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Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Convicted Hughes certain to face abuse upon return


LONDON — In November 2003 West Bromwich Albion striker Lee Hughes was driving at speed on the wrong side of the road when his car struck an oncoming vehicle. Its driver, Douglas Graham, was killed.

Christopher Davies

A passenger, Albert Frisby, was so badly injured he needs crutches to walk four years on.

Graham's wife, Maureen, survived the crash but died in her sleep a year later, her friends said of a broken heart.

Hughes fled the carnage and gave himself up 36 hours later.

He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident. The judge who sentenced him to six years in prison said the player had shown a "callous disregard for the victims."

Having served half his sentence Hughes, a consistent goalscorer before the accident, was released last month and immediately given a contract by Oldham of League One.

Ironically he was sent off in his last game "inside" playing for Her Majesty's Prison Featherstone, but Oldham manager John Sheridan wants to assess Hughes' fitness before throwing him into the lion's den of English football.

It will be how strong Hughes is mentally that decides his future.

Inevitably there are many who think Hughes should never kick a professional ball again. Some would no doubt like to ensure he cannot.

When he eventually plays for Oldham he will be insulted, abused and possibly worse by supporters like those who targeted Middlesbrough's Egyptian striker against Newcastle.

Mido was called a "paedo" because it rhymes with his surname — one wonders how many dumb-skulls it took to work that one out.

Another chant suggested Mido, a Muslim, was carrying a bomb, those singing the sick chant showing a complete disrespect for those killed by such devices.

There were also suggestions he was drunk.

It is not believed any spectators were arrested for their tirade of filth toward Mido, though some complained of an alleged V-sign made by the player. How such a gesture must have insulted them.

Mido, for his sins, was cautioned for putting his finger over his lips after scoring.

So this is the mob culture that awaits Hughes. What he is about to receive will in some respects say more about those dishing it out than the recipient.

He knows he will be called a killer, a murderer with his every touch booed.

This column does not for one second condone Hughes' appalling, cowardly actions that fateful night in 2003. He was lucky not to receive a longer sentence, but as he spoke to the media this week Hughes looked traumatized and emotional.

The pain he feels is, of course, nothing like that he inflicted on Douglas Graham, Albert Frisby, their family and friends. Yet we should beware of saying a man who has served the punishment handed to him should not work again.

Do those who believe Oldham is wrong to employ him also believe no felon should ever be employed by anyone?

By not having a job an ex-convict is more likely to re-offend and though Hughes can never change the past he can perhaps, like others, put something back.

In 1990, Tony Adams was jailed for a drunk-driving offense. He crashed his car into a wall and there but for the grace of God . . . no one was hurt. Adams was paid by Arsenal while he was in prison and when he came out captained England.

He was awarded an OBE for services to football and as he faces the daily battle against alcohol Adams does much to help others with addictions.

Other players have been jailed for various offenses but welcomed back into the football family.

Hughes' crime was almost as bad as it gets, and he knows that in the next few weeks he will experience abuse that the stewards and police will do nothing to stop.

Whether it becomes too much for him remains to be seen, but having done the crime he's served his time. He will be guilty forever but surely everybody has the right to work again?

* * * * *

IF ENGLAND fails to beat Israel and Russia at Wembley in the forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers it can wave goodbye to its chances of reaching the finals, and coach Steve McClaren can say farewell to his job.

Of course to win a game you must score and of the 89 Premier League goals scored so far, only eight have been by English strikers.

Michael Owen, Andy Johnson and Jermain Defoe — the leading candidates to lead the attack against Israel — have yet to find the back of the net in the league, Wayne Rooney is injured and Peter Crouch is suspended for the Israel match.

Steven Gerrard has an injured toe and Kieron Dyer will be out for six months after breaking a leg.

However, the country still expects victory and McClaren knows the price of non-qualification. The sword is hanging over him by a slender thread.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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