It’s been another week in the headlines for Notts’ Lee Hughes following both a police charge of sexual assault and then a winning goal the very next day at Walsall.
You wouldn’t bet against him making more headlines tomorrow when he’s likely to start against Stevenage Borough at Meadow Lane.
When you write about Notts County, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to write about Hughesy. Adored by many (not all) of those who hand their monies over the turnstiles every week at Notts, but for every fan there’s likely to be in the region of a dozen who wouldn’t be happy to see Lee Hughes on a football field unless he was being stretchered from it.
To say he divides opinion barely begins to describe it. I’m not brave enough to get into his past – because let’s be honest what’s the point? You won’t find a single person on the planet that would even attempt to justify what he has done. But if I were to go into the details you can bet someone will attempt to make out that’s exactly what I was doing.
For that purpose, i’ll leave it well alone.
Yet for that tumultuous past (and alleged present), on Saturday – I won’t bat an eyelid come 2.55pm if my Son wants to walk out with Hughesy when he’s a mascot for the match against the team who last weekend knocked us out of the FA Cup.
You see, away from what opposition supporters only get to see for 90 minutes tops each week, Hughes is seemingly a pretty decent person behind the scenes.
Saturday won’t be the first time that my boy Connor has walked the side out. Last season for the game with Exeter he held Hughesy’s hand onto the field – the smiles and two thumbs up pictured to the right says more about how he felt than any words could do justice.
Connor, just five at the time was a bag of nerves of course. There wasn’t much we could say to put his mind at ease as he headed down the tunnel to meet up with the side. Things changed though once back inside with the team.
The reason? Lee Hughes. We asked Connor on the train home that evening what had changed his mind. He told us that Lee had been quick to assure him that everything would be ok, to stay close, and if he was scared to let him know.
Hardly the actions of an an apparent “murdering rapist” who holds no remorse for his history. Well, that’s what he is according to some Walsall fans this week at least.
Personally, I would never expect that from a striker on matchday. To me his priority surely is to be worrying about the job at hand – not a small child suffering with nerves.
Since that day Connor has continued to idolise Hughes. The two have met several times since, and Lee is always more than happy to pose for photographs with Connor and any others loitering around.
Since Martin Allen came in at Notts, he’s made a point this season of making sure the players have a strong presence within the community by sending his squad for appearances at a variety of events. Hughes is amongst the players to have been out and about the most.
To those too young to understand the severity of Hughes’ past, efforts like this mean the world to them.
On top of that, he has been an ever-present for the past three years at Nottingham Queen’s Medical Centre come Christmas time as part of Notts fan Rob Bristol’s hugely successful selection box appeal.
If you ever think we only love Lee Hughes for what he does on the field, believe me when I say you’re very much mistaken and those 90 minutes you see of him are only a small part of who we know Lee Hughes to be.
On the field where he makes his money, he’s a symbol for the club. He came to Meadow Lane with Munto money – a time when Notts County grew a spine and stopped being an easy six points every season. He represents the modern Notts County. We’re hardly making friends along the way – but we’d rather that than be rollovers like so many seasons that have gone before.
And if you’re ever questioning a player’s commitement to the cause – it’ll rarely be Lee Hughes. For what felt like a losing battle against relegation last season, him and Neal Bishop were the only two players week in, week out that you could see really giving a damn about what was happening to our club.
Are his actions on the field never questionable? Don’t be daft. There are still many times each season where we’ll sit with head in hands mulling over his latest flashpoint. Fact is that yes, on the field, he can be a bastard.
But he’s our bastard.
Were he yours, you’d likely feel differently whether you realise, or choose to accept it or not. It isn’t a mere coincidence that since his release he found the only two clubs in the country who’s supporters would get behind him.
He goes to court on February 8th charged with an alleged sexual assault dating back to the beginning of December. To many, he’s already guilty – but we’ll stand by our man for now and stick with presumed innocent until proven guilty if you don’t mind.