Brighton vs Arsenal preview: Bright future for Chris Hughton

Albion manager content with burden of black standard-bearer

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The Independent Football

Heather Rabbatts, chair of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board, said last week that she believed football was “making headway” in its attempts to improve opportunities for black and minority ethnic coaches.

Meanwhile, after for his first home win as the new manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, one of the few British role models for aspiring black coaches was putting the final touches to his plans before today’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Arsenal at a sold-out Amex Stadium.

Chris Hughton had been out of work since being sacked by Norwich City in April, and was brought back into management by Brighton on New Year’s Eve to replace Sami Hyypia. He brings the number of black managers among the 92 League clubs to four, along with Chris Powell of Huddersfield Town, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of Burton Albion and Keith Curle of Carlisle United.

Hughton’s reputation and record mean that he has seldom had to wonder whether his ethnicity has hampered his employment chances, but he has never been slow to question the small number of black and ethnic minority coaches relative to the numbers of non-white players.

Nor is he reluctant to embrace the role of standard-bearer for black managers: “I’m always conscious of that and it’s something I’m very proud to do,” he said on Friday.

“When you speak to potential black and ethnic coaches, one aspect that they always speak about is role models in the game. They would like to see more representation at a higher level. And any part that I can play in that, I am delighted to do.”

He agrees with Rabbatts that the situation is improving, with the Premier League, for example, reserving places on their Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme for black coaches as well as funding their employment at Premier League academies and on their Uefa Pro Licence courses.

“If we’re hearing things like that from the FA, then it’s their responsibility to see that it comes into practice,” he said. “But I see a real enthusiasm from the stakeholders in our game, the PFA, certainly the FA, and the LMA [League Managers’ Association] to address some of the imbalances. But it’s about transparency as well, making sure that black and ethnic coaches are in a position to be interviewed for jobs and getting transparency in feedback from clubs.”

Hughton stops short of calling for a British version of the United States’ Rooney Rule, which mandates that a coach of black or minority ethnicity be included on every shortlist for a senior coaching job. “I understand and respect the reasoning for the Rooney Rule. What I prefer here is transparency and addressing the reasons why the Rooney Rule was implemented in the States. They saw, similar to here, an under-representation of black coaches at the higher level. If we can change that without legislation that’s the best way.”

Here Hughton disagrees slightly with Brendon Batson, who advises the FA on equality and football development and acts as an ambassador for Kick It Out, the organisation who fight discrimination in sport. “We know you can’t just transport it over here,” Batson told The Independent on Sunday. “It is not qualifications-based over there, whereas here it has to be. But they took affirmative action to address the lack of representation. There are positive steps being taken here, but there is a certain lack of trust that we will see improvement until the talking stops and we see action being taken.”

But the former West Bromwich Albion defender, who received an OBE in the New Year honours list for his services to the game, is delighted to see the country’s most established black manager return to football. “It’s no surprise to anyone that Chris is back,” he said. “His record shows that he is a very good manager. He is important to aspiring black coaches because of his longevity and the number of jobs he has had.

“You have to stick in there. Viv Anderson was a manager in his own right at Barnsley before he left to join up with Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough. His coach and assistant was Danny Wilson, who recently clocked up his thousandth game as a manager. Viv never had another job after Middlesbrough.”

And Batson believes that black managers come under closer scrutiny. “I always had to do better because people would remember any mistake you made. They couldn’t remember who the left-back was, but if he was black, they’d say, ‘Oh yes, the black lad’. So there was always that pressure on black players. Black managers need the mentality, the determination, the desire, to fulfil their aspirations and try to make their breakthrough.”

Hughton will need to infuse his players with those characteristics today. But he has led Brighton to three wins in his four games in charge, and Wednesday’s 3-2 home win over Ipswich Town was the result of an innovative team selection. Although he denies it, his many years with Tottenham Hotspur as player and coach give an extra frisson to today’s game.

“I was fortunate enough as player in a memorable victory against Arsenal to score two goals, which was some feat for a full-back,” he said, adding: “But that was very much back in the day.”