For months, Mike Brown has known his time is up. He was told in December, during a four-minute meeting, that there is no longer a place for him at Harlequins.
Since then, he has dodged questions about his future and avoided uncomfortable conversations with his team-mates.
‘What’s he going to say?’ asked Danny Care, who offered a few kind words on Wednesday morning to run alongside this article.
Fullback Mike Brown has opened up on his Harlequins exit in an exclusive Sportsmail interview
Brown (pictured) was speaking to Rugby Correspondent Nik Simon in The Mail on Sunday
Brown could have made his announcement through a polished club press release but he wants to do it on his own terms. Some people struggle with Brown’s blunt and honest assessments. Some of his employers will be reading this looking through their fingers.
He wants to acknowledge the good times, the fans, the coaches and the team-mates who have become his extended family. But he also wants to set the record straight.
‘I wanted to stay at Quins,’ says Brown, with emphasis, before he moves on to anything else. ‘I was completely open with the club. I always wanted to stay and I wanted to finish my career at Quins. I love this club. I will always love this club, irrespective of how things have ended.’
In a few months, Brown and his young family will move 300 miles north to Newcastle. His wife, Eliza, has already signed up with the north-east estate agents and former Quins No 8 Nick Easter, who is now defence coach at Newcastle, has also offered a helping hand to find the best areas to rent.
‘At this stage of my career and life, it makes no sense to move but I was left with no other option,’ says Brown. ‘I chased the club for weeks about a new contract and, when they finally brought me in for a meeting, it lasted four minutes.
Paul Gustard told me I had no future here and I was staring down the barrel of unemployment. I’m 35, with a family to support and I’ve been with Harlequins since I was 18. There was no, “Thanks for your efforts, we’ll help you with your future”.
The 35-year-old will move his family, including son Jax, three, up to Newcastle this summer
‘It was one of the worst feelings of my life. I couldn’t get my head around it. It wasn’t like my legs have gone and I can’t get in the team any more. Earlier that week, Gussy had done an interview on the Rugby Pass website saying he wanted to reduce the age of the team. A few days later, I was gone. I never thought it would end that way.’
He adds: ‘People think you just turn up, train, play a game and go home. That’s not how it is. You put so much emotional energy into rugby. It’s your life. When you’re pushed to the side and dismissed, you feel like you’re worthless. I went straight to my car, past Scott Baldwin, who could tell I was distraught. I just sat in the car and cried.
‘You go home and you have to explain to your wife what’s just happened. She’s there sharing that stress of being unemployed and not really sure where you’re going. Then you phone your dad to tell him what’s happened.
Not that long ago, he was at a ‘Mike Brown Bar’ presentation, where I was told that I’ll always have a place at the club. Suddenly, he’s hearing that I’m no longer wanted. He’s lived my rugby journey with me and you get even more upset when you see the effect it has on the people you love.’
What happened does not sit well and he is adamant that he will say his piece on his own terms. His hope is that by sharing his experience, the club might handle such situations differently in future. He also wants the next generation to take stock.
‘Professional sport is ruthless,’ he says. ‘I’ve said it before in my columns and now I’ve experienced it first hand. When Gabriel Ibitoye left last summer I said, “Good for him”. You have to look after yourself because I’m not sure how much loyalty there is in the game.
Quins stalwart Brown is keen to reach 300 Premiership appearances across his whole career
‘When you’re young and playing for England, people bend over backwards for you and make you feel like a million dollars. I would tell any young player to look after themselves physically and financially.
‘Do what’s best for you because, if you’re injured, you get pushed aside. And when it comes towards the end, I’m not sure how much you get looked after.’
It is lunchtime when Brown does this interview and his son, Jax, is tearing around the garden. Brown has just returned home from a private training session with Margot Wells.
‘Throughout his career, he has visited the speed coach on his days off, at his own expense. There are no intentions of winding down. Just last week, coach Adam Jones claimed Brown’s club form should stand him as a left-field Lions candidate. Newcastle coach Dean Richards will be pleased with what he is seeing, no doubt.
‘I know Dean well from his time at Harlequins,’ says Brown. ‘We have kept in touch throughout my career, about all manner of things, so we are pretty open and honest with each other.
‘From the start, I told him that I didn’t want to leave Quins and he understood that. The Premiership is the best league in the world, though, and I feel like I’ve still got a lot to offer. I didn’t want to move overseas.
Brown made 72 appearances for England in a storied international career, scoring 13 tries
‘Dean said, “Are you sure about this?” I went back to the club after Gussy had left and asked if anything had changed, but they said no. That was that. Dean said, “What do you want?” I told him my fair market value and he knew I wasn’t taking the p*ss, so it was signed there and then. Done and dusted within a day.
‘At the start of last week, Quins did actually come back to me and, in a roundabout way, said they had changed their mind. They pushed a pretty low offer my way, but I had already signed with Newcastle and given my word to Dean, so it was too late.
‘Dean was my first coach. He gave me a lot of my breaks as a youngster and he’s done so much in the game, so I have a huge amount of respect for him. It’s really exciting to work with him again and I’ll give everything I’ve got for Newcastle.
‘They’re an ambitious club. They were near the top of the table around Christmas and I want to go there to win silverware. Being a part of their success really motivates me. I’ve never known anything other than Quins so it’s a new challenge I’m excited about.
‘There are guys there who I know well, like Luther Burrell, Toby Flood, Mark Wilson and I can’t wait to get stuck in with them. They’re a great, tight-knit, hard-working bunch and I want to add to that.
‘I’m also looking forward to working with the younger guys like Adam Radwan and Ben Stevenson. Hopefully I can offer some experience and perspective on what they’re already doing.
Brown will link up with former England team-mate Toby Flood (pictured left) at Kingston Park
‘I want to compete for the No15 jersey and, as long as I’m still playing well, get to 300 Premiership appearances [Brown has made 240 so far]. That’s something no other player has done before.’
Before that, however, Brown wants to sign off from Harlequins on a high. Pictures of his time at the Stoop take pride of place on the walls of Jax’s playroom. The next couple of months will provide plenty of time to reflect on a chapter that forged Brown’s status as a Harlequins legend, before everything is packed into a removal van for the move.
‘I’ve lived out my dream at Quins,’ he says. ‘I’ve won the Premiership, won the Amlin Cup and played for England. If I hadn’t moved up from Salisbury to join Harlequins, I would have taken up a place at St Mary’s University to study PE and ended up in whatever job that set me up for.
‘I wouldn’t have met all of these unbelievable people like Mark Evans, Colin Osborne, Tony Russ, Andy Friend, Conor O’Shea. Or the players like Andy Gomarsall, Ugo Monye, Jordan Turner Hall, Danny Care, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler. There are too many to mention them all. Jordan introduced me to my wife and we now have a son. The place has shaped my life and I’ll always be grateful for that.
‘The fans are amazing, too. Some have been critical and I’ve always enjoyed that challenge of trying to win them over. I’ll never forget when the fans gave us a tunnel from the Stoop to Twickenham for the Premiership final. It was one of the best days of my life. Singing with Nick Easter on the pitch afterwards. Those memories will live with me for ever.’
Brown also discussed the difficulty in leaving behind friends like scrum-half Danny Care (left)
Brown is already one of the most decorated players in the club’s history, but he is not ready to stand down just yet. Harlequins have been resurgent since their coaching overhaul in January and are plotting a late Premiership charge.
‘I always wanted to leave the No15 jersey at a certain standard for whoever takes it on,’ he says. ‘Hopefully I’ve done that and hopefully whoever takes it on can add to that.
‘There’s a lot of young talent coming through. Guys like Marcus Smith and Louis Lynagh are in a good place to take the club forwards. I’ve loved working with them and seeing them develop. Maybe the club moved away from its roots for a little bit, but it’s good to see that the production line is back working again.
‘We’re playing to our strengths now. Fast pace, counter-attacks, turnovers, getting your head over the ball. We’ve gone back to that and it’s nice to finish with a smile on my face. The spirit in the group is better than it has been for a long time. Everything that’s happened over the past few months has galvanised the group and the senior guys have really stepped up.
‘If we can stay in the top four until the end of the season, anything can happen. I would love to finish over the road in a Premiership final. That’s our goal and it would be the perfect way to finish.’