Sport Comment: Return of FA Cup offers hope to football’s have-nots

ENGLISH football’s calendar hits a milestone this weekend with the FA Cup First Round proper – when the minnows of the Football League and non-league jointly dream of glory; giant-killing in the New Year and making a few bob along the way.

It’s a big day for the have-nots of football. Just how big was illustrated last week when the League Managers’ Association issued a study on how football coaches are appointed. It also highlighted the massive disparity in salaries earned by its members: while Premier League bosses reportedly earn an average of more than £3m a year, the have-nots in Leagues One and Two pick up on average just £75,000 and £50,000 respectively.

Phil Brown, a football man to his core, knows all about this. He played at the journeyman level and he’s tasted managerial life in the Premier League (Hull City); Championship (Derby County); League One (Preston) and is now enjoying the challenge at League Two Southend United.

Phil was not surprised when I gave him those figures. We were in his makeshift office at Southend’s Boots and Laces training ground clubhouse – once a nightclub and still with remnants of neon lights picking out the word “cabaret” on the wall outside. “I’d like to get them flickering again like the lights in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights,” he jokes.

That’s not far-fetched. For Phil learned the electrician’s trade in his youth and has already cast his expert eye on the generator on standby outside the clubhouse – in case of power emergencies this winter.

“You have to cut your coat according to your cloth,” he told me. “I went into coaching nearly 20 years ago when Sam Allardyce made me his No2 at Blackpool. As a player, I was getting up, training, going home in the afternoon and earning £1,000 a week. As a lower league player, that was pretty good.

“Then suddenly I was still playing for the reserves but also coaching, going to games and doing all that on just £1,000 a month! My pay was cut by three quarters. A lot of sacrifices were made.

“It’s the same now. I enjoyed decent money – perhaps a tad below average – in the Championship with Derby and then, wallop, I was sacked. I got back in as a coach at Hull under Phil Parkinson and then, eventually, manager. Winning promotion to the Premier League and managing against the best was great but then I saw the other side of the job too.

“You make sacrifices but, hey, I’m here at Southend because I’m loving it – I am working in the game.”

And working on the clubhouse. And the state of the training ground. “Watch out for the drip at the top of the stairs,” the receptionist told me. “We’ve got a bit of a leak in the roof.”

Bring on the glamour of the FA Cup! Southend and Phil Brown? They’ve got Chester on Saturday.