IN MARCH 2019, Scott Brown laughed in the faces of Alfredo Morelos, Andy Halliday and every away fan.

In March 2021, the former Celtic captain walked into the Rangers half prior to kick-off in a derby and embraced Glen Kamara, who had been subjected to racism days earlier. 

March 2019 underlined why he’s been one of the most compelling characters in Scottish football’s last 15 years. March 2021 served as a reminder that he’s also one of our game’s good guys. 

His powerful show of solidarity with Kamara was back in the news on Tuesday, with the announcement that Brown is one of three nominees for FIFA’s Fair Play Award 2021. 

Asked on Sky Sports after the game if it was important for him to show solidarity with the Rangers midfielder, the 36-year-old said: “Yeah, definitely. I think it’s disgusting what’s happened, to be perfectly honest. 

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Rangers player or a Celtic player or whoever it is, it should never be part of the game, and it just shows that we’re with them and stand with them on racism. It’s just that little bit of respect as well, knowing it’s a fellow professional”. 

This was an organic gesture of support that Brown performed off his own back. We hadn’t spent a week saying ‘Scott Brown really needs to step up here’.

No-one had been subjected to the sort of interminable ‘will they/won’t they’ discourse that surrounds less meaningful gestures such as a guard of honour. There would have been zero outcry had Brown not gone over to Kamara, and the last thing he’s concerned about is getting a "fair play, actually" from Rangers fans. 

During his 14 years at Celtic Park, there was no individual more committed to getting under the skin of Rangers players than Brown. He was pretty good at it, too. Just ask Halliday, Morelos, Joey Barton, El Hadji-Diouf or any of the Rangers fans driven into a frenzy by the sight of Brown smiling in front of them. 

Celtic Way:

The decade-and-a-half of history between Brown and Rangers made his interaction with Kamara more powerful than a generic comment in a press conference or on social media. With millions watching on TV, the most prominent member of Celtic’s squad made a clear statement that some things are more important than football. 

Anytime a new racism story arises within the Scottish game, you’ll see numerous dispiriting ‘Yes, but what about the time THEY did x?’ and ‘They’re just saying that to deflect from y’ comments. By going over to Kamara moments before a game in which Brown loves nothing more than hurting and mocking opponents, he showed these people up for the relentlessly bitter simpletons that they are.

It was an instantly iconic image, and though it may have been unexpected, it wasn’t out of character. 

Brown had already demonstrated a willingness to go further than most other players in addressing prejudice and to use his sizable platform to express solidarity. 

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Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, which sees footballers wear rainbow laces in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion, received Brown’s backing in December 2019. 

Aside from joining his fellow players in sporting the laces, he appeared on the back page of the Daily Record with a rainbow flag painted on his cheek. In the macho world of Scottish football, which is populated by its share of dinosaurs, this was a particularly striking and important image. 

Again, nobody would have called out Brown had there not been an image of him with a rainbow flag on his face in the paper that day. This was another example of him going further than most other footballers. 

Celtic Way:

He explained: “My best mate from school came out and didn’t know how to tell anybody - it was the hardest thing to do in his life. 

“I’m here now trying to help people come out - it might be your son, your daughter. We need to make it as easy as possible for people, so they aren’t living with that fear day in, day out.

“It must be so hard for a gay footballer. They say there’s one in every changing room, and to hide it must be tough. I hope that someone does feel comfortable to come out, because I can’t imagine having to hide who you are”. 

Alongside Graeme Souness and LGBTQ players Sapphire McKintosh and Piero Zizzi, he took part in a roundtable for Gay Times discussing homophobia in football. 

Twelve months on he took part in another Rainbow Laces photoshoot, reaffirming his commitment to the cause. 

The fact that most opposing players or fans would consider Brown an insufferable arsehole on the pitch doesn’t contradict or undermine any of this.

It shows that he’s mature and empathetic enough to understand where the line is and appreciate what’s truly important. Brown will be the most unpleasant individual you’ll ever deal with for the duration of a match but, outside of the 90 minutes, he’s doing considerably more than the majority of squeaky clean players when it comes to setting a good example. 

Celtic Way:

Former Hearts, Kilmarnock and Rangers forward Steven Naismith was similar in his approach. Like Brown, he exemplified the ‘absolutely detest him when he plays against us but I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat’ player. Also like Brown, his combative attitude on the pitch had no bearing on the positive work he carried out off it. 

Naismith has engaged in numerous charitable projects and is best known for his work with the homeless in Glasgow and Liverpool. A 2015 CNN profile even asked ‘Is this Britain’s kindest footballer?’. 

It’s healthy to have an arena in which you can release your frustrations harmlessly. If you’ve ever been part of a local music scene, you’ll know that most guys in hard rock or metal bands tend to be pretty down-to-earth and wholesome in their day-to-day lives. The stage is a safe outlet for all that pent-up energy and aggression. It’s the twee, indie softbois, in my experience, who are usually For the Watching. 

Celtic Way:

For Brown and Naismith, football is that harmless release.

The Aberdeen midfielder deserves the recognition bestowed upon him by FIFA this week. If he can put aside his allegiances and empathise with a rival when the issue is more important than football, there are no excuses for anyone else.

Scott Brown is a horrible bastard for an hour and a half every week and an outstanding role model for the other 9,990 minutes.

Fair play.