Martin Hardy: Point of principle that keeps Phil Brown on the job market

Life Beyond the Premier League

On the highwire of football management can stand a precarious principle, a belief, a bit of knowledge learned the hard way. Last Monday evening, Phil Brown was in the stands at the International Stadium in Gateshead to watch Hartlepool reserves. At that point he was the manager-in-waiting to succeed Neale Cooper at Victoria Park; 24 hours later, at what is commonly termed the 11th hour, talks broke down. Brown, who made his first foray into professional football at Hartlepool as a player in 1980, could not, he now reveals, bring in the full backroom staff he believed he required to change the club's fortunes.

Hands were shaken, and a job that had been Brown's for the taking was offered to John Hughes, the manager of Livingston. Hughes took it. Brown (right) continues his search to get back into the game that has been a major part of his life for 33 years.

"I'm unattached and I'm looking for work," Brown says. "I have worked all my life so I don't want to be out of work. I want to be known as a hard-working bloke. I was brought up to graft. I served my time on the Tyne. I worked as an electrician, getting up at six o'clock and not coming home till midnight. That is what I am. I'm a working-class lad from South Shields.

"Hartlepool interested me because you are in the third tier. The club has progressed since I was there as a player and you're in a region that is still, as far as I'm concerned, a football hotbed.

"People are saying I was too expensive. That's a load of rubbish. I was prepared to work under the constraints of the football club. I wanted to bring my backroom staff in. At the 11th hour there were one or two demands from themselves. I didn't agree with them. They were deal-breakers as opposed to deal-makers. They wouldn't back off and I was going to make a stand.

"I went into Preston and we went our separate ways because I wanted to restructure the backroom staff. That was a problem. I didn't want to see that being the problem at Hartlepool. It needs rebuilding. The club has been staring at a lot of managers over the last 10 years. I wanted to be allowed to restructure it.

"We went our separate ways amicably. I was disappointed. There was a very good opportunity to get it going."

It is just four years since Brown led Hull City from the bottom of the Championship to sixth place in the Premier League. They were supposed to go straight back down; suddenly they had 20 points from 11 games and that was enough to keep them up, by the skin of their teeth.

Brown has two more promotions on his CV, as coach at Bolton Wanderers, and as assistant manager at the same club. Preston did not work out and the road back into management is not easy.

"I got to the final process at Coventry, Bury and Gilllingham," he adds. "They were three clubs where it was very interesting meeting the chairmen, hearing about the challenge and what they had to say.

"I'm not in a position where I can turn clubs down. The average is 60 applications for every job, no matter what club. Look at the managers out of work at the minute; I have no divine right. I needed to understand why certain clubs didn't even respond to a telephone call, saying 'come in for a chat'.

"Sometimes I haven't received a telephone call. When I think about my CV, I have three promotions from the Championship to the Premier League. When you don't get a call to have a chat to see if we meet eye to eye, that has disappointed me.

"I did a bit of work for the FA pro licence. I was really pleased to be asked to help them out. One of the categories was, 'What do you want to be remembered for?' I put up pictures of me singing on the pitch and the half-time team-talk at Manchester City and I said to them all that those were not the way I wanted people to think of me. I wanted to be remembered for doing a thorough job at a football club, for making the club better and for achieving success.

"It is important how hard you work inside your football club. You need good, thorough, professional people around you and you can really take a club places. People have a perception of me but they don't see the hard graft or the long hours I put in.

"I love the game. I always have done and I want to be managing again."