It is unlikely Mike Stephenson will ever forget the day he first caught glimpse of a young player by the name of Kevin Brown.
Even now, 17 years on from the future England international’s bow in Wigan Warriors’ memorable 24-22 Good Friday derby win over St Helens, the long-serving former Sky Sports commentator affectionately known as ‘Stevo’ can clearly picture a youthful-looking academy graduate emerging for the start of the second half.
But after wondering whether an 18-year-old Brown would handle the occasion, Stephenson was quickly impressed with what he saw from the young half-back – so much so he declared him his man of the match as the hosts fought back from a 10-point deficit at half-time to triumph.
- Brown’s unforgettable derby debut
“To see this young kid make his debut – and he looked about 11 years of age when he trotted out! – I thought to myself, ‘this kid is just going to get hammered’,” Stephenson told Sky Sports.
“He looked like he’d just come out of playschool, but next minute he was tackling his heart out and I thought ‘this kid has got a lot of quality’. For a young bloke to go out on his debut is very difficult because you don’t want to do something where it will go wrong, so usually they hang back.
“He got himself into a situation where he lifted the side. He was belting them, tackling them and it was an unbelievable game from a young kid who really should have gone into the shadows and said, ‘I’m glad that 40 minutes is over’. But he didn’t and was outstanding.
“That panned out in his future in the game. He’s established himself and you don’t get picked to play for your country for nothing. He fully deserved being classed as an international and fair play to him that he’s still playing now.”
He was belting them, tackling them and it was an unbelievable game from a young kid who really should have gone into the shadows and said, ‘I’m glad that 40 minutes is over’
Mike Stephenson on Kevin Brown
Responsibility for picking man of the match then lay with one of the journalists at the game, with the winner being awarded a watch courtesy of the sponsors at the time, Tissot.
Brown did not earn the accolade from the press that day, but Stephenson had already declared on air to the other half of Sky’s commentary duo Eddie Hemmings that he would buy Brown a watch if the future England international was not awarded the prize.
True to his word, the former Dewsbury and Great Britain hooker scoured the finest jewellers to pick one out for him and presented it to Brown several weeks later during the pre-match build-up for another televised Wigan match.
Several years later, Stephenson found out the watch was still being put to good use thanks to a chance meeting with Brown’s father.
I looked at it and I said to him ‘Is it still working?’ because, as you can imagine, everyone at Sky at the time said ‘Oh, I suppose you went down to Dewsbury Market and bought one of those cheap things’
“He said ‘I want you to look at something’, so he rolled his sleeve up and said ‘Do you recognise this?'” Stephenson recalled. “He’d given the watch to his father, which I thought was a nice gesture.
“I looked at it and I said to him ‘Is it still working?’ because, as you can imagine, everyone at Sky at the time said ‘Oh, I suppose you went down to Dewsbury Market and bought one of those cheap things’.
“I was really put out because it was an expensive watch, I can assure you, and even Eddie wouldn’t be convinced. But his father said it hadn’t missed a beat and it’s a cracker – and it was a cracker, it cost me a fortune!
“I hope his father is still wearing it, but by this time he’s probably late for all of his engagements.”
The match itself is one which sticks out clearly in Stephenson’s mind as well, with a Wigan side shorn of the likes of Kris Radlinski, Andy Farrell and Gareth Hock due to injury defying expectations to take victory.
It was also a day which saw them confound Stephenson’s own fears of a blow-out after Saints went in at half-time holding a 22-12 lead.
“Wigan went in as underdogs and they were struggling,” Stephenson said. “All of their top stars were out, and they were given no chance against a St Helens side who were reigning champions at the time.
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