Chris Hughton, one of the calmest and most under-stated managers in football, admits that even he will allow himself a leap of celebration if he can recreate a glorious memory of 1981 by beating Manchester City in the FA Cup at Wembley today.
It was 38 years ago when Republic legend Hughton first tasted the heady excitement of lifting silverware when he played for Spurs against City in one of the most famous FA Cup finals all time, one lit up by a fantastic goal from Ricky Villa in a 3-2 replay win.
Full-back Hughton was just 22 at the time, but already a Republic international and four years into a playing career that would span 15 years before he turned to coaching and then management.
Today he will be back at Wembley, also facing Manchester City, but this time in a semi-final as manager of up-and-coming Brighton & Hove Albion, having already guided his side to two seasons in the Premier League.
“Of course I remember it well,” he said.
“I was part of a team that, for most of us, was celebrating our first achievement in the game. So you tend to remember that the most. And of course, it was won on the occasion by a very, very special goal. So they are probably my best memories in football though we went on to win it again the following year and the Uefa Cup after that.
Arguably it meant more in those days, but I’ll be looking forward to this match just as much as I did back in the day.
The FA Cup has changed hugely since then, there were certainly no Wembley semi-finals back in the competition’s halcyon days, and Hughton has changed too. He was always an intelligent, studious, and consistent footballer, but he has taken calmness and level-headedness to new levels as a manager — in contrast to many of the arm-whirring, red-faced characters he comes up against in the Premier League.
Even when he helped Brighton clinch promotion into the top flight, every bit as big an achievement as lifting an FA Cup in modern terms, there was little more than a fist pump, a nod of approval and an occasional back-slip in recognition of the moment.
So what memories does he have of how it felt to win at Wembley against City all those years ago?
Hughton said: “Well, I’ve got lots of pictures of me jumping up and down which you don’t see so much of these days! I was a little bit younger, the knee was probably a bit in better shape and I was able to do those things.
“But certainly, if we were able to beat an outstanding Man City in the form that they’re in this time, then possibly the knee might be a younger knee, put it that way!”
Now, that would be worth seeing, even if the former defender, who won 53 caps for the Republic scoring just one goal, has already ruled out a Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp-style race down the line.
“I’m not sure I’d go to that extent! But a little bit more than normal, perhaps,” he added.
Hughton’s answer belies the fact that if Brighton can match the Tottenham side of 1981 it will probably be seen by critics as even more of an achievement than that first trophy triumph, certainly in terms of the difficulty of the task facing his today side against a City team going for the quadruple and regarded by many, including Hughton, as potentially the best side in world football.
What Brighton will need to achieve that is, not just luck, but also a moment of magic like the kind provided by Argentine midfielder Villa with his 76th minute winner which broke City hearts in front of 92,000 fans.
“I remember it incredibly well because I’ve seen it so many times,” said Hughton. “It’s probably one of the most shown FA Cup goals. It was an incredibly exciting time for us, particularly with a team with a very forward-thinking manager in Keith Burkinshaw who had put together a very exciting, cup-orientated side. It was a wonderful passage we had going into it as well. So, yes, I remember the goal very well and of course the celebrations that came after it!”
Reaching a Cup Final nearly four decades on would be a huge chapter in the development of Brighton (who last achieved that feat in 1983 when they lost to Manchester United in a replay), but also a landmark in Hughton’s managerial career. He has won plaudits for earning promotion at both Brighton and Newcastle, but a major trophy would be a significant addition to his CV, even if he is too modest to admit it.
“It’s not something I think about in terms of my own development,” he insisted. “I know how hard it is to get to this stage of the competition and I do honestly think more about the players and the club.
“I don’t think about self achievement and where it can take me.
It’s more a responsibility I have to this football club, how happy I am in particular for an owner and chairman who has pumped so much money and effort into it.
"I know what it means to this club and they are the things I think about most.”
That answer gives you a real flavour of the character of the man and helps to explain, too, why he is so popular not just with Brighton fans but also, pretty much unanimously, with those who work inside the club on England’s south coast.
He is not the only Irish influence in the side, either. Just as Hughton was backed up by Tony Galvin in 1981, these days he relies on Republic international centreback Shane Duffy, whose partnership with Lewis Dunk has been the bedrock of Brighton’s success.
“Shane has been important at both ends of the field. If you look at our season so far we have been good at set-plays and Shane, in particular, has had a good record. And at the other end, we know that we have a centre-half partnership that has been very good. The are going to very important against City.
“We are very realistic how huge the task is on Saturday. So for me, firstly it’s about the performance. And if we are able to put in a performance that we can be proud of, then certainly it gives us a chance. If we don’t, then of course it gives us no chance.”