Nathan Jones time playing with the Albion will be best remembered by many for the trickery and skilfulness that made him a cult figure on the Sky Sports program Soccer AM, but to just remember him for that would be unfair. Signed by manager Micky Adams in the summer 2000, he was a key part of the team that won back to back championship winning promotions, and after the subsequent relegation he was then part of the team that won the playoff final in 2004 to win its third promotion in four years. In fact it was the end of an eventful nine-year period for Jones.
After growing up in the Rhondda in rural Wales, he started out with Welsh club Merthyr Tydfil playing non-league football. It wasn’t long though before he went professional signing for the team he now manages, Luton Town. He spent a year there, but after failing to break into the first team he moved onto sunnier climates in Spain, where he was able to utilise his Spanish A-level.
He initially playing for Segunda División side Badajoz during the 1995/96 season as they missed out on promotion to La Liga, the next season he stepped down a division to play for Numancia where he won promotion back to the Segunda División. He later returned to the UK signing for Southend, in a three-year spell that included a loan spell at Scarborough in his second season. Despite that he still accumulated 99 appearances for the shrimpers, winning player of the season in his final season.
Therefore when he moved to the Albion in the summer of 2000 it was a major coup for then manager Adams. He quickly became an integral part of a team that is fondly remembered by many supporters of the club. Jones showed versatility at the club playing initially as a left winger and later also as a left back, a versatility that helped him keep his place in the team. In the back to back title winning promotion seasons Jones was a regular playing 76 times scoring 6 goals. After promotion to Division One, he found game time harder to come by starting only 16 games, with Paul Brooker battling him for the left winger role, whilst Kerry Mayo had a great season at left back.
After relegation back to the third tier and with Brooker leaving to join Micky Adams at Leicester, Jones was once again a key part of the team that won promotion via the playoffs, with the team winning its third promotion in four years. And with the playoff final in his home country’s capital Cardiff it was a nice way for him to cap off an eventful few years with the Albion. In the build up to the playoff final Jones said of his time to date with the Albion: “The emotions have been up and down over the past few years, but coming to Brighton is one of the best things I ever did – it’s a fantastic club”.
Following promotion and with the team reinforced with new signings, Jones once again struggled to get game time at the higher level, starting just three times. Whilst the Albion reached its highest finish during its time at the Withdean of 20th in the Championship, Jones was ultimately deemed surplus to requirements. At the end of the 2004/05 season Jones was not offered a new deal and with the good wishes of everyone at the club he moved to Yeovil, where he spent seven years first as player and later as a coach.
After being brought in initially just as a player, in 2008 he began his move into coaching by combing his playing duties with becoming first team coach of Yeovil women’s senior team under manager Steve Phelps and assistant manager Nigel Wolfe.
Whilst many Yeovil fans will remember the highlight of his time at the club when he captained the club at Wembley when they lost the 2007 playoff final, for many Brighton fans they will remember a number of games he played in for Yeovil against the Albion.
One such game against the Albion was during Micky Adams doomed second spell at the club, where The sides drew 1-1 on a sunny day at Huish Park. It was so sunny, when I finally arrived home I resembled a tomato shade of red. Despite leaving on good terms Jones received a lot of stick from the travelling Albion fans, which only got worse after the events that would follow. The game saw debutant Joe Anyinsah sent off for two yellow cards, the second yellow was for a high-footed kick on Jones, which manager Adams didn’t take kindly to as his post-match interview shows.
Later that season after manager Russel Slade left Yeovil (who following the sacking of Micky Adams would later take the Albion job), Jones became Player-Assistant manager of Yeovil men’s senior team under player-manager Terry Skiverton. Later that season, Brighton met Yeovil again, this time beating them 5-0, in a defeat branded by Jones as “embarrassing”. With former Yeovil manager Russel Slade having by now replaced Adams as manager, the Albion were on their way to a remarkable escape from relegation and along the way gave Jones a footballing lesson to take forward.
After a few years of consolidation in League One, Skiverton was sacked with Yeovil in the relegation zone and Gary Johnson appointed manager. Subsequently Jones was demoted from assistant to first team coach and following this he only stayed on until the end of the season.
After only a matter of weeks since leaving Yeovil, he started a new coaching job as u-21 team coach at Charlton. But after only a year there he moved on again to take a job as first team coach at the Albion, returning after 8 years away. He first worked under then manager, Spaniard Oscar Garcia, once again utilising his A-level in Spanish. When he left at the end of the season Jones was kept on to work under newly appointed manager Sami Hyypia, in what was a short-lived and unsuccessful spell in charge.
With Hyypia gone, Jones was appointed Caretaker boss for games with Reading and Fulham. However, Jones wasn’t ever in the running for the job on a permanent basis as chairman Tony Bloom and the board wanted someone with successful managerial and Championship level experience, something Jones didn’t have. In fact Jones stated before the Fulham game that he had ‘no personal ambition’ to take the Albion job at the time, despite his long term goals to be a manager.
After a 2-2 draw with Reading in which the Albion lead 2-0, Jones took charge again as the Albion visited Fulham. That night the Albion put in probably the best performance of the season so far to beat Fulham 2-0. The scenes at the end as Jones celebrated wildly in front of the Albion fans were special, if it were up to me I’d have given him the job there and then, but that is probably why I’m not in charge of making those decisions and Tony Bloom is. You can tell what that night meant to him too by watching his post match interview.
Later that week Chris Hughton was appointed manager and Jones was kept on as a first team coach. Hughton in fact was keen to keep him on board and had some nice things to say about Jones on his appointment. “Nathan Jones will very much be part of my first-team coaching staff and he has done a fantastic job here. I’m particularly grateful for the last two results and as somebody from the outside with a keen interest looking in, I was hoping that the last two results would fare well and he has done very well. I have a lot of respect for him as an individual and also as a coach, so I’m delighted to have him on board.”
During his time under Hughton and following his successful spell as caretaker, there were constant rumours Jones would leave the Albion and get his first job in management.
When Southgate invited him to shadow him and the other coaching staff of the England U21s it was another sign of his growing reputation. And when two months later he left to manage his old club Luton Town no one was surprised, in fact there was nothing but good wishes from the club. Albion Chairman Tony Bloom said, “Nathan has been a great servant to the club”, whilst Manager Chris Hughton said “Since I arrived, he has been an enormous help to me in my first year in the job; and alongside Colin Calderwood, he has played a big part in our progress in the last 12 months. I think he has all the attributes to become a very good manager.”
So it’s no surprise that Jones has done well at Luton, achieving promotion to League One last season, his first full season at the club. So well in fact that he was interviewed for Sunderland job in 2017, but some would say fortunately he missed out to fellow Welshman and former national team manager Chris Coleman. Fortunately as he now manages Luton at the same level as Sunderland following their relegation to League One in the same season and even more fortunately as Coleman is already out of a job whilst Jones’s reputation continues to rise.
One thing you may not know of Nathan is how much his religious faith, Christianity, shapes his life. The Rhondda village Nathan grew up in had a population of less than 2,000 but four practicing churches. He was so devoted to his faith that it was at the expense of a potential football career, missing a number of trials as a youngster because they were on a Sunday. Whilst he is still a devoted Christian his views on the Sunday holy day, have slightly altered. “I went to Cardiff and they had games on Sundays. I went to God and said, ‘I believe you brought me to this opportunity, I need to play.’ It was done in good faith. It was a necessity then. I believe God understands that.”
Through his faith Jones is in full belief he has fulfilled his potential and then some. “I don’t look back and think, I could’ve been this or that. I’ve surpassed any dream that I ever had and I’m very blessed, and in God’s will I did those things. If I hadn’t done all of those things, who’s to say if I’d be here?”. In modern society religion has a bad name and whilst there is much evidence of the evil it is responsible for, stories like Nathan’s shows the other side of the coin. In his case showing the strength it can give to people to achieve their goals.
So, what next for Nathan Jones? Currently he is managing a Luton side in League One who, despite a mixed start, have been tipped as an outsider for promotion to the Championship. As for the medium to long term future, if he continues his progress as a manager he’s certainly left enough of a mark in Sussex to be considered a potential future Albion manager.