Exclusive: Troy Townsend launches attack on Brighton for Chris Hughton sacking - 'We are now at worse than square one'

Tom Morgan
Chris Hughton was sacked on Monday morning - Getty Images Europe

Chris Hughton's shock sacking by Brighton sparked blistering criticism yesterday from anti-discrimination campaigners who said efforts to improve black and ethnic minority representation in management are "at worse than square one".

The Daily Telegraph understands executives are now set to interview Swansea City's Graham Potter after the cash-strapped Welsh club reluctantly gave the Seagulls permission to begin talks. 

Brighton finished the season on a rotten run of three wins in their last 23 league games, but Troy Townsend, who leads Kick It Out's mentoring and leadership work, and former England winger John Barnes both said it was "ridiculous" to fire the manager who had kept the club in the Premier League for consecutive seasons.

While there is no suggestion his ethnicity was a factor in his sacking, the departure of Hughton, who also guided Brighton to the FA Cup semi-final this season, leaves Nuno Espirito Santo as the only black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) manager in England's top tier. There are none in the Championship after Darren Moore was controversially sacked by West Bromwich Albion while still in contention for promotion. Sol Campbell, meanwhile, was forced to start his career in management at Macclesfield Town, who were then bottom of League Two.

 "We are now at worse than square one," Townsend told the Telegraph. "What people don't understand is the real difficulties for black managers getting through the bottle neck at the top of football. We are talking about measly numbers."

Nuno Espirito Santo (left) is now the only BAME manager in the top two tiers of English football Credit: Reuters

Hughton, 60, who was contracted until 2021,  was appointed Brighton manager in December 2014 and swiftly transformed the club into Championship promotion contenders, finishing third in his first full season before losing out in the play-offs, and then winning automatic promotion a year later. After finishing 15th in their first season in the Premier League, Brighton survived again this year.

Paul Nevin, regarded as one of the England's best young black coaches, will also leave Brighton as part of the dramatic changes at the club.

Brighton were a pioneering club for BAME coaching staff and still have Hope Powell in charge of the women's team.

However, Townsend said sacking Hughton so soon after the last game "is just staggering". "If a player had left at this stage, walked out on the club, people would be in uproar," he said.  "It's so shabby. What are the expectations of Brighton? Surely it is to stay in the league. You are 4th from bottom and you have got to an FA Cup semi-final. I don't get it.

"They must have been planning it for some time. Look at how Chris has been treated at Newcastle and Norwich and now Brighton? Being nice is his nature, but I know behind closed doors he is a different guy, he knows how to get his teams going. He has given Brighton another year of Premier League football and he gets repaid like this? Really?"

Chairman Tony Bloom made the final decision to sack Hughton, saying the club's recent run "put our status at significant risk".  Brighton expect to formally interview Potter in the next few days and will pay minimal compensation to Swansea if negotiations go smoothly.

Swansea are under pressure to raise around £30m this summer, with Wales international Daniel James and Matt Grimes both expected to be sold. Potter has impressed in south Wales after his appointment last summer, guiding Swansea to a tenth-placed finish in the Championship and the former defender is seen as a progressive, innovative coach who can take Brighton forward.

Second choice for the job is Derby's Frank Lampard, whose progress into coaching was partly aided by Brighton technical director Dan Ashworth, who is spearheading the recruitment process, during his time at the Football Association.

However, Barnes, whose  last managerial job was at Tranmere Rovers in 2009, said Hughton should have been allowed to stay. "It shows the unrealistic expectations that football fans have generally - because for me that is a ridiculous decision," he told Sky Sports News.

Outside the top tier, BAME managers Jos Luhukay and Chris Powell also lost their jobs this season. Aside from Campbell and Nuno, Dino Maamria at Stevenage and Keith Curle of Northampton are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Townsend questioned whether there was any genuine will in the game to tackle the bottle neck for black managers getting opportunities at the elite level.

"These sackings have a huge impact as they are role models," Townsend, the father of Crystal Palace forward Andros, added.

"Chris was a number two everywhere, then he branched out and finally got a long overdue chance. The way he carries himself, the way he speaks, he knows he has a wave of people under him who want to be like him. I'm really not sure what more he could have done for Brighton. Two more wins, would that have saved him?

"But do I think people care about lack of representation? Does this game really care?  To be completely honest, I don't know. Chris is very attached to the LMA but does the rest of the game truly honestly care about him and Darren? I don't know. Here we are talking about this same c--- yet again."

Troy Townsend awarding  Mohamed Salah hi 2018 FWA Footballer of the Year trophy Credit: PA Archive

Barnes added: "I am no more frustrated than I have been for the last 10 years. Not just looking at what goes on in football but what goes in life. Until we get rid of racial bias, sexism, homophobia in society, it will exist in all walks of society."

The representation of BAME figures in the dugout and the boardroom is dramatically below both the wider population percentage and the 30 per cent of professional players from BAME backgrounds. The EFL has proactively attempted to address this since June 2016 with new regulations, inspired by the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which require academies to advertise positions and to include at least one suitably qualified BAME candidate on the interview shortlist before then appointing on merit.

However, Barnes said yesterday the solution "is not to give more black people jobs in football, the solution is to give black people, women, homosexuals more respect in life, then that will filter up".