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A Tribute to Crazy Horse
By Phil Thompson
The History PressCopyright © 2014 Phil Thompson
All rights reserved.
'If this boy was as good at football as he thinks he is, he would play for England' – Emlyn Hughes' school report, 1958
Emlyn Walter Hughes was born in the Cumbrian town of Barrow-in-Furness on 28 August 1947. Emlyn's father, Fred 'Ginger' Hughes, had represented Great Britain at rugby league after moving to Barrow to join the local rugby league club. Fred came from Llanelli and had played for Wales Schoolboys as a youngster, and when an invitation came for him to play professional rugby league for Barrow for a signing-on fee of £500, he moved to Cumbria. His original plan was to take the £500 and then return to Llanelli as soon as possible. Fred told his brothers Harry, Dick and Emlyn (Emlyn Hughes was named after his uncle) that he had no qualms about signing for Barrow, but he would be returning home to the Welsh valleys before too long. The Hughes family consisted of seven children and Fred was often the only one bringing in a regular pay packet. No doubt a large chunk of the £500 found its way back to Llanelli, but Fred Hughes immediately took a liking to life in Barrow and decided to honour his contract and stay.
Playing as a prop forward for Barrow, he soon became a popular figure at their home ground, Craven Park. After a successful career at Barrow, he signed for Workington and played alongside the famous Gus Risman, at the time known as one of the hardest men in rugby league. Fred Hughes thought his rugby days had come to an end after retiring when Workington released him. An offer then came out of the blue for Fred to represent Wales against England in a rugby league international. He hadn't played at all for two years, but, after a great deal of persuasion from Gus Lisman, he put his boots on again to represent his country against the old enemy.
When his rugby days finally came to an end, Fred was involved in a variety of occupations before setting up a tarmacking business with a friend. He even tried his hand at being an on-course bookmaker at the Westmorland course at Cartmel. Fred took the bets, Emlyn's mother Anne, as clerk, did the paperwork and Fred's brother Dick was the tic-tac man in the ring. Fred Hughes was never a licensed bookmaker, but the authorities never bothered him as he set up his pitch at Cartmel for a number of years. His pitch was known on the course as 'Ginger's Hill'. He was happy to make a profit of £20 and would not take a chance on laying big bets.
Cartmel races was a day out for the whole of the Hughes family and Emlyn Hughes' own love of horse racing originated from his childhood days accompanying his family on their annual visit to the beautiful Westmorland course. In later years, Emlyn Hughes became a racehorse owner and even had a runner in the Grand National during the 1970s.
Fred Hughes' tarmac business continued to put food on the table and he was happy to remain in Barrow with his wife Anne and their three boys, David, Emlyn and Gareth. David was four years older than Emlyn, with Gareth the youngest. Emlyn was born at 94 Blake Street in August 1947. Although the main source of employment in Barrow-in-Furness was shipbuilding, Fred Hughes was far too independent to have sought work at the local shipyard when his rugby days came to a close. Running his tarmac business suited him down to the ground. Most people in Barrow knew Fred Hughes as he walked through the town centre proudly wearing his British Lions blazer everywhere he went.
Although Fred Hughes was a confirmed rugby fanatic, he encouraged his children to be the best they possibly could in whatever was the sport of their choice. When Fred noticed that young Emlyn looked quite a prospect at football, that was it – from that moment on Fred attended every game, work commitments permitting, that he possibly could. Even if his son had a bad game Fred would be there after the match telling him that he was by far the best player on the pitch. If Emlyn Hughes did not succeed in becoming a professional footballer it would not be through a lack of confidence in his own ability – Fred 'Ginger' Hughes saw to that.
The family moved from Blake Street to a place just outside the town centre named Abbots Vale. Their new home was Vale Cottage, a bigger abode with a driveway where the growing Emlyn Hughes could hone his blossoming football skills. As soon as he got home from his local school, South Newbarns Juniors, it was England against Wales with his brothers and pals in the driveway. Young Emlyn was always on the England side, his ambition, even at an early age, being to play for the country of his birth and not his parents' homeland of Wales.
Apart from his father, Emlyn Hughes stated in his autobiography that it was at South Newbarns Junior School that he came under the guidance of another influential figure in his young days as a footballer. Joe Humphreys was the headmaster of South Newbarns and took the under-II football team. Emlyn's school was the top team in Barrow for that age group during his days at the school. Some hard games took place against other local schools, but South Newbarns generally came out on top.
It was also during this period that Emlyn Hughes started to make regular visits to Holker Street to watch his idols Barrow Football Club take on the likes of Accrington Stanley and Workington Town in the old Third Division (North). Fred Hughes had always hoped that Emlyn might take a shine to rugby league as his sport of choice but, although Emlyn tried the oval ball game, he soon realised that it was football and not rugby where his talents lay.
The young Emlyn Hughes became so obsessed with Barrow FC that he even took to travelling to away games, as far afield as the likes of Exeter City, when the mood took him. If he didn't have the money, he would hitchhike to away games with his younger brother Gareth. When the two dishevelled and hungry youths arrived back home they would inevitably receive a telling-off from their relieved parents before sports-mad Fred Hughes would then write a note excusing them for any absence from school.
Going on to secondary school, Emlyn continued to shine at sport at Risedale Secondary Modern. He played rugby league as well as football for the school and was selected to represent Barrow at rugby. The opposition were St Helens, who as always were full of talented young rugby league prospects. Barrow were thrashed 47-0, and this confirmed in young Emlyn's mind, and that of his father Fred, that the round ball game was where his future might lie.CHAPTER 2
'They called me The Underseal Kid because that's all I could do' – Emlyn Hughes recalling his days as an apprentice motor mechanic.
At Risedale Secondary Modern, Emlyn Hughes represented the school at cross country running as well as football and rugby. At the age of thirteen, however, his spurt of growth came to a temporary end. The other lads in the school caught up with him and in many cases overtook him when it came to size and physique. From being the outstanding young sportsman for his age group, his peers now overtook him as they grew stronger.
His interest in playing football received a temporary setback, but his allegiance to his heroes in the blue and white of Barrow Football Club remained as strong as ever. He even approached the club secretary at Holker Street one day to request a trial for Barrow. The club allowed him to train with the amateurs and youth team players of an evening when he reached the age of fifteen. At this period in his teenage years, however, Emlyn Hughes was not the young strapping hulk of a teenager who would impress Bill Shankly when the legendary manager witnessed his Blackpool debut four years later. Barrow failed to take him on, mainly on the grounds that he wasn't big enough for the tough, hard world of Fourth Division football.
At this stage Fred Hughes' tarmac business was beginning to develop and Emlyn was packed off to learn a trade. Fred's choice was that he should be a motor mechanic and his dejected young son began work as an apprentice at a firm situated in Barrow, aptly named Emlyn Street.
Emlyn Hughes hated his days working in the garage, his dream still being to become a professional footballer. However, he reasoned that if he hadn't shown enough promise for Barrow to take him on, then he had very little chance of impressing a bigger club.
Emlyn continued to play local junior football in the Barrow and District League. The club he signed for was Roose Juniors. There he came under the guidance of Bill Evans, who instilled in Hughes a new determination to make it in football, but it was through the sheer determination of Fred Hughes that the crucial breakthrough came.
Emlyn continued to play for Roose on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, while Fred Hughes worked behind the scenes to get his son a trial at a professional club. If anyone wants to know from whence Emlyn Hughes got the incredible drive and determination that was such a feature of his fantastic football career, they need look no further than his father Fred Hughes. Although Fred would have loved to have seen Emlyn become a top rugby league player, like his eldest son David did at Barrow, he never gave up helping his football-obsessed offspring to fulfil his dream.
Emlyn continued to set off every morning to the garage in Emlyn Street to learn the ins and outs of becoming a motor mechanic. In later years he confessed that the only job he was any good at when it came to car repairs was undersealing them. 'They called me The Underseal Kid,' he once exclaimed, 'because that was all I could do.'
Emlyn Hughes' parents were no different from any others during the 1960s in wanting their children to learn a trade as the passport to happiness and a means of earning a living. Like a great number of teenagers forced into embarking on five-year apprenticeships that would 'set them up' in later life, Emlyn Hughes resented every minute of it.
He played his heart out every weekend for Roose Juniors, hoping that a scout from one of the Lancashire clubs might be standing on the touchline and be suitably impressed with his all-action style of play. At this stage in his career, Emlyn was still playing as an inside forward, and scored his fair share of goals. He once set a record for goalscoring during his days playing for South Newbarns under-11s and he always thought his future in the game would be as a forward.
The big break for Emlyn Hughes came when his father decided to approach Ron Suart, the Blackpool manager, in the hope of attaining a trial for his son at Bloomfield Road. Emlyn knew that Suart was a native of Barrow and Fred Hughes had known the likeable Suart for many years. Suart had been a top defender for Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers during his playing days and after winning promotion to the Second Division for Scunthorpe in 1958, it was clear he was an up-and-coming young manager.
Blackpool offered Ron Suart the opportunity to become a First Division manager at the beginning of the 1958/59 season and he took over the reins at Bloomfield Road. Suart was known as an honest manager and was very quietly spoken. He had developed a reputation for bringing young talent to fruition at Blackpool and one only has to look at the careers of two future England greats, Alan Ball and Emlyn Hughes, to realise that his ability to spot young talent was second to none.
After months of badgering by his persistent son, Fred Hughes took the opportunity, while carrying out some tarmac work in Blackpool one day, to make his way to Ron Suart's office and attempt to get Emlyn a trial at the club. With Suart being a Barrow-born man, surely, he thought, he would give a talented kid from his own place of birth just one chance to show his worth.
Fred's determination paid off and he was invited to bring his son to Bloomfield Road the following week. Emlyn Hughes was ecstatic. He always had confidence in his own ability and now he had a chance to prove himself at a First Division club. The problem was, however, that Emlyn Hughes had still not undergone that spurt of growth that made him look such a powerful player in later years. He was still relatively small for his age and although Blackpool's assistant manager Eric Hayward and youth team coach Bobby Finnan thought Emlyn Hughes had ability, his size went against him. After running the rule over Emlyn in a few trial games, they told Fred to bring his son back in a few months. Fred and Anne Hughes then set about building up their growing teenage son with a diet of steaks and whatever else they could feed him up on.
Emlyn Hughes started to play the occasional game for Blackpool's 'B' team and assistant manager Eric Hayward began to take a keen interest in the youngster's performances. Hayward had been a centre half in the famous Blackpool glory days of the mid-1950s when the seasiders had won the FA Cup in a fabulous 1953 final against Bolton. He knew the game inside out and began to give the young Emlyn Hughes a rollicking on a regular basis. Hughes was at first disconcerted to be on the receiving end of Hayward's tongue lashings, but then reasoned that if he didn't have anything to offer then the old pro wouldn't have bothered with him. Hayward cajoled Hughes with a mixture of bullying and praise into becoming a better player. Added to the fact that he was now beginning to grow much bigger and stronger, Emlyn Hughes was now starting to look a prospect. If Ron Suart or Eric Hayward turned up to take a look at training sessions or junior team matches that Hughes was involved in, the youngster from Barrow pulled out all the stops in an effort to impress them.
As at every stage of his son's development, Fred Hughes now decided to make the next move in Emlyn Hughes' career. He moved Emlyn out of the family home and set him up in digs in Blackpool. He wanted him nearer to the training ground at Squires Gate and he also contacted a garage to enable him to continue his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Although he was reluctant to leave the warmth of the family home in Barrow, Emlyn Hughes knew he had to give football his total commitment if he was ever to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional. Emlyn Hughes lodged at 2 Levens Grove, Blackpool with Johnny Green, Hughie Fisher and Alan Ball. Green and Fisher would eventually become top-class First Division players; Hughes and Ball were destined to become football legends. At some stage in the future a blue plaque should be erected at 2 Levens Grove stating that it was once the residence of two future England captains.
Emlyn Hughes settled in well at his new lodgings and was well looked after by his landlady Mrs Mawson. He would work in the day at Blackpool's Imperial Garage and then make his way to Squires Gate for training sessions in the evening. He envied his fellow lodgers at Levens Grove who would still be in bed when he was setting off for work on a cold winter's morning. Emlyn would have to do a full day's work and grab a quick bite to eat during the day before setting off for training at 5.00 p.m. The full-time apprentices were allowed to concentrate fully on their football careers at Blackpool. Hughes would arrive back at his digs to eat his evening meal often after nine at night. It was all worth it to Emlyn, however; he had always wanted to be a part of a top First Division club and he was now well on the way to achieving his dream.
Now playing in midfield, Emlyn Hughes eventually forced his way into the Blackpool youth team. He really made his mark when he knocked a goal in past Blackpool's star goalkeeper, Tony Waiters, in a pre-season trial match playing for The Whites against The Tangerines. These public trial games were a feature of most teams' pre-season activities at the time and would allow the supporters a taste of what would be on offer in the coming season.
Hughes was now beginning to make his mark at Blackpool and had even received a mention in the local press. Fred Hughes told Emlyn that Ron Suart had assured him that the teenager was soon to be offered professional terms at the club. He had been training at Blackpool for a year and a half and the day arrived when he was called into Suart's office to hear whether or not he was to be offered a contract. When Suart told him the magic words – that he was to become a full-time professional – Hughes could not contain his joy. He felt as though he was walking on air as he quickly signed the form put before him and left Suart's office. The fact that he would now be receiving the princely sum of £8 a week didn't concern him in the slightest. He could now train full time and his dreaded days as an apprentice motor mechanic were destined to become a rapidly fading memory.
Excerpted from Emlyn Hughes by Phil Thompson. Copyright © 2014 Phil Thompson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsA Tribute to Crazy Horse,
Emlyn Hughes' Golden Moments,
The Key Managers,
Season-by-Season Summary for Liverpool and England,