Small Screen Seagulls; The Dignity and Class of Chris Hughton

Small Screen Seagulls LogoChris Hughton is often referred to as one of the nicest characters in football, and rightly so. His pre and post-match interviews are conducted with honesty, respect and always amiable. In an industry increasingly full of loud, brash, soundbite-grabbers, Hughton is a charming contrast. He is a quiet, intelligent thinker and as such doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of media coverage. Punditry appearances are rare, long-form magazine programme interviews infrequent. His television opportunities are largely centred around press conferences and matchdays. That’s not to say that he didn’t feature from time to time. During his tenure as Brighton manager he became an ambassador figure for the city, particularly as the achievements on the pitch began to mount. He was bestowed the freedom of the city by the Council following promotion to the Premier League in May 2017. The University of Sussex awarded him an honorary degree in January 2019, citing ‘considerable success in his field despite barriers’. This was in reference to being one of a very select few managers in the English game at the time coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, for whom Hughton could be seen as a role model. This post takes a look back at some of the features the boss was a part of around his time at the Albion. The two stand-out themes throughout were dignity and class.


Chris Hughton, Brighton Manager 31st Dec 2014-13th May 2019

Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton with Ciaran Moynan and myself in 2015

The morning after Brighton and Hove Albion’s second Premier League season in succession came to a close, with Manchester City clinching the title at The Amex in front of the watching world, our manager Chris Hughton was relieved of his duties after four and a half years at the helm. I think ‘relieved’ is an appropriate word in this story. After a catastrophic collapse which saw the Albion freefall from mid-table at Christmas down to just two points off the drop come the final day, there was huge relief for the fans that nearest survival rivals Cardiff were not good enough to claim the necessary points to overtake. Brighton survived due to others incompetence as opposed to hauling themselves out of danger. There was relief from the Owner and Chairman Tony Bloom that his team would still be in the top-flight next season when at times it looked precarious. And perhaps there may even be a modicum of relief for Chris Hughton himself, that he exits the club as one of the most successful managers the Seagulls have ever seen, having done the jobs he set out to do upon appointment on New Year’s Eve 2014.

It’s debatable how much further he could have taken the club and, unlike his time at Norwich, he departed on good terms with the fans. He was able to see out the full season and achieve the primary objective of staying up. It’s very unfortunate that it had to end in this way – he couldn’t finish it on his own terms – because Hughton conducted himself admirably at all times and got the results on the field. His tenure will never be forgotten by the Albion faithful and we will always owe him a huge debt of gratitude for salvaging a bit of a mess under Sami Hyypia, rousing the troops to keep an underperforming squad in the Championship when a place in League One was calling. In his first full season the transformation was underway; the club started the season with a record unbeaten run which saw the Seagulls sit amongst the top three or four clubs from the beginning to the end. It wasn’t quite to be, missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference to Middlesbrough, but that did not halt the charge. The following season the promised land of the Premier League was reached in style, Brighton blew away the rest of the chasing pack and finished behind only his former side Newcastle to take their place amongst the country’s elite. The honour had alluded the club for thirty-four years. The achievement in itself was huge, perhaps no better day was had under Hughton than when it was finally secured on Easter Monday against Wigan at The Amex. The manner of the victories, with exciting attacking football and high-scoring victories, brought about excitement and interest from the rest of the country.

Hughton Promotion

Ahead of his Premier League challenge, the squad was strengthened significantly. Home form was crucial as Fortress Falmer stopped all but the biggest teams from claiming victory. A win over Manchester United had fans pinching themselves as another season in the big League was clinched with time to spare. The second season in the Premier League began with more expectation but double the pressure as big spending teams came up from the Division below. The first half of that campaign saw similar results, home form claiming wins over Everton, West Ham and – once again – Manchester United. But the tide turned after Christmas. Certain sections of the home support were getting restless about a negative approach that was adopted in order to counter the undoubted superiority many top flight teams had over us. Goals were hard to come by, players were under-performing and Chris Hughton changed tactics in a bid to improve. The change in formation from a flexible 4-4-1-1 in 2017 to a rigid 4-5-1/4-3-3 this time was plainly not producing the desired effect. The lone striker was isolated, as support from the wing was restricted due to a defensive, negative set up. The dreadful run of form in 2019 saw Brighton freefall down the table to the point where, for the first time, questions were raised about the security of his job. The lowest moment of his time in charge came when Bournemouth put five past us on the Saturday followed by the team hot on our heels – Cardiff – striking a further two goals without reply just three days later. Morale had hit rock-bottom but Hughton remained calm and managed to steer the ship to safety with two games of the season still to play. Despite this and reaching a first FA Cup Semi Final since 1983, Tony Bloom’s mind was made up and the parting of the ways came on Monday 13th May 2019.

Hughton Manager of the Month

Chris Hughton’s level-headed, conservative nature was in step with his solid, defend-from-the-front football. He was extremely likeable, had time to stop and chat to everybody and was always an absolute credit in the way he conducted himself at the Albion. His achievements surpass any manager the club has had in the modern era; only Jimmy Melia had taken Albion to a Wembley in the Cup before, and only Alan Mullery had won promotion to the top flight some, forty years ago. Hughton became the first BAME boss to win the Premier League’s Manager of the Month Award when he picked up the honour in February 2018. And he created a family atmosphere and togetherness within the club which was never more abundant than when the entire squad flew to France for the funeral of Anthony Knockaert’s father in November 2016. The win ratio of 41% under Hughton is particularly impressive given almost half of that time was spent in the Premier League, highlighting just how good a job he did. Let’s take a look at some of the standout appearances he made on our television screens, beginning with his reaction to being linked to the job in the week that Sami Hyypia left.

 

Goals on Sunday, Sky Sports 1 (28th December 2014)

GOS Studio GOS Hughton

Chris Hughton was a guest on Sky Sports long-running morning review show Goals on Sunday just after Christmas in 2014 alongside fellow job seeking manager Uwe Rosler. Hughton had been out of work since being dismissed by Norwich back in April, with the club in seventeenth position coming towards the end of their second Premier League season. In the period since, he was offered jobs as an assistant to other top flight clubs but was holding out for the main job. With Crystal Palace sacking Neil Warnock the day before this programme, Hughton was linked with that as well as being named by some bookmakers as the favourite for the Brighton job. When hosts Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara put this to Hughton, he replied “The good thing for myself is when a job becomes available, I’m still getting linked with these positions.” He went on to explain that when in situations such as this, he believed it to be the club that should make any further comment and drive the negotiations forward; “If you’ve been linked and have spoken to a club, then I think the onus is on them to make that known as opposed to yourself. So yes I want to get back in at the best level possible.” When pressed which of Palace and the Albion he’d prefer, Hughton remained ever the diplomat; “I think on their own merits they’re both very good jobs.” He did, though, point out the great facilities in Sussex; “Brighton have a wonderful structure, a wonderful stadium, new training facility and, of course, they are a side that have been very close to the Play Offs in two previous seasons.” And three days later, Chris Hughton was appointed the permanent manager of Brighton and Hove Albion on an initial three-and-a-half-year contract with the club twenty-first in the Championship table.

GOS Presenters GOS Guests


My Icon: Chris Hughton, Sky Sports Mix (13th October 2017)

My Icon 2017 ICON Hughton

During every day of October 2017, Sky Sports released a new episode of the series My Icon, which was a collection of short ten to fifteen minute films interviewing stars from the world of sport of a BAME background. Such participants included the likes of Thierry Henry, Rachel Yankey, Anthony Joshua and Maggie Alphonsi. The fourteenth episode of the series was with our very own Chris Hughton, with the programme synopsis stating he “discusses the individuals that have inspired him during his life and career.” Hughton enjoyed a successful playing career, especially at Tottenham where he won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup. He became the first full international player for the Republic of Ireland to come from a black background. In this film he spoke of the racism that he and other players had to endure on an all-too frequent basis from opposition supporters during his playing days; “It was something that we, and I, experienced on a regular basis… I don’t think any black footballer growing up and playing in the late ’70s and ’80s would not have experienced it.” At the time of the interview, Hughton was one of a very tiny few managers in the English game of black origin and repeated calls were made to change that to make coaching and jobs of authority in the game more inclusive. Hughton explained; “I don’t think that there’s anybody in football that doesn’t want to see a diverse game. A diverse game means not only of course on the football pitch where the makeup of what plays on a football pitch, that means in managerial level, that means in boardroom level, that means in other aspects of football in higher positions.” He called for people already representing the sport to use their platform to encourage others; “I think it’s the responsibility of us in the game, for the stakeholders in the game, to not only show enthusiasm, but to put that enthusiasm into action.”  Chris Hughton is a fantastic role model for all footballers, not just minorities, with what he has achieved as a player, an assistant coach at Tottenham and Newcastle and of course his three Premier League promotions thus far as the gaffer. The manner in which he conducts himself should be seen as a blueprint for others. He speaks with authority, passion and decency on sensitive issues like race and diversity, as demonstrated during this film.

ICON Interview ICON Dressing Room


The Premier League Show, BBC Two (27th September 2018)

Premier League Show titles PLShow Training ground

To coincide with a new broadcast rights deal, the BBC launched an additional regular weekly magazine programme called The Premier League Show at the start of the 2016/17 season, focussing on all matter top flight. It gave them an extra flexibility to discuss matters off the pitch in greater detail and in longer form. When Brighton gained promotion to the elite League in 2017, a report was shown about the club’s journey. And the BBC Sport cameras returned during the opening weeks of the 2018/19 campaign as Match of the Day host, and former Tottenham colleague, went to the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre in Lancing (AKA the training ground to you and I) for his first visit to discuss a whole host of topics with Chris Hughton as he embarked upon his second Premier League season with the Albion. The report began with Lineker and Hughton embracing in his office whilst various members of the club, such as captain Bruno and Chief Executive Paul Barber, gave glowing reports of the manager’s characteristics. “Chris’s stock is as high as any manager that we’ve had here in the club’s history and long may that continue” Barber noted. A glowing tribute was also paid by the club’s Football Admin Manager Suzi Swadling, saying “He’s very personable with all of us. He knows everyone by name from everyone he works close with down to the cleaners.” This would’ve come as little surprise to any Albion fan, he made time for the lot of us. Lineker asked Hughton if he was ‘too nice’ to be a football manager; “In as many situations as possible I’m fair, that’s what I’d like to think. But you can’t be nice all the time… We have to make so many tough decisions.”

PLShow Interview PLShow Hughton

Along with Sean Dyche of Burnley and Eddie Howe of Bournemouth, Chris Hughton was amongst the longest serving British and Irish managers in the Division. When asked if he would prefer to be managing the Champions League teams, he responded “I generally only think of the job where I am at the moment. My ambitions are not to manage at the top clubs, my ambitions are to do the very best job that I can in the job that I’m doing.” Many others would have used that question to berate his lack of opportunities for himself or British managers, like Sam Allardyce has in the past, or use it to launch a personal bid to get a bigger job, in the way Jose Mourinho has. That wasn’t on Hughton’s radar. The question of race naturally came up, as it did during his appearance on My Icon. The progress slowly being made, with conversations at the very least being had, encouraged Hughton; “We are at a different phase at the moment. There’s no doubt there’s a huge imbalance… [In the past] Black players were seen as good athletes, good forward players but not captain material, not managerial material. I think it persisted because of society.” Similar subjects to the previous film were touched upon here, as he told of having to put up with racist abuse from opposition players and fans; “You had to work through it really on your own. Although you had a supportive team behind you, you generally didn’t talk about these issues.” Looking at his own club Brighton, Hughton saw changes at the grass roots level where lots of players from all backgrounds would be training and progressing but the changes weren’t replicated at the highest levels of the game.

PLShow Barber PLShow Embrace

The report concluded by discussing Hughton the coach. “I like a team that’s organised and prepared to work hard for each other. If you are able to bring in gifted players, it’s more about making sure them gifted players fit in to what we do here.” When mentioning teams that played a more expansive style, Lineker asked if that would be a recipe for disaster for Brighton. “For us, yes. I think for those that do play that way with the players that they’ve got it’s wonderful to see… At this moment we’re playing in the top League, we’re playing against teams that have spent more money, have better players than us so they’re great challenges.” So, when the time comes around and he beats a team like Manchester United, as the Albion did a few weeks before this interview, it’s all the more special for Hughton; “It’s what you work for and for a club like this, that feeling lasts for a while.” An extended version of the broadcast interview can be viewed below.


BBC South East Today, BBC One South (13th May 2019)

SET Titles SET Presenters

On the early evening of Monday 13th May, local BBC news programme South East Today reported on the news that Chris Hughton had been dismissed from Brighton after four-and-a-half-years in charge. The feature was the second story of the bulletin hosted by regular presenters Rob Smith and Natalie Graham. As of the digital switchover in 2012, BBC viewers in Brighton and Hove began receiving the South East version of the programme, replacing the old South Today which would continue to serve West Sussex and beyond. Our hosts introduced the report by listing a number of achievements – good and bad – during Hughton’s reign; “In total he was in charge for 215 games and had a win rate of almost 41%. But this season the Seagulls fell rather flat, winning just three of their last twenty-three games in the League.” They also cited chairman Tony Bloom’s comment about it being “undoubtedly the most difficult decision” he’s had to take before playing out Ian Palmer’s report. This began with footage from the previous day’s final match of the season, with Hughton speaking with the Match of the Day reporter in the tunnel. He spoke of the year ahead and how the job was getting increasingly tougher, clearly unaware of the news to come. “We want to be better next season and we will need to be because, if anything, this Division is getting more demanding”.

SET Studio SET Hughton

Palmer’s report outlined the season just gone, with the positive mid-table start deteriorating after the New Year particularly away from home before narrowly surviving ahead of the nearest rivals. Journalist and club website contributor Nick Szczepanik was interviewed with the stadium in the horizon. He told how close the relegation battle ended up being; “The actual margin of safety ended up being only two points over Cardiff City in the end. That all hinged on one result which was out of Brighton’s hands – Crystal Palace winning at Cardiff.” We then heard brief soundbites from local residents, perhaps fans, who gave the usual mixed reactions of ‘disappointed’, ‘shock’, ‘a shame’ and ‘maybe it’s time for a change?’ As insightful as any vox-pop has ever been. The report concluded with shots of departing captain Bruno now being followed out the door by the manager. Reporter Ian Palmer remained nearby to The Amex in the blinding sunshine for a Live link-up with the studio. He was able to give further context to the recent reactions of some supporters stating; “There has been a lot of disquiet amongst some fans for quite some time, particularly on social media. A lot saying that Chris Hughton’s tactics were negative, they were defensive and frankly some had become rather tired of watching that style of football.” Whilst this was true, I think there were still large sections of the support who were behind Hughton, but this wasn’t really covered. He ended by shoehorning in a bizarre and quite unrelated comparison to the leadership of the Conservative Party, whereby changing the person at the top doesn’t necessarily change the numbers of the vote or something along those lines – basically suggesting a lot of money would be required on players over the summer and the right appointment would be crucial. It didn’t quite work but you could kind of see what he was hinting at. Little was made of the togetherness, overall record and fantastic times Hughton brought to the club, instead concentrating on the poor run of form in recent months. Perhaps if the story was covered by the dedicated sports reporter more would have been made of this as Hughton deserved plaudits for the fantastic job he did.

SET Szczepanik SET Reporter


BT Hughton

Whilst Hughton’s personal appearances in the mainstream national media were all too sparse, he was in charge when Live match exposure had never been greater for the Seagulls on the small screen. Of the 215 matches he was at the helm for, 66 of them were broadcast Live in the UK with even more made available around the globe. His televised win ratio was just shy of his overall record – with 34.85% or just over one-in-three. A quarter of them were draws, as his safety first approach at the top level paid dividends. Some of his highest highs were in front of the cameras, with back-to-back victories over Manchester United, beating Crystal Palace home and away, a penalty shoot-out win at Millwall to set up a Cup Semi at the National Stadium, comprehensive Championship triumphs over Leeds, QPR, Nottingham Forest and Brentford amongst others, whilst crucial points were picked up twice versus Arsenal, at home to Spurs and the goal that all but secured survival second time around against Newcastle in his penultimate Amex match. The club goals of the season from Knockaert at Palace in 2019 and Steve Sidwell from the half-way line in Bristol back in 2016 were both Live and the rarity of a match having to switch channels occurred when the West Brom Cup Replay went into Extra Time on BBC One then Two! Chris Hughton’s calm, measured interviews were a staple of these broadcasts. He never got too carried away or ahead of himself, he maintained the quiet dignity and class for which the title of this post is all about. The Chris Hughton we saw week in, week out on the touchline came across well on the screen. He brought tremendous success to the South Coast at a tricky time. He leaves with his head held high as he no doubt walks quickly into another job. He restored immense pride to the city. For all that and much, much more, I cannot thank the gentleman enough. There’s only one Chrissy Hughton.

Sky Hughton

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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