Chris Hughton: “Spurs are my team and always will be”
Sat 07 September 2019, 14:45|Tottenham Hotspur
Ledley King, a Spurs icon for our times, describes him as a ‘massive influence’ on his career.
“Great player, great coach, great person,” added our legendary former captain. “Humble, a real gentleman.”
Robbie Keane, the Republic of Ireland’s record cap and goalscorer who spent so much time with him at Club and international level, endorsed Ledley’s words and added: “He has a wonderful way with people and, most importantly, he’s a lovely man.”
We are, of course, talking about Chris Hughton.
Spurs player, coach and assistant manager for over 27 years between 1977 and 2007, his time at the Club was only interrupted by spells late in his playing career at West Ham and Brentford. FA Cup winner in 1981 and 1982, UEFA Cup winner in 1984, 398 appearances, capped 53 times by the Republic including appearances at Euro 88 and the 1990 World Cup, Chris first walked through the gates at the Lane aged 13 in 1971, first signed forms in 1974, signed part-time professional forms in 1977 and finally full-time in July, 1979 after completing his apprenticeship as a lift engineer.
Two months later - 40 years ago a little over a week ago - he made his first team debut against Manchester United in the League Cup. He was 19 and didn’t look back.
Did it seem like 40 years ago? “No, it doesn’t, I must admit, but the reality is of course it is!” said Chris, speaking to us this week, having been reminded again, at 60, that he seems to defy age. “You just have to think about the game - players, kits, the boots we wore, the state of the pitches, the stadia, what we were being paid - everything has changed. It’s a different universe really.
“The reason I played was because Gordon Smith, who had played the previous matches, had got injured. I must admit, I wasn’t nervous at all.
“Don’t forget, my background was a little different to everyone else. Most the of the lads had gone through a football apprenticeship and the pressure that goes with it, the build-up over time. I hadn’t.
“I was still playing as an amateur, training two nights a week and playing for the reserves on a Saturday. I wasn’t nervous and took it very much in my stride. I didn’t have the peer pressure many of the other lads might have had. It just went from there.”
Eleven years as a player included those ‘glory, glory’ years of the early 1980s with the likes of Ossie, Ricky, Glenn Hoddle, Steve Perryman, Graham Roberts, Paul Miller, Ray Clemence, Micky Hazard, Steve Archibald, Gareth Crooks and Mark Falco.
“Wonderful times,” he reflected. “The biggest highlight has to be the 1981 FA Cup Final, not just for me, but we were a group of players with Ossie and Ricky, who had won the World Cup (1978) and of course Stevie P won trophies in the early 1970s, Stevie Archibald at Aberdeen as well, but a lot of us hadn’t won a trophy.
“For myself, Robbo, Maxy, Tony Galvin, Garth, Glenn, it was our first achievement. It meant so much to a lot of us. It was my first one as well. That has to be closely followed by the UEFA Cup in 1984. It meant so much winning at White Hart Lane.”
He returned as coach in 1993 and was at the Club for another 14 years. “From a coaching point of view, I loved all of it,” he added. “I worked with a lot of managers, that range from Christian Gross through to Martin Jol and including Glenn, George Graham, even Jacques Santini.”
Management spells followed at Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich and most recently Brighton, who he took into the Premier League in 2017. He was back at the Club and the new stadium in April, where his Brighton side pushed us all the way before we finally broke through via a Christian Eriksen cracker late in the game. A poignant moment pre-match saw him back alongside fellow early 80s icons Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa. He was home, but his mind on the job in hand. Yet Spurs is and always will be home.
“From where I am as a manager now, there is no doubt Tottenham set me up for that in what I was able to be involved in as a coach,” he said. “I’ve seen players develop, seen players have such great careers and I’m consistently seeing teamsheets with players who have had an association with Spurs, so many. That’s very rewarding.
“I managed to play just under 400 games at Tottenham and whenever anyone speaks to me about Spurs, the obvious thing is playing but I think of the whole lot, the 27 years.
“If you’d have asked me as a young player if I’d have had the coaching and managerial career I’ve had, I would have said ‘no’. I didn’t have the football background of other players so to go on and be a coach at Tottenham for so long, that’s something I never thought would happen.
“I tend to look at it all over a 27-year period, playing, coming back and coaching with Ossie, being at the club for so long, for me it’s been a privilege. That’s what I’m most proud of.
“As a young kid I never really supported a team. I was from east London, always playing football but didn’t support a team. My father wasn’t really interested in football. From the age I came to Tottenham, 13, that was it. Spurs are my team and always will be, no matter where I manage. That hasn’t changed and won’t change.”