The lanky Merseysider was a remorselessly effective central
defender – one contemporary report had him heading the ball away "with
the persistence of a mechanical ramrod" – but he was far from a
typical muscle-bound stopper in an era when subtlety did not feature
prominently among the qualities of most No 5s. "Big Lol" was something
else, a stylish, positionally perceptive and skilful centre-half, and
if there were occasional moments when his apparent nonchalance in
possession of the ball when surrounded by marauding attackers caused
palpitations on the Kop, it did nothing to lessen the lasting
affection in which he was held by most Anfield regulars in times both
triumphant and troubled.
He was brave, too, once leaving the field against Arsenal to have
stitches inserted in an ugly head wound, then returning to carry on
the battle and not shrinking from neck-or-nothing aerial challenges.
Yet for all his attributes, after starring in schoolboy football
Hughes had been rejected by Liverpool, deemed too slight to make his
mark in the dauntingly physical professional game, and he signed
instead for Tranmere Rovers as an amateur.
However, a sudden growth spurt and a series of richly promising
displays for the Birkenhead side brought about a rapid change of heart
at Anfield, and in February 1943 he recrossed the Mersey. Though still
in his teens he bedded in quickly, earning a regular place in the
first team for the last three years of the war and making his senior
debut in an FA Cup tie against Chester in January 1946.
Hugely significant in his continued development, and his emergence
as a trusty bulwark at the core of Liverpool's rearguard when League
competition resumed in the following autumn, was the pre-season tour
of the US and Canada. While their homeland was gripped in
post-conflict austerity, Hughes and his team-mates were treated like
royalty throughout their trip, built up on steak, pancakes and fresh
orange juice and so returning in fine fettle for the new campaign.
Still, with manager George Kay having to field an aging team,
expectations around Anfield were not high, but the prophets of doom
were confounded as Liverpool won the title in one of the most dramatic
finishes in the history of the Football League. Ahead of the last
round of matches, any one of Liverpool, Wolverhampton Wanderers and
Stoke City could have taken the prize. The Merseysiders beat Wolves at
Molineux but then faced an agonising two-week wait for Stoke to play
their final game, the delay due mainly to the depredations of a savage
winter, partly to the government's discouragement of midweek games on
the basis that travel to matches might fuel absenteeism from work. In
the event the Potters lost at Sheffield United and Liverpool were
crowned in mid-June.
Most of the credit tends to reside with the star attackers Billy
Liddell and Albert Stubbins, but Hughes and his fellow half-backs,
captain Phil Taylor and the redoubtable Bob Paisley – destined to
become one of the game's greatest managers when he replaced Bill
Shankly at the Anfield helm in 1974 – were also vastly influential in
a remarkable team effort.
The still slim feistily resilient centre-half had matured into a
vastlyaccomplished all-round performer, strong enough not to shrink
from combat with the rumbustious spearheads of the day – such
dreadnoughts as Tommy Lawton and Trevor Ford – but also constructive,
intelligent andcomposed even under the most intense pressure. Hughes
became a long-term mainstay of a Liverpool side which began to creak
over the next few years, but although he would never again be involved
in a title race he did shine on the way to the 1950 FA Cup final.
After injury kept him out of the semi-final victory over Everton, he
was back in time to face Arsenal at Wembley, acquitting himself
creditably against a fluent Gunners' attack but unable to prevent a
So splendid was his form that he was selected for England's first
World Cup foray, in Brazil, his country's need rendered more urgent by
the suspension of Neil Franklin, who had decided controversially to
seek his fortune in Colombia, then outside the umbrella of the game's
world governing body, Fifa.
On his debut against Chile in Rio de Janeiro, Hughes was assured
and confident alongside captain Billy Wright as Walter Winterbottom's
side eased to a 2-0 victory, and four days later they lined up against
the US in Belo Horizonte with every expectation of swiping the minnows
imperiously from their path. But a combination of freakish ill
fortune, some bizarre refereeing decisions and an under-par showing by
a team featuring the likes of Tom Finney and Wilf Mannion, led to a
1-0 defeat which still stands as England's most debilitating
Hughes didn't play badly, and he retained his place for the next
game, a 1-0 defeat by Spain which saw the nation that gave football to
the world ejected ignominiously from a competition it had entered in
distinctly condescending fashion. Several years would pass before two
annihilations at the hands of the sublime Hungarians would pound home
the message that England had masses to learn from the continentals,
but for the blameless Hughes that would not have direct significance.
His international career had started and ended in the space of eight
Though cast aside by the FA, he continued to excel for Liverpool,
bouncing back from two lengthy absences through injury, but he could
do nothing to halt the Reds' steady decline, culminating in relegation
in 1953-54. Made captain by manager Don Welsh for the following
season, he presided over a mediocre mid-table campaign but retained a
personal consistency which was replicated in the next two seasons,
both of which ended with Liverpool narrowly missing out on promotion.
In 1957-58, by now a veteran, Hughes was supplanted by the younger
Dick White, making his final senior appearance in a 5-1 drubbing at
Charlton that September. Five months later, with Manchester United
scouring the land for recruits in the wake of the Munich air disaster,
there were rumours of a move to Old Trafford. Nothing materialised,
however, and Hughes became the eminence grise in Liverpool's reserves,
helping young players develop, until he retired in 1960. He remained
in his home city, becoming a newsagent, then running a fish-and-chip
business before working in the betting industry.
- Independent Obituary