Give Hughes a chance

IT is very rare for this column to clamber up on its high horse, some would suggest a donkey ride would be more appropriate.

But ahead of tomorrow's visit of Oldham, it is a good time for a moment of seriousness.

There is a very strong chance that sitting in the away dugout at Victoria Park tomorrow will be Lee Hughes, the former West Brom striker who was recently released after serving half of a six-years sentence in prison for causing death by dangerous driving.

The Lancashire club's decision to offer Hughes a deal just eight days after his release, was met with some severe criticism from all quarters, including a proportion of their own supporters, claiming it was morally wrong to bring him back into football.

I love it when football people come over all moral. The game is riddled with bungs, cheats, divers, racism, hooligans, you name it and yet there are some who speak and write about football as if it is like a weekly open-air bible class.

That is a side issue, however, as tomorrow is likely to be Hughes first match since his spell in the can.

Hughes is a big story and the eyes of the country are going to be on Hartlepool.

No doubt yours truly will arrive in the press box and find some national hack in my regular seat next to John Orley with a mouthful of bait that we usually hold off demolishing until half-time.

Seagulls and trawlers as Cantona once said.

The national boys have already cast their die, expecting the Pools fans to be calling for Hughes' blood.

But what they might not realise, or even some of the club's younger fans for that matter, is that Pools have been here before.

Almost 30 years ago, one of their own, Bob Newton (or "Big Bob Newton as it appears on his birth certificate) was jailed for nine months in very similar circumstances when his car crash whilst under the influence of alcohol resulted in the tragic death of his Pools team-mate Dave Wiggett.

Big Bob served nine months in prison before returning to the club and blasting 13 goals as Pools narrowly missed out on promotion in 1980.

Newton was to go on and become a hero in these parts.

So we can say Hughes' sentence was not long enough, or that nobody considers the families of the victims in these matters and these are both strong arguments.

But the fact that Hughes is a footballer should not come into it.

He has done his bird and gone back to work. He, like Big Bob, will have to live with his own demons.

In the meantime the fans' judgement should be reserved for whether he, or any other players for that matter, are any good on the pitch.

I hope Hughes has a stinker tomorrow – but only so it helps Pools bag another three points.

FOR full Gannon & Bawl column, see today's Mail