Hull City's manager Phil Brown talks about promotion, life in the Premier League and why he owes it all to his wife.
Brown is the talk of the town
The superficial and somewhat pretentious environs of Dubai seem a world away from Blackpool's creaking promenade and its "kiss me quick" hats, donkey rides, candy floss and amusement arcades. As far detached from reality as Phil Brown and his Hull City side have found themselves during this most stirring of seasons. In keeping up appearances, Hull can be seen and heard. Since starting out with Blackpool 12 or so years ago, Brown's career has contained more ups and downs than the "Big One" roller coaster at the English seaside town's Pleasure Beach. At the new KC Stadium, Brown is the chosen one.
One tends to forget Hull skulked around the English fourth division a decade ago. Four of their squad, Ian Ashbee, Boaz Myhill, Andy Dawson and Ryan France, have made it from rock bottom right to the top. A bit like the manager who calls it an "amazing story". Overseeing the escapades of a side who were only promoted to the Premier League in May has been a righteous experience for Brown, a character who continues to promote a delectable County Durham accent.
He is far from curt. Brown and Hull ventured from London to Dubai on Saturday after holding Chelsea to a 0-0 draw. The flight duration was around seven hours. Brown's trek to this job has been more convoluted, even a little crazed. Brown is usually a besuited coach, a figure who is found at various outposts wired up on the touchline like something out of the Super Bowl. If "Big Phil" Scolari lost his job after Hull's draw at Stamford Bridge, then "Little Phil" seems to be surviving nicely. He is in a relaxed mood at a lofty hotel in Dubai's marina.
He meanders into the lobby wearing shorts, flip flops and a yellowish T-shirt. This was how Tom Selleck used to carry off such a look in his dashing Magum P.I. heyday. Brown is not here on a holiday, even if he did manage to work on his swing at the Montgomerie golf course on Sunday. He looks brown in the midst of snow and a British winter that has been flown in from Russia. If he has a penchant for the odd sunbed, being an electrician by trade, he could probably fix one too, his side have not been lying down in the company of some hot stuff.
Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham and Newcastle have all been caught in Hull's headlights. In a glorious month of September when Hull rose to third in the charts and the Tigers were ravaging all sorts of bigwigs, Brown won manager of the month. He feels that Hull are a "worldwide" brand, that he is on a "journey". This is a job he thinks about "24/7". Brown is youthful and outgoing, a year before he hits 50. This is the type of fellow who would be ideal company on a golf course, even if his working class will to win suggests he would make you see in a two-footer.
Men such as the former Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch and the Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce are confidantes. Allardyce offered Brown his first job in coaching at Blackpool. They met again at Bolton Wanderers. He cites his wife Karen and "Big Sam" for making significant contributions to a life in football. "When Sam offered me the job at Blackpool, I had to take a 75 per cent cut in wages, because I was still a player. I was a player, coaching the first team, taking the reserve team...and...it kept on going..." said Brown.
"Sam said to me never underestimate your first offer. It gets you on the ladder. Money should not be the main motivator. "Once I got on the ladder, it was the best bit of advice I had. Two years later, I was a Premier League coach under Sam at Bolton. "You have to have the courage of your convictions, I've got to give Karen credit, too. "She asked: 'Do you want to be a player, or a coach?', I said, well the future is coaching. She went out and took on a couple of jobs to help us make ends meet.
"It proved to be the right decision." Few recall that Sir Alex Ferguson began his life as a manager in Scotland with the minute East Stirling, that Everton's David Moyes turned out for Preston and Arsene Wenger represented Strasbourg as a defender. Brown's playing career was unspectacular, spanning 18 years with Hartlepool United, Halifax Town, Bolton and Blackpool. His first stint as a manager ended badly when he was dismissed by Derby County at the outset of 2006.
"I thought I could manage my own ship, but unfortunately eight months later I was out of work," he confesses. "The same thing happened at Newcastle for Sam. "The reason why the Hull chairman [Paul Duffen] is supportive is because we are winning. We were promoted to the Premier League in one year, instead of three. "We have broken our transfer record a few times, and broke it again with Jimmy Bullard at £5million (Dh26.5m).
"There are two ways at looking at the Premier League. You can take the money and run, but that is not the chairman. "For him that does not represent having fun or a sound investment. He wants to have a go, and we are selling out every week, so we are trying to do the right things." Brown will take his side off to Sheffield United on Saturday for a fifth-round match in the FA Cup. They hope to remain active in seeking a final place at the new Wembley Stadium. It was Dean Windass's goal in the 1-0 win over Bristol City in the play-off final at Wembley that earned Hull their Premier League place. Brown's main priority is to maintain it.
"A few people are saying they think it's going to be lower than 40 points to be safe. I don't think it is. I'm pitching it a bit higher than 40," he says. "We've already got 29, so we've not got too far to go. "It would mean more to keep us up than winning at Wembley last year, especially after being written off as everybody's whipping boys and expected to finish 20th out of 20 teams in the Premier League."
Brown berated his men in public during a 5-1 thumping by Manchester City in December. He opted to keep his side on the pitch at half-time rather than allow them to retreat to the solitude of the dressing room. Brown dashes suggestions that it was eccentric behaviour. "If you've sampled Sunday league football, you see that happening 3,000 times at the weekend," says Brown. "It's not unusual for supporters to see that at Sunday league games. I have played the game at that level. It was a Sunday league performance in the first half.
"It was uncharacteristic of us, so I did an uncharacteristic thing. "Some put a run of six defeats down to that half-time team talk. That had nothing to do with it, because we are playing some big names. I've had some positive feedback from the fans about it." Brown and Allardyce own a share of several racehorses. He likes to watch them go at Nad Al Sheba racecourse. Heading for home this season, Brown and Hull are well placed to crack the whip.
He may emanate from a Sunderland-supporting background and sound a bit like Jimmy Nail, but Brown is hardly ready to say Auf Wiedersehen Pet to his pet project. He is in charge of a fascinating passion play on East Yorkshire. email@example.com