By Alex Netherton
Phil Brown bounds down to meet me in the hotel lobby, and I know it’s going to be a memorable interview. In 12 hours’ time, he’ll be waxing tactical over “a couple of sherbets”, while we watch old videos of his last season with Bolton. But right now we’re in the Hull Ramada bar, and he’s in his dressing gown.
I ask him if he’s relaxed from his notoriously fastidious playing-days diet – “Protein shakes, leaf salads an’ a hundred crunches every hour. I know crunches aren’t a food, but I’ve always believed that you are what you eat, and I am all about core strength. That’s a metaphor, too…” – and he shakes his head with a wry smile, the one we’ve all seen on the ‘Goals on Sunday’ couch, the one that means more than even the most laconic contribution.
“No way, Phil Brown’s always learning. I’ve learnt more about the breakdown and make-up of amino acids since I’ve met Giovanni than I have in what I like to call a childhood with Big Sam.”
You certainly believe that in person. Over the course of the next 12 hours, I saw Brown’s sculpted torso no fewer than six times. Training, the office, the rubdowns – three – were all chances to see he practises what he preaches. Talking of preaching, when we discuss Brown’s religious beliefs by the training ground that morning, Brown quickly interjects:
“Religion? Don’t need it, the only crosses I’m in interested in are Geovanni’s tracer missiles onto Hunt’s noggin.”
Always learning? Definitely, but never forget with Brown that he’s always entertaining.
The reason Brown – a very private individual, he says – is giving the interview today, is to tell me just why he’s quitting the social networking site Twitter. “I know I’ve hit my stride recently, tactically and spiritually. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve nailed the two at the same time. A lot of that has come from the self-verbalisation and, in turn, the self-actualisation that naturally followed. But I know Phil Brown now, and I like him. I don’t need to know anymore.”
But what about his followers?
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad a lot of people have clearly got so much out of it, but what I suppose you’re asking me is, ‘Why does Phil Brown make such a good interviewee?’ I’d answer that Phil Brown has many unusual sides. I call myself ‘The Oblong’.”
The formal interview over, Brown invites me to stay for afternoon training. It is not what I’d expect. Brown, again stripped to the torso, greco-roman wrestling with his players, as pre-recorded aphorisms (“I like to think of them as through balls to the soul”) play over the sodden goalmouth, like a demented Fight Club training basement. It’s here I realise that this is why he’s leaving Twitter. Phil Brown was naked to us all on Twitter, the 140 characters of exposure got him here – happy. But all he really wants is to be naked with his players.