Since making her debut for the England women's national football team in 1997, Brown won over 80 caps. She understudied Pauline Cope in her first years with the national team, then served as England's first choice goalkeeper at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup and UEFA Women's Euro 2009. Due to injuries, Brown was displaced in the team by Karen Bardsley for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. She was also selected in the Great Britain squad for the 2012 London Olympics. Brown was the goalkeeper on Channel Five's Superstars and is employed by Everton FC's Community Project. Outside of football, she is known as Rachel Brown-Finnis, due to her marriage to professional golfer Ian Finnis.
Brown was born in Burnley, Lancashire, and attended St Christopher's CE High School in Accrington. She began playing football at primary school, in a boys' team. Brown was assigned to the goalkeeper position: "They were reluctant to let me join in. It was a case of, 'OK, if you must play you'd better go in goal.'" After a few years of not playing in a team, due to The Football Association (FA) rules which prohibited mixed gender teams, Brown joined Accrington Ladies. Despite being younger than the required 14, Brown played local open age football for the club.
Just after her 15th birthday, Brown joined Premier League National Division team Liverpool Ladies. She was scouted at an Easter holidays goalkeeping camp run by Bob Wilson in London, where Brown was the only female of 48 attendees. After applying for the camp through Match magazine, Brown was presented with the Player of the Camp award by David Seaman. Having expected to understudy Liverpool's experienced former England goalkeeper Tracey Davidson, Brown became first choice when Davidson quit football approximately three weeks later.
Brown's Liverpool debut came against all–conquering Arsenal on the opening day of the 1995–96 season. Liverpool lost the match, staged at Anfield, 6–0. A decade later, Brown recalled the occasion: "It was very, very daunting – yeah we lost big time! Being thrown in the deep end was an understatement – I was only small and it was hard enough playing against women never mind some of the best players in the whole country." The first season culminated in one of Brown’s early career highlights; participation in the 1996 FA Women’s Cup final at 15 years old with Liverpool. After a 1–1 draw with Croydon at The Den, Liverpool and Brown, who was carrying an injury, ultimately lost on penalties after extra time.
Brown remained with Liverpool while taking A–Levels at Nelson and Colne College. In October 1997 she saved three times in a penalty shootout as the Reds eliminated Doncaster Belles in the first round of the FA Women's Premier League Cup. In that season's FA Women's Cup Liverpool were thrown out after Jody Handley played in a 3–1 quarter final win over Millwall Lionesses without international clearance.
In 1998, Brown moved to the United States where she initially played varsity soccer for Alabama Crimson Tide while attending the University of Alabama. The Sunday Mirror reported in February 2000 that Brown had signed a two–year sponsorship deal worth £100,000 with Uhlsport. In the same article Brown explained that she left England because Americans had a more positive attitude towards women's football. Dissatisfied with aspects of the culture in the Deep South, Brown transferred to the University of Pittsburgh Panthers while she completed a degree in Sports Science at the University of Pittsburgh. She was named Goalkeeper of the Year for the Big East Conference every year and also holds the Panthers' record for the fewest goals conceded in a season.
On returning to Liverpool, Brown found her old club relegated and languishing in the Premier League Northern Division. She qualified as a PE Teacher at Liverpool John Moores University and joined Everton Ladies in January 2003: "Everton were in the top division so I thought, 'change codes here, go to the Blues.'" She spent the 2003 summer season playing in Iceland, returning to Everton in August 2003. In December 2003 Brown suffered a serious knee injury that kept her out of the game until June 2005.
Danielle Hill played in goal for Everton in their 1–0 FA Women's Cup final defeat to Charlton Athletic in May 2005. Hill also played as Everton shocked Arsenal in the final of the 2008 Premier League Cup.
Brown played in her second FA Women's Cup final in 2010. Ahead of the match she told the Liverpool Echo: "I wouldn't say I'm in the twilight of my career but it's been a long time since 1996, so I'm very determined to put things right." She collected her first winner's medal as Everton beat Arsenal 3–2 after extra time.
In December 2014, guest player Brown was taken to the 2014 International Women's Club Championship in Japan by wild card entrants Arsenal Ladies. In January 2015, Brown decided to retire from football, citing that her body was telling her that it was time to stop.
Brown played eight times for the England Under–18 side and made her senior debut, aged 16, in February 1997 against Germany. She entered play as a substitute for regular goalkeeper Pauline Cope, as England were beaten 6–4 in the friendly at Deepdale. Manager Ted Copeland also gave Brown some playing time in the next match, a 6–0 friendly win over Scotland at Bramall Lane on 9 March 1997. Exactly a year later, Brown made her first home start in England's 1–0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Germany at The Den.
In October 2000, when Cope was struck down with a stomach complaint on the morning of England's Women’s Euro 2001 qualification play–off in Ukraine, Brown took her place in England's 2–1 win. By the time of a May 2001 friendly against Scotland at Bolton's Reebok Stadium, Brown had 11 senior appearances and was Cope's regular understudy. Brown and Leanne Hall went to Euro 2001 as back–up to Cope, who played in all three games.
After impressing at her hometown club Burnley, where she had been a season-ticket holder as a child as England beat Australia 1–0 in September 2003, she was asked to turn on the Christmas lights in Burnley – but she had to cancel as she was playing for England as they beat Scotland 5–0 in November at nearby Preston. After a long spell out with injury, Brown returned to the England team against Sweden in the last group game of Women’s Euro 2005.
Brown kept her place, and conceded two goals, as England qualified for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China.
In May 2009, Brown was one of the first 17 female players to be given central contracts by the Football Association. Brown started every game of England's women's 2009 campaign.
In September 2010 Brown was controversially sent off in England's 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying win over Switzerland. The Swiss forward Ramona Bachmann was criticised for her play acting that led to the dismissal. Bachmann admitted there had been no foul and apologised for her actions, and Brown's red card was rescinded on appeal.
In June 2012, Brown and Karen Bardsley were named as the goalkeepers in an 18–player Great Britain squad for the 2012 London Olympics. Brown described her selection as the pinnacle of her career to date. In 1996 Brown had been a ball girl at Legion Field for the Summer Olympics, while in America for coaching.
Brown is inspired by the dedication of her friend, gymnast Beth Tweddle. She married professional golfer Ian Finnis in January 2013.
Injuries sustained by Brown include a dislocated finger, having her front teeth kicked out and several knee injuries besides her torn cruciate ligament. She is the possessor of "man hands" – large enough to pick up a football with one hand. When not playing football, Brown is interested in fashion and make–up. She has often been photographed to promote women's football.