Phil Brown puts the roar into Hull’s Tigers

Oct 21, 2008
Neil Clark

MAN IN THE NEWS: The Hull City manager is raising the reputation of English football coaches, says Neil Clark

What is it about Hull and its men in dark suits? Philip Larkin, the poet never seen without a collar and tie; John Prescott MP, who asked "What are chinos?" when Tony Blair requested that he dress down for dinner; and now Phil Brown, manager of Hull City, always patrolling the touchline in his nifty black suit, urging his team on to greater triumph.

Before this season, Hull City had never played in the top flight of English football. They now sit proudly in third place in the Premier League, just three points behind leaders Chelsea and ahead of both Manchester United and Arsenal.

Hull's incredible metamorphosis dates from December 2006, when Brown took over. Hull were then facing relegation to the third tier. Not only did Brown save 'The Tigers' from the drop, he also led them to promotion to the Premiership in his first full season.

A journeyman footballer (right), who plied his trade at lower-division clubs such as Hartlepool and Halifax, Brown later worked for six years as the right-hand man to Sam Allardyce at Bolton, during which time the Lancashire side became established as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.

Under Allardyce and Brown, Bolton became renowned for their intelligent tactics, frequently getting the better of the Premiership's more illustrious clubs, and Brown has clearly put the experience to good use. This season, he has out-witted internationally respected football managers such as Arsene Wenger and Juande Ramos in Europe's top league.

Wenger was taken completely by surprise last month by Hull's positive, attacking approach. Eschewing the overly-defensive approach most teams adopt at Arsenal, Brown played with two strikers and put talented Brazilian Geovanni on the left-wing, from where he scored a brilliant equaliser. Wenger was so stunned by the subsequent defeat he referred to Hull as "West Brom" in the post-match press conference.

A week later, 49-year-old Brown took his side to Tottenham, where his tactics once more flummoxed the opposition, with Hull winning 1-0. On Sunday, in the match against West Ham, Brown again showed his tactical prowess, making half-time changes to his team's formation which changed the course of the game and led to another Hull victory.

In England, we tend to think that our managers, while being good motivators, are tactically inferior to European coaches. The late Peter Cook's hilarious comedy creation, manager 'Alan Latchley', who thinks football is only about "the three Ms: motivation, motivation, motivation and motivation" springs readily to mind. Brown has already done much to destroy the stereotype.

Will he last the course, and grow into a truly great British manager – a Brian Clough or Bill Shankly? Maybe. The fate of his mentor Sam Allardyce, who left Bolton for Newcastle only to lose his job eight months later, should help keep his feet firmly on the ground.

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