Phil Brown: “It’s so easy for your image to stick… Image is nine-tenths of the law” | Kidderminster Harriers

OOn an overcast afternoon in Aggborough, Phil Brown flicks through a notepad full of pages of preparations for crucial games against York City and Fylde. It’s impossible not to wonder how a former Premier League manager ended up at Kidderminster Harriers. When Brown took charge two months ago, Kidderminster were bottom of the National League table, but they won six of their nine league games to close the gap to two points. Brown breathed life into their fight to stay in the division.

However, Brown has always shown good self-deprecation. When discussing the makeup of his squad, he describes his players as craftsmen and athletes, with the former typically known for their talent and the latter for racking up mileage on the field. So what does this make of Brown, the 64-year-old who has revitalized a team staring at relegation to the sixth tier? “I’m a car salesman,” he says, and laughter fills the room. Brown holds court in his windowless manager’s office, his assistant Neil McDonald also at his desk.

“I look at the table, how tight it has become, and I think we are now – indirectly – responsible for the form of all the players.” Der Others look over their shoulders and ask, “What’s going on?” “If they can do it, we can do it.” We just have to keep focusing on ourselves.”

The other analogy the couple uses is similar to painting by numbers, suggesting that removing things helped produce results. “We say everything is black and white,” says McDonald. “We’re trying to stop the gray areas – players add the color using their own skills.”

Brown took over a team that had won four of its first 28 games, but he stresses that there is little point in dwelling on the gravity of the situation in his initial discussions with his team. Furthermore, Brown felt encouraged by the fact that Kidderminster had stayed in so many games, only losing by more than a goal on a few occasions. “You don’t juggle balls or tell jokes – you don’t try to lighten the load that way,” he says. “You have to develop a game plan.”

Phil Brown celebrates Kidderminster’s victory over Oldham in February. Photo: MI News/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

His first game suggested that Brown could bail out Kidderminster. They were 2-0 down against Aldershot within 24 minutes but won 4-2. “I thought, ‘My God,'” he says. “But we equalized at half-time. It was a very open and expansive game, very different to the war of attrition you sometimes see in National League games because so many coaches at this level try to play the beautiful game. Everyone tries to copy Man City and play like them to a certain extent. Aldershot was no different and we found a way.”

If it was a surprise to see Brown, who led Hull to the Premier League in 2008, embarking on what at first seemed a thankless task in Worcestershire, then it’s fair to assume the students had something of it I was shocked when he presented at their assembly at nearby Wolverley School last week. Brown was sent off for inconsistency in the win against Oxford City and wanted to apologize for his language after more than 1,000 children attended the game as a result of a Quid a Kid initiative. “I submitted to public policy,” he says with a smile.

“I shout these swear words at the referee, bam, red card, so I gave myself a £1 per kid fine,” he says. “I went to schools and told them it wasn’t very nice to swear like that in public. I have another appointment this Monday to spread the message. Like me, the money went into a charity fund Taking part in the London Landmark Half Marathon for Prost8.”

Brown has just returned from a 10K run – “I did over 20 laps around the stadium” – and needs to break in his new sneakers. On his desk is an envelope containing £10, donated by the son of Ray Mercer, the club’s former secretary, affectionately known as “Mr. Kidderminster” and who had a street named in his honor around the corner from the ground. Brown is relaxed about his journey to this point, but despite making it at elite level and having fond memories of victories at Arsenal and Tottenham, he is comfortable in his new surroundings.

“If my head was on my butt and I thought I was still up there,” he says, raising his right hand, “the players would see that from the first minute. They wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t try to take over anything. I think I can help them based on my experience. I’m still in the game, even though I’ve accepted: will I ever return to the Premier League? Probably not. Will I ever achieve my goal of becoming an international manager? Probably not. Have I managed to manage at the highest level? Yes. Abroad? I checked all of those boxes.”

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He spent 14 months in charge of Pune City, which became Indian Super League club Hyderabad, before finding himself on the other side of the questions as a media analyst. A five-and-a-half-hour trip to Gujarat remains in my memory. “It was like planes, trains and automobiles. We cut the trip short and when we got back on the bus there was a bus blocking us from getting off and there was a guy on the bus with a goat on a leash. I couldn’t believe it…”

Arguably his biggest day in office was getting promoted with Hull at Wembley. He kept Hull in the top flight the following season, then grabbed a microphone and serenaded the fans. But he knows he will always be synonymous with another moment, when he attacked his players at Manchester City and gave them a half-time speech about the team on the pitch in front of the away fans.

Phil Brown gives his infamous half-time team speech on the pitch at the City of Manchester Stadium in 2008. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire/PA Photos

“People have forgotten that we survived this year,” he says. “But it’s so easy for your image to stick. I’ve told Macca this many times: the picture is nine-tenths of the law. The tenth is that after you finish this interview you walk away thinking, “He’s not the jerk I thought he was before I came in here”… There’s nothing I can do about that. People’s opinion of me might have gone up a notch by the end of our time here in Kidderminster, who knows?”

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