'I've never been more nervous in my life'

Thursday 04 May 2023 09:36

Twenty-five years ago today (Thursday), Wes Brown made his first-team debut for Manchester United in a home victory over Leeds United.

The elegant defender, rated as one of the best youngsters coming through the club, was introduced on the hour mark, replacing David May, with the Reds already 3-0 up, courtesy of goals from Ryan Giggs, Denis Irwin and David Beckham.

It seemed the perfect moment, in our final Old Trafford fixture of the 1997/98 season, to blood the rookie centre-back, as the Reds looked to the future after missing out in the title race to an Arsenal side that would complete the Double.

Brown actually felt relieved to be making his bow in such circumstances, after originally being told by Gary Pallister, whom he would partner in the middle of the back four, that he would be starting the battle with our rivals from across the Pennines.

Check out our exclusive interview with Wes below...

Brown: 'Don't mess up!' Video

Brown: 'Don't mess up!'

Twenty-five years on, Wes Brown remembers the mantra throughout his senior debut...

Wes, it’s hard to believe it’s 25 years since you made your debut for United, here at Old Trafford, against Leeds in 1998. First of all, can you talk us through your memories of that day, maybe finding out you were in the squad and how you had a chance to make that debut?
“Yeah, crazy. It was a crazy week really. Obviously, I’d been training with the first team for a while and the Friday before, you know, just like normal, you have a little five-a-side. And we didn't actually do the team, as in we knew who was playing. Gary Pallister, I always remember, comes up to me as we're walking off and says: 'You're playing tomorrow, Wes, starting tomorrow'. So you can imagine how, obviously, that felt. And I just remember going home and I don't think I told anyone. Maybe, I asked my dad if he's going to the game tomorrow. But I didn't sort of say what Pally had told me. And then, obviously that night, I couldn't and didn't really sleep even, being honest, as I was just nervous and there was excitement at the same time. And then, the day of the game, the gaffer does the squad and I’m sub! So it was, you know, don't get me wrong, I'm still happy to be sub and everything, but obviously there’s a little bit of relief, if I'm being quite honest. I was pretty much running on adrenaline because I didn't sleep that much that night. It was like Christmas Day, basically, when you're a kid. So. then, obviously, I got on the bench and I was just seeing whether I’d come on or not.”

Of course, it was probably a perfect situation to make your debut, 3-0 up, we got an early goal, Becks scored a volley as well and Denis Irwin got a penalty, and it was a great occasion with it being our last home game of the season as well. So it was quite relaxed, in many respects, compared to what it’s normally like…
“Yeah, I mean I just remember warming up. I think it was Kiddo [Brian Kidd], but I’m not sure. He just said ‘warm up’ and I always remember people saying ‘who’s that, who’s that?’ when you’re running up and down, like you do. And then, obviously, they call me back and I come on for, I think it was Maysie [David May]. All I was thinking is ‘don’t mess up, don’t mess up’. It’s really hard to explain because I always wanted to, and you know this, this was a dream come true, playing for Manchester United. And you just don't want to mess up. Not just for me, but for my friends and my family and, obviously, the boys on the pitch. But, luckily, we were 3-0 up and the game wasn't as intense probably as, you know, a normal game with Leeds can be.”

In the first few seconds, and we’ve seen it again, you win a header, an aerial duel there with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink so was that the perfect way to get off to a good start?
“Yeah, I mean, first of all, I played against Jimmy at the time. You know, he's one of the top goalscorers in the league and the ball just gets played up and I just challenge him and win the header and that settles you down a bit. To be fair, obviously being 3-0 up helps, but getting in your first few challenges is always a bonus. It calms you down a bit and then I just started to, well you know, you start to forget about everything and then start to get into the rhythm of the game.”
United 3 Leeds 0 Video

United 3 Leeds 0

4 May 1998: United missed out on winning the League to Arsenal, despite beating Leeds 3-0...

A few moments later, Wes, you’re involved in a red-card incident, with Gunnar Halle. You nutmeg him, even though you’re centre-back you’re coming forward into their half, and he gets a second yellow card..
“Yeah, I think they just say let him have the ball, see what he does and, you know, I started running into to their half, in no man's land for me, and pass it to Becks [David Beckham] and then just continue to run. And I always remember him giving it me back and it was just sort of an inside, outside, little megs. And you know, he comes through the back - second yellow. So again, that was, honestly, it was a nice feeling because you are just thinking you are doing everything okay. Just keep it going. But obviously they go down to 10 men, which that makes it even more, in that particular game, easier for us. But, again,, I just wanted to play well and do my best and I'm just trying to help the team.“

They always say you can't change your first impression, and, for the crowd, that was their first impression of you in the first team. And I think the commentator says, what a confident young man you look as you strode forward again and beat Hasselbaink another time to set up a chance. Is that how it felt, like you were at home there, when it did sort of pan out like that?
“I’m not sure about confident, if I’m being honest! But, yeah, I mean everything sort of went well. I mean, when I look back on that debut – I mean my headers, winning the ball and going forward. It couldn’t have gone any better really. And that's all you can hope for, I think, as a youth-team player coming through, just sort of do what you normally do. That's what the manager said before I went out. Just play how you normally play and, luckily, it went well because listen, sometimes it can go the other way. But like I said, I was ready for it and excited. Nervous. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life, to be fair and, you know, you manage to overcome it and play well.”
I think there’s footage because obviously we do a bit of a lap of honour at the end of the season, with it being the last home game, and the manager comes up and has a word. I suppose you don't remember what he says, or what the players might have said to you after the game?
“No, do you know what, if I remember rightly, he just said 'well done'. You know I’d been training with the team for a while now and you never know when you’re going to get your chances as a young lad and, obviously, you give it all to be there and you just you want to play well, just to thank him as well, because that's it, it's a big deal for me. And, you know, people always asked, what's your favourite game? And I said, my debut. I know it's hard for some people to relate to, but it is, by far the best thing that I've done, I think. Well, at the time, in my young career, and it's one thing I always wanted to do and I managed to achieve it. But, yeah, the gaffer was always supportive and, you know, he gave me a little slap around the head, as if to say, well done, just keep it going, which, you know, is all that I needed really.”