Matt Healey continues the series.
John Brough was born in Heanor in the county of Derbyshire on the 8th January 1973. He was a youth player at Notts County under Neil Warnock, then after leaving Meadow Lane was signed by Shrewsbury Town and spent two seasons at Gay Meadow.
He was released by the Shrews that summer but had played in a reserve game for Hereford at the end of the 1993/1994 season.
Brough told me “I knew Tim Steele at Hereford and he fixed me up with a reserve match. I played up front and I scored in a 1-0 win. Hereford Manager Greg Downs invited me to join the squad for the following pre season and I spent two weeks on trial. It was the old saying they didnt have enough in the budget, so I had a call from George Foster and spent the early part of the 1994/1995 season playing non league for Telford United in the GM Vauxhall Conference”
I asked him how he managed to get back in the professional game at Hereford United “John Layton then took over as manager and called me up. He initially wanted to sign me on a non contract basis, but we agreed a deal to the end of the season. The club had a few injuries and some money in the budget and I ended up signing”
Brough would make his Hereford debut coming on as a sub in a 1-0 defeat at Chesterfield on the 5th November 1994.
Brough was a versatile player and could play as centre half, or as a target man up front. I asked him what role he preffered.
“I started out as a striker, but in training would play in 5 a side games as a defender and it grew from that. I enjoyed the challenge of stopping an attacker. As a striker my weakness was I didn’t score enough goals. I would do the jobs like run the channels and win headers but I didn’t score enough.
After a humiliating 7-1 defeat at Mansfield Town on Boxing Day 1994. Brough made his first appearance as a striker for Hereford and he led the attack alongside Nicky Cross the following day in a 3-0 win at home to Exeter City.
He scored his first Hereford goal by opening the scoring in a 2-2 draw at Colchester on New Years Eve 1994.
Brough would then lead the attack for the Bulls until the end of January 1995, but then reverted back to centre half pairing with either Dean Smith or Andy Brownrigg.
Brownrigg was sold to Premier League Norwich City in March 1995 for £100,000 and Brough would then partner Smith at the heart of the Hereford defence. The late Dick Bate had arrived as coach and under his influence he shored up the Hereford defence. “Dick Bate was ahead of his time, he was a great coach. His detail was mind blowing. I was only around 21 so to be coached properly by Dick was brilliant for me”
An injury sustained in a 1-0 win at Torquay on 1st April 1995 meant Brough’s season was over. Hereford had picked up after the humiliating defeat at Mansfield on Boxing Day 1994 and only lost 5 of the last 22 matches. Optimism was high for next season.
Brough signed a new one year deal ahead of the 1995/1996 season. Former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers gaffer Graham Turner had taken over as manager. “Graham installed a lot more discipline in the squad. Tim Steele had played under him at Wolves and he told us he would sort us out. He was a very experienced manager”
The opening game of the season was played in glorious sunshine and the Bulls defeated Barnet 4-1 on the 12th August 1995. Brough scoring Hereford’s 2nd goal. The game is famously remembered for Hereford goalkeeper Chris MacKenzie scoring Hereford’s 3rd that afternoon.
An injury sustained in late August 1995 meant Brough was out of the side until December 1995. He made his return in a 1-1 draw at home to Colchester United.
Hereford had reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup and faced Premier League Tottenham Hotspur at Edgar Street on the 6th January 1996. This was when top flight teams would take the competition seriously.
“A couple of days before the game we went to a Warner hotel (Holme Lacey House) and that relaxed us all. There was no pressure on us”
“We were going to give it our best shot. The mood in the squad was relaxed. We were the underdogs and had nothing to lose. Graham (Turner) was especially relaxed as there wasn’t the pressure of a league game and 3 points”
Ronnie Rosenthal put Spurs in front, then Brough equalised in front of a packed Meadow End to secure a 1-1 draw and a lucrative replay at White Hart Lane.
“We should have won the first game, Dean Smith missed a penalty in the 2nd half when we were 1-0 down, we more than matched a very good Tottenham side, I just think on the day they didn’t fancy it. The pitch wasn’t good and that was our best chance to win the tie. Dick Bate (Hereford Coach) deserves credit for the goal. It was similar to my goal against Barnet the first game of the season. We used to spend Thursday afternoon working on set pieces. It was a corner whipped in to the near post. We had a little routine where four players in two groups of two would spin off and I got my head onto it and scored”
In the replay Hereford would lose 5-1 at White Hart Lane.
In the league though Hereford then went on a fantastic run of form which saw the club reach the 3rd Division Play Offs. In the last 12 games out of a possible 36 points up for grabs, the Bulls secured 28. I asked him if the Tottenham games gave the team confidence “Money was always tight at Edgar Street , that injection of cash from the two games helped the club. We had some great players back then, the likes of Keith Downing, Murray Fishlock, Richard Wilkins, Tony James and Steve White”
Hereford would play a 3-5-2 system “It wasn’t as rigid as that, It was a bit lop sided we had Murray Fishlock on the left who would run up and down, then on the right Darren Evans would link up to Tony Pounder who was an out and out right winger.
Brough missed out on the play off semi final defeat to Darlington due to injury. “Darlington were a good team. We didn’t want to draw them and would have preferred Colchester or Plymouth. They seemed to have a hold over us that season” (Darlington beat Hereford four times that campaign)
After the Darlington game we all had a meeting with Graham Turner. “A lot of the experienced players left. I was shocked Stuart Watkiss had been released. He came in towards the end of the season and was a fantastic defender”
Brough would agreed terms on a new contract for the 1996/1997 season. There was a high turnover of playing staff at Edgar Street. The squad had major surgery that close season. The experience of Steve White, Richard Wilkins, Tony James, Nicky Cross and Neil Lyne had moved on, the new intake at Edgar Street included Quentin Townsend, Adrian Foster, Dave Norton, Gavin Mahon and Ian Foster, whereas Chris Hargreaves and Andy deBont who had been on loan the previous campaign had now signed permanently.
“We had a lot of young players at the club who probably weren’t ready for 3rd Division football. We got found out. Gavin Mahon later went and played in the Premier League for Watford, but a lot of the players were inexperienced”
I asked Brough of his memories of playing Middlesbrough in the League Cup. “We started ok in the 1st leg at the Riverside, but they had Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli up front.”
“I went to take out Juninho, back in the era when a defender could do that, but he just bounced off me. We got battered 7-0”
In the 2nd leg at Edgar Street we lost 3-0, they changed the team around but they still had internationals like Mikkel Beck and Jan Age Fjortoft playing, so the score was 10-0 on aggregate. We did ok keeping it that low!!”
Brough made 39 league appearances during the 1996/1997 season and continued to show his versatility by playing either in defence or attack. He scored Hereford’s 2nd goal in a 3-1 win at Chester City on 26th October 1996.
The 1996/1997 campaign Hereford ended up finishing bottom of the league and were relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference.
In an end of season shootout on the 3rd May 1997. The final game of the season was against Brighton. To stay in the Football League Hereford needed to win. Brighton needed a win or a draw.
The game ended 1-1. Brough played alongside in central defence with Trevor Matthewson that sad afternoon. “We normally got crowds of around 2,500 so to see around 8,000 in the stadium reminded me of the atmosphere of the Tottenham game. It was a very tense occasion. We had three strikers up front that day. Adrian Foster, Tony Agana and John Williams”
“We were confident we had more than enough at home to win the match. We probably didn’t work the keeper hard enough and should have had a penalty near the end. It was horrible to see experienced players in tears in the dressing room after the game, but we finished bottom of the league and deserved to go down”
Despite accruing 47 points, which would normally most seasons keep you up. It was sods law that in the 1996/1997 season the rules had changed. Usually when a team is level on points, the usual system of goal difference would kick in, but that season it was changed to goals scored, and with Hereford scoring less than Brighton, and with both clubs level on 47 points, Hereford went down by just 3 goals. If it had been on goal difference then the Bulls would have survived.
It was tough for Brough to take. “I was part of the team that took Hereford down and I won’t ever forget that. Graham Turner immediately offered his resignation after the game. I was one of the senior players who went to see him in his office to persuade him to carry on”
Brough was initially released by Hereford United in the close season of 1997, but during pre season ended up agreeing terms for the 1997/1998 campaign. “I had a letter in the post saying my contract wasn’t going to be renewed, but then had a phone call from the club inviting me down for a chat and we agreed on terms for another season”
Graham Turner would stay on as manager and bought in Neil Grayson from Northampton Town for £20,000, he also added to the squad with the signings of Ian Rodgerson from Cardiff City and Richard Walker from Notts County.
Hereford were a non league club for the first time since 1972 and the club were financially struggling. In fact a charity auction took place in December 1997 at the Green Dragon to auction football shirts to raise a bit of extra cash. “We had a bad start to the season. Even though we were full time it was a physical league. We were under performing but picked up after Christmas . All the players had a bit of an open discussion around that time and after that things seemed to click into place and we started to win matches”
Due to the financial pressures the players sometimes went 6 weeks without wages “It was difficult, we had a car school. The likes of Richard Walker, Neil Grayson and Trevor Matthewson travelled down with me, but we needed money to fill up our cars, we had mortgages to pay. I remember one game being paid in notes and coins, as the club paid us with the gate receipts from the match. Those were tough times, in two years the club had gone from being in the 3rd Division Play Offs to being non league and not being able to get any help from the PFA”
Halifax Town with the goals of Geoff Horsfield would run away with the league championship and Hereford ended the season in 6th position. In the modern era this would have secured a play off place for the Bulls but back then there was no 2nd promotion place and only the champions went up.
In one of his final Hereford appearances Brough scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win at Cheltenham Town on Easter Monday 1998. “I wasn’t feeling to great that morning, we were in a hotel having our pre match meal and Graham (Turner) told me I was playing up front with Tony Agana, it gave me a boost and lifted me a bit. By the game we started the match I felt fine. Rob Warner put in a superb cross and I headed it past Steve Book. There were lots of Hereford fans in the ground and we won 2-1”
Due to the financial climate at Hereford Brough would leave the club in the summer of 1998. “At the time Hereford hadn’t offered me anything and Steve Cotterill at Cheltenham phoned me up. He liked the fact I could play in two positions. I also had contact from Ilkeston as well. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t heard anything from Hereford, but the secretary Joan Fennessey called me up and said they would like to renew my contract. I spoke again to Steve Cotterill and he sold the club to me so I signed for Cheltenham”
I asked Brough did that make him a part time player “Yeah, I had to get a job at a furniture company in Derby working 7-4 then having to travel to Cheltenham to play.”
Brough would link up with ex Bull Neil Grayson at the Gloucestershire club and soon after Dave Norton and Richard Walker would follow.
“You won’t get a better pro than Dave Norton. He was injured at Hereford in most of his 2nd season and the club released him. He started training at Cheltenham and probably the part time situation helped him. When we returned to Edgar Street (20th February 1999) Dave got a lot of unnecessary abuse from the Hereford fans, they thought he had left Hereford to join Cheltenham, but the fact was Hereford released him. I didn’t get any stick but Dave went to take a corner and was met with verbal abuse, coins and spit, we won the game 2-0 and it was a great win for us”
Cheltenham would finish the 1998/1999 season as GM Vauxhall Conference champions and would play in the Football League for the first time in their history.
Brough would stay at Whaddon Road until 2005 making 136 appearances and scoring 6 goals. He achieved two promotions at the club as the Robins reached the equivalent of League One.
Brough then played non league at Aldershot Town and Newport County before retiring from the game.
He later became a manager and returned to Edgar Street in 2017 as the boss of North Leigh.
He very nearly became manager of the newly formed Hereford FC in 2015 “I got down to the last two, it was me or Pete Beadle. The club went with Beadle”
“I called Pete soon after he got the job and congratulated him on his appointment, he was my old manager at Newport, He did a great job at Hereford with three promotions, there were no hard feelings”
Brough is the current manager of Cirencester Town and also runs a business as a landscape gardener.
I asked him what he makes of the current situation with Covid-19 and non league football “Who knows what will happen, we haven’t played since November, but are top of the league, its more important to get everyone vaccinated first and then we can see where we are”