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The timing is questionable – the task, sizable – the situation, desperate.
Nevertheless, Phil Brown is back in town, exuberating all the confidence and swagger of a man ready for one of the toughest challenges of his managerial career.
Previously, the 61-year-old enjoyed a five-year stint at Roots Hall, leading Southend United to promotion via a dramatic Sky Bet League Two play-off victory over Wycombe Wanderers back in 2015. How the two clubs fortunes have changed since then!
Southend’s situation is desperate. Earlier this week, I put several questions to the current crop of players. Who amongst them would be able to look the supporters in the face at the end of the season and say they had done as much as they possibly could? How did they want to be remembered by Southend fans? I put the same question to the incoming boss.
“As a winner – as somebody that took the club from the middle of the Second Division to knocking at the door of the Championship,” he confidently responded.
“OK, I left in no uncertain terms. It wasn’t a shock departure – results dictate that. But having come back now, and having had a lot of nice messages – I mean, there will be people out there that wouldn’t have liked the fact I’ve come back, but that’s life. You can’t be best friends to everybody – you can’t be the flavour of the month to everybody. It is one of them where that is the deal.
“That is what happens where football is concerned – that is what happens where management is concerned.
“How do I want to be remembered? It would be nice to be remembered as the team that survived with six games to go and five points adrift.
“We’ve got a chance, we’ve got an opportunity now – not to put a marker down, I think the marker has been laid – but we’ve got a chance to arrest the situation that we are in. If we can do that, then hopefully, open negotiations and continue at teh football club. I want to take the football club forward again.
“But these are conversations for down the line. I think the most important thing that we can concentrate on is the controllables. What we can control is our performance tomorrow. That is the only thing we can.
“If that performance is good enough to win and that performance for the next six games is good enough to keep us in the division, then that is what I want to be remembered for.”
Brown has always displayed confidence in his ability, but what about those he has inherited? Does this group of players have it in them to pull off a great escape?
“I have to say, I sat down with a group of very talented players at Hull City when I first went in there. I stopped the session after 15 or 20 minutes and asked the question; ‘what are we doing at the bottom of this division?’ – It was a rescue situation was I was at Hull City. We were bottom of the Championship.
“Giving the players belief and confidence can be a transient thing. I watched training this morning and sat them down exactly the same way – it was a time warp of ten or twelve years – I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I was witnessing a group of players that were confident, expressive, had a smile on their face. There were lots of things to admire about what they were doing. But it was a waste of time on a Friday – it needs to come out on a Saturday – It needs to come out on a Tuesday.
“If we can do that in a way, in a manner that is ca[pable of winning a game of football tomorrow, then hopefully training next week will be a little bit brighter, a little bit sharper, a little bit livelier, a little bit more enjoyable. All of those things lead you to believe that you can go into a game with a little bit of renewed confidence.
“I can’t give them confidence – it has to come from within. I just appear – to you – as a confident guy. It’s simply how I’m made up – it’s simply how I was built and that’s never going to change as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully, I can give a little bit of that to the players and they can carry it into the game tomorrow.
Empty stadiums haven’t necessarily meant that the fans are not heard. Southend supporters have been extremely vocal via various streams of social media, expressing their disappointment, frustration and anger as to the clubs’ plight. But what was Brown’s message to them?
“It’s a difficult one, isn’t it. I can’t paint a glossy picture – I can’t paint a rosy picture of the situation. It is what it is.
“But the owner has decided to make a change and I can’t even say get behind the team because bottom line is that you can’t put your bum on the seat, you can’t give your vocal support, you can’t come and watch your team play.
“It is about putting everything on hold. I told 24 players this morning to put their lives on hold. Forget about their families at the moment and bring everything they’ve got into the training ground and then bring it to the game on a Saturday. If that is the case, then I will be happy because I’ll at least be going into the game, whether we’ve got supporters or not, with the knowledge and the belief that we have a chance of winning the game.
“If that is the case for the next six games, that is all I can hope for.
“Supporters can play their role with regards to social media, for sure. But it’s a level of support, whether it be verbal, vocal, physical, mental, whether it be pictorial – whatever. Just give support, don’t take it away from the players because they will be giving their all over this four weeks and six games.”
Brown’s reappointment in the Roots Hall hot seat has certainly spilt opinion amongst the Blues faithful. But with one last roll of the dice at their disposal, the South Shields-born former full-back might just offer the nerve and knowhow to steer the ship to calmer seas.