10 January ~ Phil Brown's appointment as Preston North End manager will come as a relief not just to him but also to the thousands of Hull City supporters who remain in his debt. Inevitably, we've since heard that the local tanning salons will see their profits rise and that the Deepdale microphone will need to be kept out of the new gaffer's reach. This is deeply, deeply tedious. Preston, as I'm sure their more thoughtful supporters will know, have just got themselves a man who has recent form for pulling a Championship club away from relegation before taking it in the opposite direction.
Brown was brought to Hull in the autumn of 2006 to work as coach under manager Phil Parkinson, who was sacked in December with the Tigers in the bottom three and in ghastly form. Through a combination of subtle tactics and the self-belief he instilled in the squad, Brown staved off relegation with just a game to spare, sending Leeds United down simultaneously as a scrumptious bonus. Though many thought that a historic promotion to the Premier League the following year was down to luck, the Tigers went into the play-offs as favourites. They had been close to going up automatically and boasted a mean-spirited (and exceptional) defence, a midfield with a blend of guile and strength, and a couple of strikers who were scoring prolifically.
For the first six months in the Premier League, Brown and the team could do no wrong, locally or beyond. It started to go pear-shaped only when he began to believe the hype a little too much, though still he had the majority of the crowd on his side when the Tigers stayed up on the final day and he mutilated the City-centric version of Sloop John B on the KC announcer's mic. The team's decline last season has to be seen in the context of upheavals behind the scenes, with Brown's main backer, executive chairman Paul Duffen, replaced by the returning Adam Pearson, the man who had appointed Brown in 2006. Pearson gave Brown another five months before finally putting him on gardening leave in March 2010. The settlement was reached in the summer, by which time the Tigers had been relegated.
It's taken a while for Brown to find work again, despite jobs at Sheffield United (twice), Scunthorpe, Southampton, Middlesbrough, Leicester and his old playing club Hartlepool, among others, becoming available during his time of leisure. Few of the jobs went to candidates with better qualifications, Leicester perhaps being the only obvious exception. There is enough of the season left for the unfairly derided Brown to prove that the idiosyncrasies of his Premier League time were just that, and under it all there is a gifted and astute football boss. Matthew Rudd