BY RICHARD CAWLEY
James Brown has shown there are no lengths that he won’t go to in furthering his football education.
The Millwall defender – based in Dover – had no qualms about heading to Carlisle United, one of English football’s most northern outposts, for a season-long loan last season.
And the right-back’s latest temporary exit from the Lions to join Scottish Premiership club Livingston is a 960-mile round trip. Commuting is not an option.
“It’s because I don’t really like my parents,” joked Brown. “After going to Carlisle I wanted to progress – whether that was going to a club in League One or up to Scotland.
“If you are going to play in Scotland then you have got to go there, it doesn’t bother me where I go if it means playing at the best possible standard.
“I had interest from other clubs, mainly in League Two. I didn’t have as good a finish to last season or play as many games as I wanted to.
“But going up to Scotland, and the calibre of team you get up there, meant it made sense.”
Brown featured 34 times for Carlisle and won rave reviews for the first part of the campaign.
But he featured just four times in their last 14 matches – being an unused sub in eight of those and not in the squad for the others.
“There was probably just a little bit of a loss in form,” he said. “In your first full season in professional footballer it is hard to maintain your levels throughout the whole of it. I’d have liked to have done it, but it didn’t quite happen.
“We played Notts County [in mid-February] and I got dragged at half-time. Then the team went unbeaten for seven games and won the first four of those – so you don’t have a leg to stand on in terms of making much noise about it changing.
“But it is a learning process – 100 per cent. I was 19 when I went there and it is not going to be a smooth ride through that first loan. I know the word development is used a lot but if that happens again then I hope I can draw on what happened at Carlisle and do things differently to get back in the team quicker.
“It is easy to overthink things when you are out of the team and get too low. It’s a cliche but you need to keep doing what you’re doing – what had got you in the team for a 20-game run.
“You need to stay on it 100 per cent and don’t let it affect you too much.”
Brown’s debut for Livingston is not one he will forget in a hurry. They don’t come much bigger than a 59,000 crowd at Celtic Park – even if it ended in a 3-1 defeat.
“I went up there on the Wednesday, got settled into where I’m living and trained Thursday and Friday,” said the Millwall man, who played 60 minutes in the August 4 game. “I didn’t think international clearance would go through in time – it was 50-50 whether I’d even be able to be involved.
“On Friday I was in the team shape work but I didn’t expect to be walking out in front of 60,000 fans. It was some experience, it’s the type of occasions you want to play in.
“Realistically, I’m not being too negative, it is probably one of the biggest crowds I’m going to play in front of – wherever I go.
“The gaffer had that trust to put me in straight away and see how I fared. I can’t complain at all about that.”
Livi were promoted to the top flight following a play-off final win over Partick Thistle in May.
That feat was achieved with one of the smallest full-time budgets in Scotland.
“It is the toughest examination you are going to get – Celtic away on the opening day,” said Brown. “I thought I did okay. By my standards, I didn’t think it was great.
“I was playing as wing-back and we just tried to condense the middle of the park. I was marking Jonny Hayes but he was popping up all over the place – it felt like I was marking more than one player.
“You know with the money that have spent and the atmosphere there it is going to be a tough day.
“But to go up there and play a game almost instantly, I think it gets the respect of the dressing room that you are here to play.
“In the last couple of weeks I have started to feel more comfortable. You’re not going to feel like that after two days of training. It’s only going to get better for me and I can start pushing on from here.”
Brown’s loan to the West Lothian outfit is initially until January.
“We’ll review it at the stage and see how I’m getting on,” he said. “If I’m playing and it is going well then we’ll look to continue.
“If someone had said to me I would play over 30 games for Carlisle at the start of last season then I’d have bitten their arm off.
“Everything now is geared towards minutes in a men’s environment – I’m past the stage of just training and playing U23s football for Millwall. That is no good for me.
“If you get to 19 and 20 and you are not out playing games then you are not going to be in the professional game very much longer.”