Andre Marriner blew his whistle to conclude a disastrous first half of football for Hull City.
The scene was Boxing Day 2008, and the Tigers had been swept aside at the Etihad Stadium thanks to two goals each from Robinho and Felipe Caicedo inside 21 minutes as Stephen Ireland pulled the strings in Manchester City’s midfield.
Phil Brown’s side had been flying high during their first-ever season in the Premier League – sitting pretty in sixth place by the time Christmas came around – a barely believable position following their equally memorable promotion in the previous campaign.
Ex-Hull boss Phil Brown took a remarkable step of doing his half-time team-talk on the pitch
As they dragged themselves off following the first half – looking shocked at what they had just witnessed – they were greeted with the sight of Brown, black-trench-coat open and earpiece in, marching onto the pitch.
The then-49-year-old waved his players in the direction of the penalty area they had been defending in the first half, right in front of the 3,000 travelling Hull supporters.
Brown – who was furious after giving his players Christmas Day off – clapped the Hull fans before proceeding to unleash one of the most remarkable reading of the riot acts in Premier League history.
Having asked his players to sit down in a circle at his feet inside the area – in true Sunday league style but unprecedented in the dizzying heights of the Premier League – Brown proceeded to berate his side for 90 seconds before he allowed them to return to the dressing room.
The 45,196 supporters inside the stadium watched on, shocked and bemused at what they had just witnessed with Brown’s antics 14 years ago today going down in folklore and defining the 63-year-old’s managerial career.
Hull City were 4-0 down to Manchester City after a disastrous first 45 minutes at the Etihad
Brown proceeded to berate his players for 90 seconds as they sat by his feet on the pitch
‘We hadn’t even got off the pitch and he just told us to sit back down,’ Ian Ashbee – Hull City’s captain at the time and a club legend having made 243 appearances over nine seasons – exclusively told Sportsmail.
‘It wasn’t right and it was demoralising for a group of men who had been overachieving and done very well for a manager who had developed a tight-knit squad.
‘To then kind of be ousted in front of the world press wasn’t a great idea at all.
‘We knew heading to Man City on Boxing Day was going to be difficult with their line-up and the funds they had but everything leading up to the day had been ok.
‘The first half they obviously found their form and Brown wasn’t very happy with it all.
‘He sat us down on the pitch which looking back then I didn’t think was a great idea and I still don’t think it was a great idea.
‘I feel it was definitely unfair. As a group of lads we weren’t expected to do anything in the Premier League.
Hull City captain at the time Ian Ashbee (L) exclusively spoke to Sportsmail about the incident
Brown insisted that he had done the right thing by reading the riot act out on the pitch
‘Derby County went down the year before with 11 points (a Premier League record) and we were tipped to go down with even fewer than them. We were working hard for each other and had some great results.’
After Brown’s tirade, the players returned to the dressing room to have a further inquest into the first half, before returning to the pitch.
‘Going back out you’re a professional sportsman at the end of the day so we were trying to keep the score to a minimum and get a little bit of pride back by working for each other,’ Ashbee added.
The Tigers did improve in the second half as half-time substitute Craig Fagan pulled one back with 10 minutes to go before Ireland sealed a 5-1 win for City.
Following the game, Brown was steadfast in his belief he shouldn’t be criticised for his antics.
He said: ‘It was the right thing to do. There is no doubt about it. I have got no regrets about it whatsoever. If it bruised one or two egos then so be it, although it wasn’t intended to be that way.
‘Our travelling fans deserved some kind of explanation for the first-half performance and it was difficult for me to do that from the confines of a changing room – we owed them an apology.
‘The priority for me is to get a second year in the Premier League. That has not changed. For us to do that we have got to win five games from 19.’
Hull had been flying until the City game, sitting in sixth in the Premier League after promotion
However, Ashbee disagreed with his former manager, and wished he had done more as captain to prevent the on-pitch inquest.
He said: ‘It wasn’t great at all to be honest and I don’t think anything was achieved from it.
‘Confidence and morale was kind of hit hard after that game in my opinion. You’ve got a group of men there – I wish I’d potentially have done it differently.
‘There was the shock of it all – I wish I said to the lads “right, get in” (to the changing room).
‘It wasn’t right and if I had the chance to do it again, I’d have definitely said “I’m not doing it” and tried to get the lads to the changing room.’
The incident on the pitch has been seen as a defining moment for Brown’s managerial career at Hull and their promising start to the 2008-09 season.
Hull won one of their last 19 Premier League games in 2008-09 to narrowly avoid relegation
Ashbee (R) argued the incident at the Etihad was a turning point for Hull’s season and Brown
Following the game, and despite Brown’s pleas for five victories from their remaining 19 games, the Tigers picked up just one more win, collecting only eight points from the final 57 available.
Survival was secured by only one point after an anxious final day as Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom were relegated – a major fall from the lofty heights of sixth ahead of the City clash.
And Ashbee believed the whole debacle at the Etihad impacted the Tigers’ season and affected relationships among the team.
He explained: ‘I’m not one for slagging people off and it was 14 years ago. But I think it was (the impact of it) proven as we won one more game after that in the whole of the second half of the season.
‘As captain of the football club at time, I’m in the changing room listening to people shouting, seeing groups of people getting together, and sticking together and it wasn’t like that before.
‘I think it did more damage than maybe Phil or people thought to be honest.
‘I read somewhere he said he would do it again but I don’t think he would and it certainly did have an impact on the season.
‘There were fractures in the changing room (after that). A lot of people didn’t understand why Brown did it and weren’t happy. It wasn’t too clever in my opinion.’
The poor form continued into the following 2009-10 season, before Brown was sacked in March 2010.
In total, he won just six of his last 51 games in charge and has never managed in the Premier League since.
The Hull boss was eventually sacked in March 2010 after six wins from his last 51 matches
Ashbee believed the on-pitch dressing down was a defining moment in Hull’s upward trajectory under Brown and culminated in his dismissal the following season.
‘It was a turning point,’ he added. ‘I just think it was one massive negative where we hadn’t had a negative for a number of years in the football club.
‘I still maintain Phil was the best manager I played under and if he had stayed we would have done better than we did but I think that one pivotal point – there was a few older pros in dressing room – they knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.
‘It definitely changed the kind of the mood at the football club and that group of players at that time.’
There were very few positive times in Brown’s final 15 months in charge, although one particular moment on his side’s return to the Etihad did bring smiles.
When Jimmy Bullard netted an equaliser during a 1-1 draw in November 2009, the midfielder replicated Brown’s teamtalk in a celebration with his colleagues giggling at his feet.
A year later, Jimmy Bullard mimicked Brown’s telling-off when he scored against Man City
Despite the significant nature of Brown’s antics on that fateful day 14 years ago, he was insistent years later he would do the same again.
‘I don’t care what anyone says. It was the right thing to do,’ he told The Athletic in 2020.
‘Wrongly, I exposed the entire dressing room but I felt it was our duty to bare ourselves to those travelling fans. I wanted to let them know we were sorry and it wouldn’t happen again.
‘I’ve always tried to be honest. I can categorically tell you I’ve had three opportunities to manage clubs based on that half-time team talk.
‘Whether it’s done me long-term damage or not, it’s certainly defined me.’