Mark Leslie Hughes is 54 today, but we doubt he’ll get many birthday cards or the bumps off of his players or PENBLWYDD HAPUS’s off of people he doesn’t know on Twitter. It’s a shame, really, because long before he was a constant throbbing nerve of managerial anger with his lack of tactics and his two goalkeepers as assistants and his complete lack of self-awareness, he was a hell of a fucking footballer.
Way back before the self-inflicted wound of spending £18m on Roque Santa Cruz a year after he’d got him for free opened up and swallowed his reputation, Mark Hughes and his gigantic welsh thighs bristled around penalty boxes and scored goals that were full of electricy. Each one hit with the pulse located in his right foot. A big powerful pulse that could split rocks and change the fabric of time around him. Like Thor’s hammer, his right foot. He also had a fondness for big fuck off headers when he went abroad, which is funny if you think about it. Sparky head-butting his way around Europe like a ram unleashed in a new field. And he once played with a broken ankle for years without knowing, just kept on booming and banging and bristling about the box.
Happy birthday, Mark. Let’s remember the good times before the sadness came.
Mark Hughes v Joe Hart (Circa 2008)
Robinho’s shaking his head and humming. Sat next to the ball bag, Elano is crying. Gélson Fernandes is texting his mum. Richard Dunne is eating a cheese cob with too many red onions. Stephen Ireland is sat in his car with all the windows down and the heating on full blast. Joe Hart is in goal, and if there were ten Joe Harts in goal, they still wouldn’t be stopping this. Sparky’s the best player on the training ground, and you’re all shite. He’s told you so.
Chelsea v Lanerossi Vicenza, 1998.
Phwoaaaaar, it’s a 19.45 kick off down the bridge in the European Cup Winners Cup Semifinals 2nd Leg and they’ve lost the first leg 1–0 and Vicenza are already one nil up after half an hour and the Chels have got three goals to score to get through. Phwoaaaar. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Big ball up top to him. Wins the header. His own knock-on. Meets it. Left foot volleys it into the far corner. Goal. It’s the stuff Sparky’s made of. The noise of the crowd crumples your ears. Chelsea win 3–1 and go on to win the final against Stuttgart. Vincenza are in Serie C, now. Sad!
Manchester United v Oldham, 1994.
It’s Sunday, April 10th 1994 and Everything Changes by Take That, a song so sickly happy that it sounds like it was created by a bunch of gap year Toby’s that have just found some MORE money, is top of the charts. It’s also the FA Cup Semifinal at Wembley and Oldham are 1–0 up against United in extra time. They’re wearing a corker of a shirt sponsored by JD Sports. But Sparky’s here. Sparky’s there. It’s the 119th minute. Ball loops over the top and he cracks it in on the sliding volley. Quality. It’s replay time.
Manchester United v Sheffield Wednesday, 1994.
One of those ones where the ball just sets. Plop. Bounces right in front of you and you’re running full pelt, and everyone goes “fuck’s sake” under their breath because they want the pass and are very aware that you’re about to boot the ball into orbit. But Sparky doesn’t. Hits them clean, doesn’t he. One of those ones where the ball’s still rising when it reaches the goal. One of those ones that cracks the bar and cracks the floor and cracks the net. One of those ones that even Cantona loves.
Barcelona v Bayer 05 Uerdingen, 1986.
Barcelona manager, Terry Venables, snapped up Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes in 1986 to go and tear up Spain. Gary did very well, but Mark was shipped out to Bayern Munich after one season and five goals. Here’s one of those goals. It’s a header.
Oh, and that goal against Spain—The Wales One.
Insane. The madness of it. The horror. The beauty. Nice one, Mark.
Manchester United v Barcelona, 1991.
Captain Marvel starts it with an exquisite dink through the middle. Yum. The Barca keeper rushes out, and a heavy second touch forces Hughes out wide, surely too wide, especially with all the pesky defenders rushing back. Then THWACK. The straightest THWACK you ever did see. Across goal right into the corner. Even Sparky is impressed with himself; just look how happy he is in that celebration. God, he was good.
Manchester United v Wimbledon, 1993.
It’s the 64th minute of a game between Wimbledon and United at Old Trafford, and a couple of Wimbledon players have just killed Andrei Kanchelskis. The show, however, must go on. Eric’s got the ball on the right. Mark’s made his run through the middle. Eric’s put the ball in. Mark’s scissor-blasted it into the net. It’s 2–1 United. The show must go on.
Bayern Munich v Everton, 1987.
Barry Davies on the ones and twos, Everton v Bayern in something called the Mercantile Credit Challenge, a stunner of a Munich kit. The red. The stripes. The long sleeves. Premium stuff all round, this. A goal for Sparky. Everton win 3–1. We should do this more often.
Manchester United v Liverpool, 1993.
Hnnnnng. Watches it in the air for forty yards and kisses it right off his boot into the goal. Bloody snogs it in. Delicious.