Phil Brown joined Hull City as first team coach at the end of October 2006, tasked with the job of improving the Tigers’ form under newly appointed manager Phil Parkinson, whose tenure had seen City start the season badly and drift to the foot of the Championship table. Within five weeks Parkinson was dismissed and Brown was installed as caretaker manager alongside experienced hand Colin Murphy. At the start of January 2007 Brown was handed a full-time contract to lead the Tigers, with Murphy as his assistant, an appointment that went on to build on the remarkable achievements of Peter Taylor and propelled Hull City to previously unattained heights.
It started inauspiciously for Brown though, because a rescue job was the first order of the day. Three wins in his first six games secured the full-time role for Brown, then five winless League games after a spirited FA Cup tie defeat to Middlesbrough saw Brown’s side slip back into the bottom three. Four wins in seven games during March allowed the Tigers to pull clear again but despite another wobble in form, a win at Cardiff in the penultimate match of the season, secured by a goal from returning hero Dean Windass, saw City pull safe and send Leeds United to the third tier. Tidy.
In May 2007 Brown recruited former City manager Brian Horton as his assistant manager with Colin Murphy retained as director of development. It was a move that proved inspirational, Horton had unfinished business at Hull City that provided strong motivation for the side. The 2007/08 season began modestly with one win in the opening five league fixtures but as it progressed Brown reprised the magic that had worked so well at Bolton Wanderers a few years earlier – Henrik Pedersen and JJ Okocha were signed to give the side experience and quality, plus a sprinkling of youth was also recruited. It was a loan signing from Manchester United that proved transformational, Fraizer Campbell was fast, fearless and could finish all kinds of goals – as the season progressed Campbell became one of the division’s most feared strikers alongside veteran striker Dean Windass, and Brown’s side found real momentum. Between the end of January and mid-April City won ten of sixteen league games and lost only twice, rising to second in the table after Ian Ashbee inspired a 3-1 win at Barnsley. A defeat to Sheffield United saw City drop to third and a play-off place was secured. Watford awaited in the semi-finals and Brown turned to experience, Barmby and Windass scoring at Vicarage Road and Barmby scoring a vital equaliser in the second leg after Watford appeared to wrestle momentum with the opening goal. The Tigers’ first ever visit to Wembley beckoned and after 38 minutes of the final against Bristol City Dean Windass smote a Fraizer Campbell cross past Adriano Basso to secure promotion to the top flight – Phil Brown delivered one of the finest achievements in Hull City’s 104 year history.
The 2008 close season saw Brown work frantically in the transfer market and sign some fine talent – Bernard Mendy, Kamil Zayatte and Paul McShane at the back, George Boateng in midfield and Marlon King, Geovanni and Daniel Cousin up front. Geovanni inspired an opening day 2-1 win over Fulham but a 0-5 reverse against Wigan provided a sobering reminder of the scale of challenge posed by the Premier League. A fearless Brown decided to attack more and it delivered results, consecutive away wins at Newcastle United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion propelled the Tigers into the top two by the end of October and delirium overtook the bemused City fanbase. Brown stayed on the front foot, running a panicking Manchester United close in a 3-4 defeat at Old Trafford and taking a two goal lead at Anfield before Steven Gerrard inspired a Liverpool comeback. But when Sunderland thrashed the Tigers 1-4 at the KC Stadium the week before Christmas and Marlon King was jettisoned after perpetrating an assault on a night out in Soho, Brown lost a little of his verve and decided his team should defend more. It proved to be a poor decision – a thumping at Manchester City precipitated an ill-advised half-time team talk on the pitch, then a late Aston Villa goal against an ultra-defensive City side saw the Tigers lie eighth on New Years Day 2009. The rest of the season yielded only one more win – a 1-0 win at Fulham thanks to a Manucho injury time tap-in – and in May 2009 the Tigers finished 17th, avoiding promotion by one position.
Things went little better in the 2009/10 season, Geovanni was marginalised by Brown and evidence of the club’s overstretched finances emerged when Michael Turner was hurriedly sold to rivals Sunderland with less capable Ibrahima Sonko loaned in as a replacement. City dropped into the bottom two at Christmas and only one win in 15 league games between late November and mid-March sealed Brown’s fate. After a plucky performance against Arsenal ended in 1-2 defeat thanks to a 90th minute Niklas Bendtner goal, Brown was placed on gardening leave and never returned. It was an inauspicious end to some of the greatest times that many Hull City supporters would ever see. Tan shoes, radio microphone, preening attitude – the sight of Phil Brown on the City touchline would endure in the memory for many years.
Philip Brown was born in South Shields on the banks of the River Tyne, he was educated in Hebburn and played junior football in the Tyneside area while training to be an electrician before joining Division Four side Hartlepool United as a teenager in the summer of 1978. He made his first team debut for Pools in March 1980 against Peterborough United and became a first team regular at the start of the 1980/81 season, scoring his first senior goal against Rochdale in August 1980. During the 1981/82 season Brown was handed the captain’s armband at Hartlepool and remained club captain at his various clubs for the next fifteen years.
Brown spent four more seasons at Hartlepool but by the 1986 close season he was looking for a move. After nine goals in 249 appearances Phil turned down the chance to play in Belgium for Racing Jet Bruxelles and reunited with his former Pools teammate Billy Ayre, joining Division Four rivals Halifax Town in July 1985 for a £3,000 fee. At Halifax Town he missed only three league games in three seasons and improved his goalscoring record – by the 1988 close season Brown had netted 20 times in 158 appearances for the Shaymen.
In June 1988 Brown was transferred to Division Three side Bolton Wanderers for a £16,000 fee, a move that would define his career for much of the next two decades. His reputation for ultra-consistency remained intact – he missed just one league game in his first three seasons at Bolton – and he assisted the Trotters to the Division Three play-offs in 1989/90 season, when they lost the semi-final to Notts County, and the 1990/91 season when they reached the Wembley final only to lose to Tranmere Rovers after extra time. Brown’s Bolton eventually won promotion to Division Two (now rebranded League Division 1) in the 1992/93 season, avoiding the play-offs by finishing second in the table. Brown remained at Bolton for the 1993/94 season and missed just four games as the Trotters finished in mid-table – by the 1994 close season Brown had scored 17 goals in 332 appearances for Bolton Wanderers. In July 1994 Brown was released by Bolton and was quickly snapped up by League Division 2 side Blackpool, where he played under newly appointed manager Sam Allardyce. A year later Allardyce made Brown his player-coach at Blackpool and formed a partnership that would endure for the next ten years. At the end of the 1995/96 season Brown decided to hang up his boots and left Blackpool having scored six goals in 53 appearances.
In May 1996 Brown was appointed chief coach at former club Bolton Wanderers, a timely move because days later the Tangerines sacked manager Allardyce. Brown worked under Bolton manager Colin Todd and in his first year back at Burnden Park, the 1996/97 season, the Trotters won the League Division 1 title while also beating top flight sides Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in a fine League Cup run. Todd’s side was relegated from the Premier League back to League Division 1 in the 1997/98 season but he and Brown then rejuvenated the side and reached the League Division 1 play-offs at the end of the 1998/99 season, losing to Watford in the Wembley final – this was also a season that featured the famous tennis ball protest initiated by Hull City fans during an early-season League Cup tie at Bolton.
Poor form at the start of the 1999/00 season saw the Trotters drift into the bottom six and Todd was dismissed in September 1999 – after a five match spell with Phil Brown in temporary charge, which yielded four wins, Todd was replaced in October 1999 by Brown’s former Blackpool manager Sam Allardyce. Allardyce elevated Brown to assistant manager and the pair propelled Bolton up the table – the end of season play-offs in May 2000 ended with defeat at the semi-final stage but Brown and Allardyce’s side went one better in the 2000/01 season, defeating local rivals Preston North End in the play-off final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and returning Bolton to the Premier League.
For the next four years Allardyce and Brown built a side that competed at the upper end of the Premier League, signing star international footballers either reaching the end of their careers or coming to Lancashire with a point to prove. In June 2005 Brown decided to emerge from the considerable shadow of Sam Allardyce, leave Bolton Wanderers and strike out on his own – he was appointed first team manager at Championship side Derby County. It was a move that rapidly turned sour – after a fine start to the season saw the Rams in third place after four matches, a run of fifteen matches during the Autumn months yielded only one victory and by January 2006 Derby were languishing in the bottom six. Brown was sacked at the end of January 2006 after 33 matches in charge, the final straw being dumped out of the FA Cup by a League 1 side Colchester United managed by Phil Parkinson. He had been out of frontline football for nine months when he answered the call to assist Parkinson at Hull City in October 2006.
Brown was placed on gardening leave by Hull City in March 2010 and agreed terms for a permanent separation from the relegated Tigers in June 2010. He returned to management in January 2011 when he replaced Darren Ferguson as manager at Championship strugglers Preston North End, Brian Horton once again joining him as assistant manager. One of his first acts was to sign his former captain at Hull City Ian Ashbee, but the assembled cast was not sufficient for the Lilywhites to avoid relegation at the end of the 2010/11 season. Relegated to League One, Brown’s side started the 2011/12 season well but had drifted into mid-table when he and Horton were dismissed in December 2011 – he led Preston for 51 matches.
In March 2013 Phil was appointed manager at League Two side Southend United and he led the Shrimpers for five and a half seasons, winning promotion to League One in the 2014/15 season via a Wembley play-off final victory over Wycombe Wanderers. After consolidating Southend in League One Brown’s side lost eight of nine matches during December 2017 and January 2018, and in mid-January 2018 Brown was sacked – he led the Shrimpers for 251 matches.
Brown was appointed Swindon Town manager in March 2018 but lost his job in November 2018 after just eight months and 32 matches in charge. Between December 2018 and January 2020 he managed Indian Premier League side Hyderabad FC, He returned to Southend United in April 2021 with the Shrimpers now in League Two and hovering above the relegation zone – Brown’s arrival did not galvanise the side and Southend were relegated to the Conference National league after just six matches in charge. Brown started the 2021/22 season at the Roots Hall helm but was dismissed in October 2021 with the side lurking in the bottom six. In March 2022 Brown was appointed by another struggling League Two side Barrow, with a brief to avoid relegation – this time he succeeded but was not offered an extended contract at the end of the season and left Barrow after 9 matches in charge.
In January 2024 Brown took on another big challenge when he was appointed first team manager at Conference National side Kidderminster Harriers, taking on a side marooned at the foot of the Conference table.
Date/Place of Birth: 30 May 1959, South Shields, England
Appointed by Hull City: 4 December 2006; 47 years, 188 days old
Left Hull City: 15 March 2010; 50 years, 289 days old
Tenure: 1,197 days
Bolton Wanderers (1999), Derby County (2005-2006), Hull City (2006-2010), Preston North End (2011), Southend United (2013-2018), Swindon Town (2018), Hyderabad (2018-2020), Southend United (2021), Barrow (2022), Kidderminster Harriers (2024-current)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 157, Won 52, Drawn 40, Lost 65, Goals For 193, Goals Against 234
Achievements: 3rd in Championship, 2007/08 season; Championship play-off winners, 2007/08 season; 17th in Premier League, 2008/09 season