Hull City boss Phil Brown walks the bridge...but soon it could be the plank
02 October 2009 01:16
You would never guess by his demeanour that Phil Brown is fighting for his managerial future.
Breezing into his weekly press conference at Hull City's leafy training ground in Cottingham at nine o'clock on Thursday morning, the handshakes, arms around the shoulders and easy quips for his inquisitors came across as genuine shows of affection, not the acts of a man in need of friends.
Brown takes time to understand people, a club, the game. It leads him along paths that are not trodden by the majority.
When Hull were breezing through their first Barclays Premier League campaign last autumn, he was hailed for daring to be different. When their mid-season stutter descended into a freefall that has continued this season, those idiosyncrasies were suddenly ridiculed - millstones no less.
Divergence from the norm only cuts it as long as you are winning, it seems. Take the earpiece and microphone he wears on the touchline, or the infamous half-time dressing down of his team at Manchester City last Christmas.
Or this week's exhibit - a walk across the nearby Humber Bridge for his entire first-team squad in search of a vision and a return to the values and good habits which characterised his team a year ago.
Brown understands the exercise will not be interpreted kindly by everyone.
He said: 'I can see the headlines, "Browny's innovation - a walk on the Humber Bridge". The foolhardy might just say, "What a load of ***** that is".
'We were looking for clarity. Did we find it? Absolutely. When you're jogging you can't really speak. When you're walking, you can. So that's what we did.
'There are analogies if you want them. The bridge was built with modern-day engineering based on the fact that when an ill wind blows, the bridge becomes stronger, a sturdier sculpture.
'As far as we were concerned, we just went for a walk. It was a sunny day, so we took a hike. Simple as. It's nice to go out and about, to put your face in the headlights and try and find out what people are saying. I don't see the negativity that I'm being told is out there.'
Fully aware again that the information he is providing could be manipulated against him, Brown also told of a woman he and his team encountered on the bridge who was considering her own future at a notorious suicide spot and who, after a chat, walked away more contented.
The mischievous could interpret that as a sign that the nattiest dresser in the Premier League is full of himself. In fact, he is full of life. Where other managers might have cut ties with former players, Brown took Michael Turner - the centre half he sold to Sunderland in the summer and who repaid him by scoring against Hull in a 4-1 win for his new club - for a meal this week.
Brown said: 'How can this be the hardest time I've had as a manager? I'm a Premier League manager, that's something I've always wanted to be and I'm still here.
'I'm enjoying this season. We've got a packed house week in, week out and that to me is a testimony to success. We're talking about extending the stadium, we're talking about World Cup bids, we're talking about 90 acres of land which we've just purchased for a new training ground. The club is on the move and we've just got to get through this sticky patch.'
Sticky, indeed. The statistics, on this occasion, are not lies. Hull have managed only two victories in the past 29 Premier League fixtures and not since the gaping chasm that is the West Bromwich defence conceded two goals in January has Brown's team scored more than once in a Premier League game.
A second half surrender at Anfield last week meant a 6-1 mauling by Liverpool. With an international break to follow tomorrow's visit of Wigan - who won 5-0 at the KC Stadium last season - defeat would turn even a man as assured as Brown into a quivering wreck every time the phone rings.
Quite rightly, he prefers to see the opportunity offered by a spell of four home games in the next six, with Portsmouth, Stoke and West Ham also travelling to the KC Stadium, where they will encounter the new Hull captain, 35-year-old local boy Nicky Barmby.
Brown added: 'People will be judging me and judging everything else based on the next six games. As far as I'm concerned, this will design our season. It's not a time for fear. You want brave players, forthright players who are going to stand up to the challenge. Bravery can be sticking with the game plan even if you don't agree with it.
'There is an understanding required when you pull on a Hull City shirt and it's not just that you're playing for your living. You're playing for a club that is close to my heart. These players need to realise that. Hence the reason for making Nicky Barmby captain.'
Brown's achievements and his engaging honesty deserve time. Hull will be bucking recent football history by giving him it.