EXCLUSIVE: Five years on, Chris Hughton reflects on his sacking at Newcastle – and the lessons he learnt on Tyneside

Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton

Chris Hughton doesn’t do regrets.

But many Newcastle United fans regret the decision taken by the club within 24 hours of a defeat to West Bromwich Albion in December 2010.

Chris Hughton

Chris Hughton

It’s almost five years to the day since Hughton lost his job at St James’s Park.

The club was 11th in the Premier League with 19 points.

Just five weeks earlier, newly-promoted Newcastle had memorably beaten Sunderland 5-1 at St James’s Park.

Hughton – who steadied a rocking United in the wake of relegation and went on to guide the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt – went on to manage Birmingham City and Norwich City.

I learnt a lot in that season. learnt a lot not just about what goes on on a football pitch, but about management and being a manager as opposed to a coach.

Miles Starforth

Today, Hughton is manager of Brighton & Hove Albion.

With 18 games played, the ambitious club leads the Championship after an unbeaten start to the season.

Hughton has his hands full on the south coast, but he still follows Newcastle, the club which gave him an unexpected chance in management.

“I still look for their results, I still want them to do well and I still want them to win every game,” Hughton told the Gazette at Brighton’s £30million training faclity.

The American Express Elite Football Performance Centre (Pic: BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood)

The American Express Elite Football Performance Centre (Pic: BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood)

The state-of-the-art complex, built along the coast at Lancing, is better than many Premier League facilities, including that at United, which has changed little since Hughton left the club.

On the white walls at the airey reception at Mash Barn Lane are motivational slogans.

It’s blustery outside, but there’s no bluster from Hughton, who is relaxed and at ease.

That fateful day at The Hawthorns, and subsequent events, seems a lot time ago.

Chris Hughton

Chris Hughton

Hughton admits he did dwell on what happened at Newcastle and more recently Norwich.

But not for long.

Keen to look forward, he was out watching a game the following weekends.

“When you leave a club you have a period of reflection,” said Hughton. “Are there things you could have done better? If I went to another club would I do things a bit differently? They’re the normal things you ask yourself.

“I chose to leave Birmingham to go to Norwich, and of course I lost my job at Newcastle and Norwich.

“In both those circumstances, you reflect on where you could have done better, but, always, my first thought was to look forward. On both of those occasions I was out watching a game the following Saturday.”

Hughton, so long a fixture on the coaching staff of Tottenham Hotspur, the club he served for most of his playing career, doesn’t harbour regrets.

“No regrets, but you make poor decisions,” said the 56-year-old.

“You have so many decisions to make as a manager. You can’t make all of them right. You mull over things you could have done better.

“That’s normal and natural, but you can’t afford to dwell on them as you have so many decisions to make.

“If you dwell on bad decisions, it can affect the next one. You learn things and try to do the best job you can.

“Generally I never have (regrets). There are things that I could have and should have done better.”

Hughton’s spells at St James’s Park and St Andrew’s prepared him well for the job at Brighton, but, maybe worryingly for relegation-threatened United, the division is even more unforgiving, according to Hughton.

“What I did learn was how difficult the division was,” he said. “You’ve got to cope with the extra games, and that you’ve got to be able to cope with the preparation and recovery.

“I think it’s tougher now. If you’re looking at the league table at the moment, it’s absolutely no surprise to see a big group of teams that are at the top end of the table when you look at the quality. There are, generally, no easy games.

“You’ve got to have a team and a squad which can cope.”

Newcastle has long been described as an unmanageable club.

And United head coach Steve McClaren is finding out this season why that is possibly as true today as it was in some the darkest days of previous decades.

Hughton, initially appointed as a coach under then-manager Kevin Keegan in early 2008, feels he was “fortunate” at St James’s Park.

It’s arguable, however, that Hughton made his own luck in the most trying of circumstances, having made the step up when the club was is disarray on and off the pitch in the wake of relegation.

“You learn an awful lot at every club, but that was my first role in management,” he said. “I learnt a lot in that season.

“What I did have was a very strong team. I was very fortunate.

“There were a lot of good individuals. I learnt a lot not just about what goes on on a football pitch, but about management and being a manager as opposed to a coach.

“That Championship season was a very good season for me to develop as a manager and to learn. It was a pivotal part of my career.”

When he unexpectedly arrived on Tyneside four months after following Martin Jol out of the exit door at White Hart Lane, Hughton didn’t plan on being a manager in his own right.

Asked if he thought of being a No 1 back then, he said: “No, but by the time I went into management, I was ready and wanted to manage.

“But I wasn’t one, through all my years of coaching, that had management at the top of my priorities.

“Sometimes it happens. In my circumstances, it was going to Newcastle very much as a coach, and because of circumstances a management position presented itself.

“It was one I was very grateful for and still am grateful for, because it was a few years ago and things could have been different had that not have materialised.

“It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be in management now (had it not been for his chance at United). It might have been that something else presented itself, or an interview I would have gone to.

“The opportunity to manage Newcastle at the time has played a big part in where I am now and of course it’s played a massive part in me becoming a manager.”

Hughton is fondly remembered by fans on Tyneside.

He wasn’t see as being part of the perceived “Cockney mafia” at St James’s Park.

Instead, Hughton became an adopted Geordie, and that means a lot to the Londoner.

“It means everything to me,” he said. “There’s never a good way to lose your job, but, certainly, the position we were in when I was left wasn’t a bad position.

“The fact is I left on good terms. It’s always a nice feeling when you leave somewhere and you feel you can go back and watch a game or are thought of in a certain way.

“That’s always a nice feeling. I think that’s always the case at Newcastle.”

As fans contemplate a return to the Championship, Newcastle’s loss is Brighton’s gain.

* Read part two of our interview with Chris Hughton in tomorrow’s Gazette