John Hughes appointed instead
15 November ~ On Tuesday reputable news agencies were reporting Phil Brown's appointment as Hartlepool manager as a done deal. Only official confirmation of the new chief was missing and that was anticipated with excitement. Nobody seemed worried about his cringe-inducing on-pitch rants, dubious suicide rescues or freakishly orange hue anymore, Brown was very firmly the fans' choice. So the announcement that the job was going to Livingston's John Hughes a couple of hours later came as a bit of a surprise.
Some of us responded by searching the internet for answers to the question: "John Who?" but a lot more stormed onto their digital soapboxes to denounce the owners, players and backroom staff of the club. There was even talk of boycotting Saturday's home match with Coventry due to the club's inability to give us the man we wanted and, most crucially of all, who wanted us.
The fans' desperation to welcome a former full-back who appears to have massive ego problems, and certainly has a questionable record since leaving Hull, can't be explained by looking at Brown's achievements. He did very well keeping Hull in the Championship and then pushing on to the Premier League but then made a fool of himself during their relegation season. His attempt to work the magic again at Preston was an abysmal failure.
The wave of love for the potential messiah grew from our own low self-esteem. A slump in home form last winter had seen the well-liked Mick Wadsworth shown the door so we could rekindle our affair with Neale Cooper. It didn't work out and Cooper did the decent thing by resigning before it turned nasty. When Brown started giving us the glad eye we were six points adrift at the bottom, nine behind the clubs we'd need to catch to survive and humiliated in the FA Cup by a Chesterfield side that could have got more than the six they settled for. People were arguing over whether we'd finish the season with an all-time low points total, if we'd break the club record for most matches without a win and whether this was one of our worst ever sides. The most popular answers were "yes", "yes" and "time will tell but probably not if you remember the 1980s".
Then along came Brown speaking on Sky, saying he was proud to have been interviewed and keen to try to save us. Happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in, champing at the bit to manage again and, as a north-east lad, happy to do it at Hartlepool. Suddenly a man who had never looked our type seemed perfect. Brown would bring in Brian Horton, meaning the old boys network rumoured to run things behind the scenes would be done for. Premier League Brown would have no respect for the modest achievements of the senior pros who coast along, apparently guaranteed a starting place no matter what, and would tear into them. As for the players who just aren't good enough, Brown's top-tier contact book would soon secure a raft of quality loanees to sort that out.
The only problem was that the deal hadn't been done. There have been suggestions that the 11th hour breakdown was caused by a mystery contract clause but maybe it was Brown's decision to go public about the job before he got it that did for him. The uncharitable might think that he was trying to mobilise support among the desperate fans so he could force the club's hand during final discussions; give me what I want or you'll have to deal with that lot. It's an appealing thought that the club's owners, who pride themselves on discretion learned in the oil industry, called his bluff.
I doubt we'll ever know exactly what went on. We'll just have to adjust to feeling a bit seedy when we think about how ready we were to hop into bed with Phil Brown. Only a day later it is starting to feel like we had a lucky escape, he's far too flash and would only have used us as a stepping stone anyway. Apparently John "Yogi" Hughes is a fearsome disciplinarian, highly competent coach and a well-balanced bloke who favours developing youngsters and playing a passing game. Just the right type for a long-term relationship. Ed Parkinson