FOUR goals down at half-time against Manchester City, Dean Windass thought he knew what was heading the way of Hull City’s shell-shocked players.
A dressing down to end all dressing downs was surely coming from manager Phil Brown, the Tigers striker believed as he started to make his way towards the tunnel at the Eithad Stadium.
Hull did, indeed, find themselves on the end of some stern words, but what neither Windass nor any of his team-mates could have predicted as the half-time whistle blew was just where that tongue-lashing would be delivered.
“I was walking off the pitch when I spotted Phil heading on to it,” recalled the 47-year-old earlier this week to The Yorkshire Post ahead of the Tigers taking on the Blues on Boxing Day for the first time since that infamous afternoon in 2008.
“I just presumed he was going to make a point to the referee and thought nothing more of it. But then he shouted, ‘Over here’ and made sure we followed him.
“Even then, I didn’t fully realise what was going on, but then he sat us down and started jabbing his finger at us. He clearly wanted a reaction.”
Brown’s on-field team-talk in front of the travelling Tigers fans has since passed into folklore. It is, unfairly, many of the wider football public’s abiding image of the current Southend United manager’s time at the helm of Hull.
Considering the East Riding club celebrated some of their greatest victories under Brown, including Wembley’s play-off final of 2008 and claiming three points at White Hart Lane and the Emirates Stadium, this is clearly harsh.
But, the furore that followed Brown’s decision to lay into his players in public meant that was always likely to be the case.
Criticism from former players followed almost the moment a game that Brown’s side lost 5-1 had ended, many believing his players would never forgive such a public dressing down. Eight years on, however, Windass refutes such a notion.
“We didn’t see what the fuss was about at the time and it was only later on in the night that all the pundits started getting involved,” said the former striker.
“(Alan) Shearer made a few comments on Match of the Day, saying the players would not be happy and find it hard to forgive.
“But that wasn’t the case. None of us lost any respect for the manager. It was a mistake by Phil, in my opinion. That’s all. None of the lads held it against him.
“Phil was blaming himself for that first half at Manchester City because he had given us Christmas Day off.
“A lot of managers insist you come in, even if just for 45 minutes or an hour to stretch the legs. But we had 26 or 27 points going into Christmas and were in the top six so Phil felt he could trust us to do the right things.
“I think we did. None of us abused his trust. We were just up against a City side who, on the day, were right on top of their game. Robinho was unplayable. But Phil, who is a very proud man, felt we had let him down with our performance and wanted to make his point.”
Unlike this year, Hull went into the Boxing Day game of 2008 strongly fancied to get a result against a club who, thanks to the previous summer’s takeover, were the richest in the world.
Mark Hughes’s Blues had spent Christmas in the bottom three despite Robinho having been made the world’s most expensive signing at £32.5m within a day or so of the Abu Dhabi buyout. The Brazilian had been anonymous when the two clubs had met a month earlier in a 2-2 draw at the KC Stadium but he ripped Hull apart in the Boxing Day clash.
“That game was my first start of the season,” added Windass, whose appearance at the Etihad would also prove to be his last for the Tigers.
“Me and Marlon King were up front and actually did okay. It was just that Manchester City were so good. Sometimes, you have to accept that.
“I would imagine Phil Brown probably regrets it now. It was heat of the moment stuff in the sense that he felt we had let him down. Football is a game of emotions and Phil’s probably got the better of him that day.
“It was the first time that had happened to me. Managers have sent the team out five minutes early at half-time, things like that, just to try and get a response. But I had never seen anyone hold the team-talk on the pitch.
“That was definitely a first, but I am sure Phil learned from it. He is doing well at Southend and I am sure all the lads from his time at Hull are pleased that he is.”
As for just what Brown said during his infamous on-field tirade, Windass has not got a clue.
“I actually couldn’t hear anything he said,” he laughed. “Or not much anyway, which was probably for the best. There were 3,000 away fans behind that goal and they were singing their heads off.”
The following season, there was an amusing sequel to Brown’s unusual half-time team-talk as Jimmy Bullard aped his manager’s moment of infamy after netting Hull’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw.
“I had left the club by then, but Jimmy probably did Phil a favour,” added Windass.
“The lads had got together the night before and arranged that whoever scored had to become Phil and get the rest of the lads to sit around him. I think that proved that the players held no grudge over what had happened the previous year.”