15 March ~ As is often the case with managerial exits within a relegation campaign, it's all about the timing. Phil Brown's departure from Hull City has thrown up a thousand questions. With nine games to go and a fair few "winnable" fixtures, it seems possible that chairman Adam Pearson already has Brown's successor lined up and is gambling on the prospect of this man instilling a fresh impetus within the squad. Part of Brown's trouble this season is that the team has not been galvanised for the bread and butter games in the way that they visibly were in the last minute defeat against Arsenal at the weekend.
As to who the new man may be, well that's for another day. Meanwhile, one can hope that football will feel sorrier for not having Phil Brown involved. For a day or two it'll be all about tanning salons, singing at the KC, spats of a figurative and literal nature with Cesc Fabregas, headsets, pink jumpers, the WI, saving suicidal damsels and, of course, holding alfresco teamtalks. Let those who choose to sneer have their moment. Those of us who see a fine football manager beyond the juvenile idiosyncrasies will make sure that his abilities are acknowledged.
Brown was called upon by Pearson to aid a flagging Phil Parkinson as the Tigers began the 2006-07 Championship season wretchedly. Brown provided sturdy backing for Parkinson, whose brand of free-thinking management had not worked at all. Results didn't improve but attitudes did – that was placed on Brown's shoulders and he took over from Parkinson in the December. The upturn was visible and the first major moment orchestrated by Brown came when his side won 1-0 at Cardiff on the penultimate weekend of the season which, added to Leeds United's draw against Ipswich, kept the Tigers up. The next season, with Paul Duffen now at the helm, Brown invested in the squad and earned a first crack at the top flight in the club's 104-year history thanks to a terrific team spirit and, eventually, to Dean Windass at Wembley.
The Brown legend was added to by wins at Arsenal, especially, and Tottenham last season, plus a 2-2 draw at Liverpool and a 4-3 defeat at Manchester United, memorable for a panicking Cristiano Ronaldo choosing to kick the ball into the crowd in injury-time rather than risk losing possession. Brown then inhaled the oxygen of publicity too readily, and his image got in the way. But while the slide in form – one Premier League win in five months – was deserving of the sack, these circumstances were not normal and he had no reason not to feel safe, even aiding himself by getting the club into the FA Cup semi-final draw for the first time since 1930. Ultimately, Newcastle United's awfulness kept the Tigers up but it was still more than anyone had dare predict.
Brown lost his way this season, falling out with senior players too much and staying way too quiet over Duffen's decision to sell iconic defender Michael Turner which sent the supporters incandescent with rage. He then had his security blanket taken from him when Duffen was ousted by owner Russell Bartlett and the merciless Pearson returned. Rumour was that Brown would go straightaway but instead he responded to Pearson's restoration of a proper chain of command and, briefly, results and relations improved. But the club's decision to sue Duffen over financial irregularities – which ended in an out-of-court settlement – didn't help Brown either. With an FA inquiry due it remains to be seen just how much Brown knew, and where, if anywhere, his reputation will go. Some supporters will feel that Brown has exited in anticipation of something damaging emerging from the inquiry.
So, with a trip to Portsmouth this weekend and games against Burnley, Sunderland and Wigan Athletic within one of the more favourable relegation run-ins, we shall see if this latest bit of Pearson calculation comes off. Brown, meanwhile, should still be able to walk into a new job in the summer. There is a football manager, and a gifted one, under all that front. Matthew Rudd