Chris Hughton: Low key, highly regarded

The Birmingham manager talks to Martin Hardy about his 'unjust' sacking at Newcastle and how he is a perfect fit for Birmingham, the 'no airs or graces' working-man's club

Chris Hughton left school when he was 16 and started a four-year apprenticeship to be a lift engineer. (It was a decent job, with its ups and downs). For four years he combined it with playing for Tottenham Hotspur's youth team, fighting to prove Spurs were wrong not to give him a contract when he initially finished his education. He put a fallback option in place, even turning down professional terms so he could complete his learning. When he was a qualified engineer, he signed a contract at White Hart Lane, and three games into the following season, made his debut.

On 7 December, 2010, Hughton woke up, and for only the second time since his early days, found himself without employment. "Unjust," is as profound as Hughton gets when talking about the dismissal he suffered as Newcastle manager, but then, it was 15 months ago, and much water has flowed under the Tyne Bridge since.

"You miss getting up in the morning and you miss having a place of work to go to," he now says of the aftermath. "It's always a difficult time because you're used to working and you're used to working hard every day. It was a difficult time, yes, it was very difficult.

"It would probably have been more difficult if the circumstances were different. When I left Newcastle we were in 10th place. Although it came as a shock to most people, the fact I was able to leave there knowing I'd done a fairly decent job helped. Of course, I was aware of most people's thoughts when I left and the support I got helped. That softened the blow, but of course, it does not change the situation.

"Was it unjust? Yes, and that's how most people felt at the time. We'd just got promotion, I had brought, contrary to other things I've heard, Cheick Tioté into the club. I was very fortunate because I'd also brought in a chief scout, in Graham Carr, who knew him as well and he was a great support for me.

"We had brought in Tioté and we had brought in Hatem Ben Arfa, who unfortunately broke his leg. Almost,apart from that, it was the squad that came up. We were in 10th place and at the time my feelings were the same as most people, but everybody moves on and I was very positive afterwards. Although, if I had a choice, I'd have preferred to be there, but I got a lot of support and the best solution was to be positive."

Low-key suits Hughton, as a man, and as a manager. It his way. It worked at St James'. It is working at St Andrew's.

"The limelight is not for me," he adds. "I've always been that way. I can only manage the way I manage. Yes, it is a stressful job. It is a pressurised job but, when that whistle goes, I can change some tactics, but you can't do any more, The players have to be motivated enough when they go over the line to get a result. You have to manage around your personality. If you're trying to do something different, people will see through you. My personality is my personality, that is the way I prefer to manage and it is the only way I can manage. It is good to have relationships with players and when I say that I don't mean getting too close, but enough so that you're able to talk to them. If I need to berate a player, I can do that. If I need to dig a player out, I can do that.

"It's not about what you see on a match day. It's what the manager does all week; his relationship with the players, how he gets on with them, being able to trust them."

Trust, a work ethic, honesty and, of course, togetherness. They are the ideals that breathed life into Newcastle United when they lay, gasping for breath, in the aftermath of a self-inflicted relegation. They are the same characteristics Hughton took to Birmingham last year, when another big club was in the second tier of English football, apparently out on its feet. "You have to stop the slide at a club, you have to make people see that it will turn," he says. "You do that on the training ground. For every negative there is a positive. For Barry Ferguson or Scott Dann going there is a Steven Caldwell or a Chris Burke that comes in. You have to put more effort into trying to promote the positives than focus on negatives."

At both clubs, Hughton has had to deal with more than just players. At Newcastle, there was chaos wherever he looked. At Birmingham, seven days after he was appointed, the club's president Carson Yeung was arrested on suspicion of money-laundering. "The situation [with Carson] hasn't been difficult at all. I've been aware of everything that's happened or what is going to happen. As for what the future holds with regards the hierarchy, I don't know. I've been very much allowed to get on with the job. That is good for a manager."

From that vacuum, Birmingham's players have bought into Hughton's philosophy with telling effect. He has engendered a spirit that fired Newcastle from their doldrums. "There was not a Leyton Orient moment here [where Newcastle's players sat in the dressing room and asked who wanted to stay after being badly beaten in a friendly]. When I took the job here I was aware of the players who would be leaving. Peter Pannu, who has been the person I've dealt with most since I arrived, sat in front of me and said, 'Look, these are the players we are going to lose.'

"Newcastle had very much a core of the team that wanted to stay, and probably that is a testament to the regime of Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley, who could have had an absolute fire sale. We lost a lot of players but there was a real good and important core of the team that stayed, and, of course, most of them were very good players.

"Nothing will change my mind about whether I think I should have lost my job. I don't, and I still feel the same way, but there is no bitterness. The players at Newcastle needed some guidance and some motivation and probably they needed an arm around them to get them back to playing to the abilities we knew they had."

Such understatement drew phenomenal loyalty in the Newcastle dressing room. Sacking Hughton was not easy. Players met management to clear the air. He has engendered a similar spirit at St Andrew's. Twelve players from a side that won the Carling Cup and got relegated in the same season were sold before the transfer window closed. More went in January. Somehow, Birmingham made it to the group stage of the Europa League, where they finished with 10 points but did not qualify for the knockout rounds. They took the Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea to a replay in the FA Cup and, despite playing so regularly this season, have come up on the rails in the race for a promotion play-off place.

"It's probably not beyond my wildest dreams but that's because I didn't know what to expect," he adds. "Where we are now is probably the best-case scenario. We knew, with the volume of games we had, it would be very difficult to get automatic promotion. It was really about, 'Could we be competitive going into the last six games,' and we have done that.

"It's been manic and we've almost got used to it. We have played a game on average every 4.5 days. We played Cardiff on Sunday and Doncaster last Friday. It felt like a week with no games between them. That actually felt quite good. It was probably the first time we'd had time off in nine months.

"I said when I took the job at Birmingham it was almost the working man's club. That's what I felt. It has a real tradition of hard workers and supporters who support this club for years, with no airs and graces. They see it as it is and they say it as it is. It's really nice to be involved in that. The no airs and graces suits me. This is what it is. You have to work around what the circumstances are. You want people around you to work hard. I have a lot of down-to-earth people at this football club."

No airs, no graces, instead hard work, for the working man's club.

It all feels apt for Hughton, 37 years on, with more ups than downs since he became a working man himself. And fewer poor jokes about lift engineering, it has to be said.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape