Chris Hughton helped kickstart the St James’ Park revolution. The former Newcastle boss told chief sports writer Mark Douglas in an exclusive interview that he has no regrets about his dismissal – but still yearns for a return
ON the day Chris Hughton was fired by Newcastle United, tears mixed with the blood on the carpet of the St James’ Park boardroom.
Hughton had heard the whispers from people who he trusted and knew the axe had been hovering for a while, but it made it no easier for the people who had worked alongside him. There was genuine upset among the club’s employees for a man who inspired their loyalty, respect and affection.
Stoic as ever, Hughton’s response was that they must get back to work and do the best they could for Newcastle United. He left with his head held high and nothing that has happened in the meantime has detracted from the considerable legacy that the 53-year-old left his successor Alan Pardew.
Hughton, who has never condemned the harsh decision to fire him, enjoyed success in dire financial straits at Birmingham City while Newcastle have moved on under Pardew.
There is one thing that he would like to correct, though. Hughton has not been to St James’ Park since that day in December, and he now feels that the time would be right to return.
“Bitterness? I have never felt that about what happened,” he tells The Journal.
“I don’t think that way and I don’t harbour grudges towards anyone at the club. If I am absolutely honest I don’t look at the club now and think ‘What if?’ What is normal when you lose your job is that it’s very tough for a while. You watch games but you want to be working.
“But I wanted to look forward from the moment it changed and I lost my job. Now I don’t look at Newcastle and wish them any ill feeling whatsoever. I’m absolutely delighted at what Alan Pardew has done and I’m delighted Newcastle are there.
“For the fans who were very good to me, it’s great they’ve had success. And there are still players there who were there with me when I was there and I am really glad they are doing well.
“The likes of James Perch, of course – and Leon Best and Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson. It’s fantastic to see them part of everything that is happening because we knew what good players they were.
“Then of course the club has recruited very well. I really like Yohan Cabaye and Hatem (Ben Arfa) is showing what a fantastic talent he is.”
So far, Hughton has watched from afar. Remarkably, he is yet to set foot in St James’ Park since his sacking.
He was due to be part of a star-studded evening of former Newcastle managers appearing at the Lancastrian Suite in Dunston tomorrow for the latest Black and White Reunion night, but work commitments meant he had to bow out.
It still promises to be an interesting evening – Joe Kinnear’s presence alongside the incomparable Jack Charlton, Gordon Lee and Willie McFaul should ensure that – but will Hughton return? He says that remains a dream.
“I have not been back to Newcastle since it happened,” he admits.
“It hasn’t been because I haven’t wanted to. I just haven’t got round to it yet but I think now, what I would really like is to lead a team out at St James’ Park. That would be a fantastic occasion.
“Of course I would like to say a proper goodbye but football doesn’t always work like that.
“If it happens one day, of course I would really be looking forward to it. I think it would be a very proud moment for me. It would have been fantastic if it had happened for us at Birmingham.”
Hughton’s success at St Andrews saw him lead a team tipped for relegation into the play-offs despite a 62-game season which included a Europa League run, and well-publicised financial problems. No wonder West Brom made him a leading candidate for the vacancy at the Hawthorns, a subject that was understandably off limits for our chat.
These Second City achievements have added another excellent line to a CV that was already sparkling when he left St James’ Park. But away from collecting a winner’s medal, he was also responsible for instilling a winning mentality that endured in the first season back in the Premier League.
In a classy move, Hughton was given a name check by Alan Pardew when he was named as the LMA manager of the year in London earlier this month.
“It was a lovely thing for him to do,” he said.
“I did appreciate it and he deserved that award for the job he has done there. Alan is someone I have known for a while and I always knew he was a good manager.
“It was nice to get that recognition because it is in front of the other managers throughout the Football League. So for him to say that, I really appreciated it.”
And that sums Hughton up: no bitterness, no regrets and no time for excuses.
It is the approach that helped Newcastle climb off the canvas when it seemed they had suffered a fatal blow, and the sort of philosophy which has helped Hughton to become an excellent, established manager at the highest level.
He says: “All of my memories of Newcastle are very fond ones although I have always been honest enough when people talk to me about it to point out that I was part of the coaching staff that got the club relegated.
“Luckily I left with a good record and what I felt was nothing to really prove. But what really pleased me was doing it for the people up there, who live and breathe their football.
“Wherever I am in the world, I still get Newcastle fans coming up to me and thanking me for the promotion season which is so nice.
“It is an incredible support and a really, really lovely part of the world. I would love to see them go from strength-to-strength.”
CHRIS Hughton has been inducted into the Black & White hall of fame as part of the Toon Reunion series of events and talk-ins.
Although work commitments mean he can’t be there, Joe Kinnear, Gordon Lee, Willie McFaul and Jack Charlton will all be talking about their experiences in the hotseat at St James’ Park for the Black and White Reunion: Coaches and Managers event tomorrow night (7pm start).
It is at the Lancastrian Suite in Dunston and tickets start at £15.
For more information and ticket details visit www.playersincevents.co.uk.