have gone to Peterborough United, but I was homesick. I ended up getting a job at McDonalds. I did it for about three weeks and realised it wasn’t for me, so thought football may be the best option”
Brownrigg would join Hereford United in the Summer of 1993. “What helped me was I was one of the youngest in my year so I effectively got another season out of it. Greg Downs was the manager, I knew of him as a winner of the FA Cup when he was at Coventry City in 1987. We had Alan Judge as the 1st team goalkeeper too and he had a successful time at Oxford United playing in the top flight during the 1980’s”
Neil MacKenzie was at Edgar Street as a YTS player alongside with Brownrigg. MacKenzie would leave Edgar Street due to a “fallout” He would go on to play in the Football League and have a decent career for the likes of Blackpool and Stoke City. Incidentally MacKenzie briefly returned to Edgar Street on loan in 2006 during the Graham Turner era “Me and Neil were quite similar, as we had our problems off the field, even though we were talented players”
It was youth team manager John Layton who had a huge impact on Brownrigg’s career “I was a centre forward to start with, but John converted me to centre half. He kept me in check. I remember feeling a bit homesick and telling my dad that I wasn’t enjoying John’s method’s. My dad told me he must think something of you as if he didn’t care he wouldn’t try to help you, so I kept at it. John’s relationship towards me thawed. He was like a father figure to me, I remember being in a bed and breakfast in Hereford, but he helped me get digs with a lovely couple called Pat and Paul Davis, they had a young son called Neil who was a swimmer. John looked after me massively”
On the 26th December 1994 Hereford United were humiliated 7-1 away at Mansfield Town. Brownrigg witnessed the debacle in the stands “I went back home to Sheffield to spend Christmas with my family, my dad saw Hereford were playing away at Mansfield so we went to the game, it was only about 30 miles away, we got absolutely thrashed. Anyhow Tony James got injured that afternoon and on the way home John Layton who was now manager called me. John said he was going to start me and fellow YTS player Rob Warner in the game the following day against Exeter City”
“We were both so nervous, but at least we could be nervous together. It was a right scrap, muddy pitch, but we won 3-0 and I got a taste for first team action”
Brownrigg would play a total of 8 league games for Hereford and also starred in a Auto Windscreen Shield game against Birmingham City. “It was a real whirlwind for me as I had gone from playing youth team football to playing in front of a crowd of over 22,000 at St Andrews. I was marking Steve Claridge that evening. I kept him in check and I think thats when clubs started to take notice of me”
Brownrigg would play alongside the current Aston Villa manager Dean Smith. Brownrigg speaks highly of the former Hereford captain “He was a leader and he has gone on to show it by his managerial career. He would inspire me, but was quick to put the reigns on me. He was a humble bloke with a calm head”
Even though Brownrigg only played 8 football league games for Hereford United he had the experience of youth, reserve and first team football “In the reserves we tended to play the big clubs like Aston Villa and Wolves, it gave me a lot of resilience and I would learn a lot from defeat as the opposition were far superior”
Brownrigg would depart to Premier League Norwich City for a fee of £100,000 in March 1995, he was just 18 years of age at the time.
“I was hearing that a lot of clubs were interested in me and John Layton pulled me aside to say that Norwich wanted to take me on trial with a view to a permanent move. We were playing away at Scunthorpe United and I ended up not going with the team and instead I headed down to Norfolk to train at Carrow Road. Training went well and they signed me”
Brownrigg was on the Norwich subs bench on the 1st April 1995 away at Arsenal. Warming up alongside the likes of Tony Adams and Ian Wright at Highbury.
“As strange as it sounds now there was no player liaison officer at Norwich I was in a hotel for about six months, then I got some relocation money and found somewhere to live. I basically had to get on with it”
A change of managers at Carrow Road didn’t help Brownrigg’s cause. “John Deehan got sacked, then there was Martin O’Neill too, we had something like 3 managers in 12 months”
Even though from the outside Brownrigg had the world at his feet, he struggled with the pressures. “I had ways of coping to try and escape. When I came off the pitch I lacked the life skills. I didn’t concentrate at school. My way of coping was gambling, drinking and drugs”
Brownrigg continued “When I was a boy I just wanted to be a footballer, when I got older I was more interested in drinking in the bar after the game”
Brownrigg would sadly not make a first team appearance for Norwich City and would go out on loan to Kettering and Stalybridge Celtic. He also had a brief spell back at Rotherham but had another setback when he was struck in the face with a hammer and received facial injuries. His attacker went to prison.
He would join Kidderminster Harriers in 1999 and was part of the GM Vauxhall Conference title winning team that won promotion to the Football League.
He had a brief spell in Scotland with Greenock Morton and then played the rest of his career with non league clubs on a part time basis in the Sheffield area. He became a youtube sensation when this song video of him playing for Buxton was shared on social media.
Brownrigg was working as a plasterer when he decided he wanted to try something different “I wanted to get some education. I ended up enrolling on a college course and went to university. I was still having problems. My then ex girlfriend at the time and me had a huge row. I was gambling but was denying it to her, I was gaslighting her and trying to blame her for my issues, she walked out and I realized that I had a problem. I was sleeping on my mum and dads sofa and I knew I had to get help”
Brownrigg continued “I was admitted to the Tony Adams Sporting Chance clinic. The website link shows what they do -> www.sportingchanceclinic.com I knew I had issues with my gambling, but they did an assessment on me and said that the drink and drugs were also affecting me. It took me a while to admit that, but I had an epiphany around 2008. We had a famous player come and speak to us and I realized I needed to do something about my life. I haven’t gambled or touched drugs or alcohol since that day”
Brownrigg was in the final year of his dissertation “As soon as I stopped my vices I went from being a 2:2 student to a first class student. I got 85% and achieved the highest mark in my class. It was an amazing shift as to where I was 12 months previously”
On 16 July 2009, Brownrigg graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the university of Huddersifeld. In recognition of his achievements and research area, the University offered Brownrigg a PhD Scholarship in 2009.
Brownrigg’s research interests lied within the area of transition, with a specific focus on the experiences of professional footballers’ during sporting exit/career transition.
In October 2012, Brownrigg’s research gained recognition by British psychological society. He also performed a lecture to pupils at Derby University which you can watch below.
“I ended up working for the Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic and also was involved in a charity in London helping people in hospitality with addictions. There is a lot of drink and drugs around the industry and I wanted to used my experience to help people”
Brownrigg was now more settled in his family life. “I got married to Rachael and we had a couple of children. We run a company called Medex Learning. Have a look at our website www.medexgroup.co.uk, we did some work in Herefordshire recently”
Brownrigg finishes by looking back fondly of his time at Edgar Street “They were the best years of my career, being part of the youth system and making the first team was brilliant. I remember John Layton would join us in training, on the pitch he was like Chopper Harris and really old school. On hindsight when I signed for Norwich I should have insisted that the deal meant I would go back to Hereford on loan , they were fun, great times at Edgar Street and I should have gone back there to finish my footballing education”