Injury wrecked Vinny Brockie’s professional football career before it got going, but he enjoyed non-league success and is relishing coaching, Leon Wobschall reports.
FOOTBALL has been the proverbial labour of love for former Leeds United midfielder Vinny Brockie.
At times, the game has been infinitely cruel to him. He was forced to retire, aged 22, due to a crippling knee injury, and this after his dreams were shattered at United who freed him after he had played just two first-team matches.
Commendably, the gritty Scot dusted himself down and has gone on to enjoy a long career in non-league soccer, sampling major highs like playing at Wembley with Guiseley and leading minnows Harrogate Railway to the second round of the FA Cup during a famous run in 2007-08.
Now, after juggling work commitments with football for the best part of two decades, Brockie feels he has found his true vocation, having becoming involved full-time in the game he loves, coaching youngsters, while also managing Northern Counties East League Premier outfit Thackley.
And after years of hard graft in the blue-collar sector, few would begrudge the 42-year-old the chance to enjoy the fruits of his footballing labours after missing out in the professional realm.
Brockie said: “After finishing playing professionally, I got a job in a wooden pallet yard and worked there for 10 years.
“But I always wanted some other involvement in football and I started my badges and got some labouring jobs on building sites to tick me over. As soon as I got qualified, I thought ‘right, I’m going into coaching’. I’m full-time now.
“I do work for Barnsley Academy and work in schools in and around the Leeds area, and combine it with managing Thackley.
“It keeps me busy doing something I’ve always loved. I had between 10 and 15 years doing labouring work, which is not good. You just make a living and there’s little enjoyment, but I just love the coaching.”
At the age of just 16, Greenock-born Brockie, a boyhood Celtic fan, headed south to pursue his footballing dreams at Elland Road, retracing the footsteps of the cherished holy trinity of Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray.
Brockie had the privilege to play under two of them, Gray and Bremner, with the latter taking a particular shine to his flame-haired compatriot.
Brockie – like King Billy – prided himself on being a tough-tackling midfielder, but that’s where the comparisons ended. Brockie, who turned professional with the Whites in July 1987, is the first to admit he was no Bremner, and it was left to another engine-room warrior, a young colt called David Batty, to pick up the Great Scot’s mantle.
Brockie said: “Billy had a soft spot for me and David Batty, more so Batts! He liked our approach to football.
“At the time, there were a lot better footballers at the club than me, but I was whole-hearted and Billy liked that.
“But it was actually Eddie who signed me, I was on schoolboy forms with Greenock Morton at the time. An old scout who worked for Leeds, John Barr, who signed Eddie and Jimmy Lumsden, had been watching me for a few years. As soon as they showed an interest, there was only one place to go.
“It was probably one of my biggest regrets that Eddie didn’t get long enough. I’ve never come across a manager such as Eddie, every player at the club was fully behind him and no-one had a bad word to say about him. It was joy to go into training.
“Billy took over and was a different sort of manager and person. But I loved Billy and got on famously with him and, having come down from Scotland, to play for Billy Bremner was a dream come true.”
Brockie’s debut arrived right at the tail end of the 1987-88 season, Bremner throwing him in at right-back as he took the chance to have a look at some of his squad players following United’s failure to reach the play-offs.
Recalling his brief moments in the sun for United in May 1988, Brockie said: “I remember both games and look back with fond memories.
“We played Crystal Palace on a Bank Holiday Monday and I got a phone call on the Sunday night telling me to go to the ground the next day. Billy wasn’t actually there, he was watching another match, and Norman Hunter and Dave Bentley took the team that day.
“As soon as I got in, Norman said: ‘You’re playing today.’ Also making his debut for Palace was John Salako and I was directly up against him at right-back. I enjoyed it, we won 1-0 and John Sheridan scored a penalty. Then I played in the last game of the season at Birmingham, which was on a Friday night and it ended 0-0.
“I was disappointed the season had come to end, though there were nothing at stake, and I dare say if we had been the play-offs I might not have been in.
“I remember Billy saying: ‘Do you mind playing a few games at right-back?’ It was a position I enjoyed, but I had my limitations...
With the following season still in its infancy, Bremner was sacked in October 1988, and the writing was soon on the wall for Brockie, who found himself farmed out on loan to Doncaster Rovers by new boss Howard Wilkinson.
He added: “My first-team career was brief, definitely!
“I’d been playing regularly in the reserves for two years and started finding my feet a bit and felt I was doing well. I’d gone with the first team and travelled with the squad and thought I could make inroads on a regular basis. Then Billy got sacked and I faded out of the picture.
“Howard was an approachable guy, but I just don’t think I was his type of player for right-back. I remember Mick Hennighan saying ‘we don’t think you have got the required pace’ and I totally agreed! I wasn’t a right-back anyway, I was a midfielder, but there were better players ahead of me.
“I obviously wished I could have played more at Leeds, and been more successful, but while I only played twice, a lot of people who support the club and live in the city haven’t had that opportunity.
“I was there for five years, every day, training with top footballers and under top managers.”
Having worked under a couple of greats in Bremner and Gray, Brockie went onto serve briefly under another true footballing legend in Dave Mackay at Doncaster before being signed full-time by Mackay’s successor, Joe Kinnear, for £15,000 in March 1989.
But that summer a familiar face walked through the door as Bremner returned for a second stint as Rovers boss. And, after staving off the drop to the conference in a difficult 1989-90 campaign, the Belle Vue outfit had an unsuccessful tilt at promotion the following season before all sorts of financial turmoil kicked in.
That 1990-91 campaign proved a seminal one for Brockie, struck down with a serious knee injury which ultimately finished his professional career in the summer of 1991, with the Scot heeding some wise words from Bremner.
Brockie added: “We had a good side at Donny and Billy brought a lot of players from Leeds who wouldn’t have got a game under Howard with John Stiles, Jack Ashurst, Brendan Ormsby and Kevin Noteman coming over.
“We were always pushing at the top of league the following season. But the longer I stayed things just seemed to fall apart and there were spells where we didn’t get paid.
“I also got an injury on my left knee and it stopped me training Monday to Friday. My knee would just swell up; John Sheridan had a similar problem, but I wasn’t that good to get away with it. To just play Saturday-Saturday, you have got to be exceptional and I certainly wasn’t.
“I was struggling at the back end at Donny and after playing, could just do bits in the gym. I’d seen the surgeon for the third time and then when I came back, Billy said he had the surgeon’s report and that it was best to pack in as it could affect me in later life.
“I took the advice and went to Guiseley. A lot of players drop into the non-league scene and don’t find their feet, but I was lucky. I took to it like a duck to water.
“They were an excellent non-league side and a lot of players who I played with in the Leeds youth team were there, like Dean Walling, Richard Annan and Andy Armitage.
“I ended up staying for eight seasons and thoroughly loved it and we got to the Vase final in my first season and I had the chance to play at Wembley, which was fantastic.
“My league career wasn’t meant to be, but I’ve had some great days in non-league.
“I’ve also loved living in Leeds. I’ve lived in the city since the age of 15 and brought my family up here. I love the city and the people and it’s a home from home.
“I’ll always be a Celtic fan, but I always look out for Leeds and Doncaster results, even moreso when I put them on my fixed odds!”