Tony Brown

Newport benefactor Tony Brown. Pic: Darren Jack.

Tributes Paid To Tony Brown, The Man Who Brought The World’s Stars To Newport

By David Parsons

Tony Brown, one of the greatest benefactors Welsh rugby has seen, had died at the age of 86.

The owner and chairman of Bisley Office Furniture, his business acumen, vision and considerable financial backing for Newport RFC and then the Dragons allowed rugby fans in Gwent to experience some fantastic times, including winning the WRU Challenge Cup in 2001.

By the time he stood back from his executive roles at Rodney Parade, his investment had topped £10m.

Having become a vice-president at Newport in 1997, he oversaw the move to make the club a limited company in 1998 and became the first chief executive at a time when the club was struggling for results on the field, and coming to terms with the professional era off it.

He became the major shareholder and invested significant sums of his own money into the team on the field and the backroom staff off it. He recruited Keith Grainer as CEO and Phil Davies as communications director.

“Tony Brown was a wonderful man, far-sighted and big hearted. In my eyes he was the best of all the great rugby benefactors we’ve seen in Wales over the past 30 years,” said Davies, who worked at Treorchy and three of the four regions during his commercial career.

“What made him different from the other investors was he put a value on having a proper business team backing the playing side. He had a vision for Newport RFC and wanted to give back to a city in which his company had had a base for many years.

Under his leadership, and working to his vision, Newport launched the first ‘Family Village’ in Welsh rugby, saw crowds rise to 11,000, built a relationship with schools across Gwent through the innovative ‘Gateway’ and ‘Second Half’ programmes that enthused thousands of children and became one of the most talked about clubs in world rugby.

The signing of marquee players such as Gary Teichmann, Shane Howarth, Percy Montgomery, Franco Smith, Adrian Garvey, Bobby Skinstadt, Rod Snow, Simon Raiwalui, Peter Rogers, Jason Jones-Hughes and, almost, Joost van der Westhuizen, captured the imagination of fans both locally and internationally.

People still recall the time when home fans used to belt out the song ‘Who let the dogs out, Newp, Newp, Newport’. When Leinster came to play at Rodney Parade the lights went out and even their fans joined in the chorus!

Munster came for a Heineken Cup match and brought almost 3,000 fans. They were so delighted to have won that they flooded the field and some even left with a piece of turf to mark a famous victory.

He inspired a rugby revolution at Rodney Parade the like of which had never been seen before in Wales and has been unrivalled ever since.

Born in 1937, Brown took over his father, Freddy’s, company when he retired. What began in 1931 as a one-man car repair shop, developed into Bisley Office Equipment.

Having bought out his father, Brown turned Bisley into a multi-million pound company that continues to be one of the few industrial operations left in Surrey. It ‘s Newport base was opened in 1988.

His company won two ‘Queens’ Awards for Export Achievement’ in 1992 and 1997, and at its peak was the largest manufacturer of office furniture in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.

He was awarded an OBE for his services to industry and was presented with an Honorary Doctorate from Newport University to underline his company’s contribution to the economy of South Wales.

“The ‘Tony Brown era’ is regarded as one of the most memorable times in the club’s history, and his invaluable contribution led to him being one of the first inductees into the Newport RFC Hall of Fame in 2012,” said Newport RFC in a club statement.

“Our thoughts and condolences go to his family and friends at this difficult time.”

The main function room at Rodney Parade is named in his honour, ‘The Tony Brown Suite’, and that is contained within the ‘Bisley Stand’.

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