INCLUDING his caretaker spell at Wanderers, Phil Brown has more than 550 games in the tank as a manager and has prowled the dugouts of the top five divisions in English football.

But his last experience, a second spell at Southend United which ended in relegation to the National League and an ignominious sacking just a couple of months into the new season, left him wondering where and when the next offer might be.

After his previous job at Swindon Town, Brown had settled near the Cotswolds and recently became a new father to a little boy, Monty, so the prospect of reigniting his managerial career and throwing himself headlong into another relegation scrap nearly 300 miles away in Barrow must have taken some weighing up.

Brown sought the advice of two of his closest allies in football, one, Brian Horton, his ex-Hull City assistant and someone with more than 1,000 games under his belt, and the other, Sam Allardyce, the man with whom he helped transform Bolton Wanderers at the start of the millennium into a Premier League power.

Both advised him to take the leap and write a new chapter in what has been a colourful career in the game.

But did he ever think he wouldn’t get back in?

“Every time I get the sack!” he laughed.

“I believe in my own ability and I always have done. Having managed in all five divisions in England and abroad I’ve ticked a lot of boxes in terms of what I’ve wanted to achieve as a manager when I set out.

“I’ve still got that bucket list. Back in the Bolton days working with the psychologists and asking what have you achieved, what do you want to achieve? I’ve still got ambition, but that ambition is all about success. And that will come here if we survive.

“It is a big challenge here to survive for a second season on the bounce and it is big for the area here, that is the thing coming across loud and clear to me from all the people I meet.

“Stay in this league for the second season on the bounce and then maybe build on that from there onwards. There are a lot of challenges ahead but I have still got ambition.”

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Brown captained Wanderers at Barrow in the 1991 FA Cup second round, where Tony Philliskirk’s goal earned Phil Neal’s side a third round tie with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

His Bolton career spanned 332 games but two years after leaving the club he returned as assistant to Colin Todd at Burnden, later putting a solid case forward to become permanent manager before the arrival of Big Sam.

In the event, he stayed on for six years to establish one of the strongest management teams the club has ever known, eventually striking out alone to manage Derby County in June 2005.

The pair have been on very different journeys since but Brown says Allardyce was one of the first people he spoke to when considering the Barrow job.

“Sam said it was a no brainer and told me to get back in. He said it was a good challenge and his advice was nothing but positive.

“Sam’s achieved an awful lot. If you talk about ambitions and bucket lists when you start he was ticking boxes all the way through his career. He’s had a phenomenal career and is still a good advisor and a good friend.

“To have a friend to lean on with all that experience is priceless to me.”

Barrow got to the Football League in 2020 thanks to the current Bolton boss, Ian Evatt, but since he left for the UniBol a succession of different faces have tried to fill his boots.

David Dunn, Rob Kelly (twice), Michael Jolley and, most recently, Mark Cooper, have all struggled to meet the requirements but Brown says he is willing to roll up his sleeves and sacrifice any long-term ambitions to ensure a six-point cushion on the relegation zone is not whittled down.

“Long term, I am hoping it will be entertaining football, winning football,” said the 62-year-old. “But at the moment I have to park philosophy on the back burner in the pursuit of results. The most important thing is getting the points on the board to take the pressure off everyone.

“I hope people will understand that. The philosophy is not of now; the philosophy is what are we going to be doing next season.

“It is about results, not so much performances. It’s about rolling the sleeves up, being difficult to beat and being horrible enough to get to the ball to the good players we have so they can go and express themselves.

“It’s not just changing a mindset. A change of management straightaway brings a freshness.

“At the moment it’s about results, it’s about rolling the sleeves up and being difficult to beat.

“The are a lot of pieces of the jigsaw that I need to pull together for Saturday.”

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The challenge begins at Leyton Orient on Saturday – and looks eminently more achievable than the last one he faced at Southend.

“It was crazy,” he said. “We needed snookers from the start and I don’t think this is the same type of situation. People look at a 50-point total but I’m not, it might be less than that, I just want to win as many games as I can in the nine to get a contract for next season.”

Another obstacle in the Barrow job is the fact the club do not train in the town. They have for the last couple of years been based at Bury FC’s old Goshen Training Ground having previously had a base in Rochdale.

The arrangement allows players further south to attend sessions more easily than travelling up the M6 and across the notorious A590 but does present its own issues.

“It isn’t ideal,” Brown said. “But as I said to the chairman and the staff, when I go back to the days at Bolton when I first arrived we were begging, borrowing and stealing from everyone. We trained in Radcliffe at the Halls factory, a dog track, schools, anywhere just to try and get into that home mentality.

“We had to use the pitch at Burnden Park as well, so you are having battles with the owners and the groundsmen about the surface – in fact, I’ll be doing that again today.

“But long-term you’d like to attract players to the football club because Barrow is their home, so you have to get away from that travelling. That is long-term. And there are some great facilities in the area.

“I go back to Bolton. I left there in 1995, from Second Division to Europe, but they had a home, a training ground, an ability to attract players because of that facility at Euxton, which eventually got sold to Wigan and then Preston.

“To have that ambition, I have been through it at Bolton Wanderers, there has to be a home in Barrow longer-term.”

Brown has also called on an old friend to help his survival effort at Holker Street.

Neil McDonald was another member of Allardyce’s famed backroom in the Premier League days who he thinks can help him steady the ship.

“It was a no brainer bringing Neil back,” admitted Brown. “I’ve worked with Macca before on two or three occasions, I have his back and he’s got mine.

“To come here as a partnership was a no brainer for me. He has that experience and knowledge of the club and for me that’s priceless.

“I thought Barrow would be a top seven team, but the reality is we’re in the bottom four with a chasing pack behind us.

“Oldham have had that impact of John Sheridan coming in, Orient have had that with Richie Wellens going in and I need to have that impact immediately.

“I’m here for these nine games. If truth be known, do we need to win all nine games? No. Do we need to win half of them? Probably not. Do we need to win two or three of them? Absolutely.

“You can pinpoint them if you want to, but the next game’s the most important. I know it’s cliche and you’ve heard it thousands of times if you’ve been in the game often enough.

“But that cliche rings true now because we’re in a relegation battle. The more we win early the less pressure will be on us at the end.”

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