That simple one word tweet was all it took to send me into a childish fit of hysterics on a train travelling between Manchester and Liverpool. I’d received the tweet just moments before disembarking from the train and I was soon literally bouncing through Liverpool Lime Street station. Of course, it was not the content of the tweet that had excited so much, nor even the affirmative answer to the question I had asked, it was the person who had sent the tweet: the Dutch football legend that is Ruud Gullit. THE Ruud Gullit had responded to my question.
So, what did he reply ‘yes’ to? It’s nothing that interesting really, unless you are interested in Welsh football personalities who have plied their trade overseas, which obviously here at Lost Boyos is one of our chief loves. Gullit had taken to Twitter following a Super Sunday game between Manchester United and Arsenal and asked his ‘tweeps’ did they have any questions regarding the weekend’s football. I was hungover and not really thinking straight when I for some reason thought it would be a good time to ask, “Is it true that Welsh coach Barry Hughes offered you your first ever professional contract?” Of course, Ruud Gullit, Dutch football maestro and the gatekeeper of ‘sexy football’ was not going to reply to me – or so I thought. Within 30 seconds my phone flashed to declare I had received a tweet and there it was:
So there you go, Ruud Gullit once tweeted me. Story over. However, this story may end with Gullit impressing a Welshman, but this whole story begins with Gullit impressing a Welshman – the aforementioned Barry Hughes, a certified Lost Boyo.
Hughes’ whole story is almost solely dominated by Dutch football. British football is a mere footnote in the story of Barry Hughes, as the Welshman once played for West Brom. However, after breaking his leg in a game against Manchester United at the age of 21 and subsequently being released by the club, Hughes went in search of adventure overseas. He washed up at semi-professional level with Dutch club Blauw-Wit Amsterdam, before moving to Alkmaar. After captaining Alkmaar ‘54 (the club’s name before merging with FC Zaanstreek and becoming AZ Alkmaar in 1967) to the Division Two title in 1963, Hughes became player/manager at the club in 1966. Hughes would be the last manager under the old Alkmaar ’54 title before moving on at the end of the 1966/67 season.
Next stop for Hughes would be HFC Haarlem as the Caernafon-born manager took over the club for the first of two stints in his career. Once again, he would not remain at HFC Haarlem for too long and by 1970 he was gone again – this time to Go Ahead. On Hughes’ arrival at the Deventer-based club, the team were solely known as Go Ahead (at the start of their history the club wanted to be known as ‘Go Quick’ but the Dutch FA put a stop to that idea); you may well now know them as ‘Go Ahead Eagles’ – this is Hughes other influence on Dutch football: it was in fact Barry Hughes who re-branded ‘Go Ahead’ and added the suffix ‘Eagles’ to the team name. The idea came from the city’s coat of arms, which is guarded by an eagle. Go Ahead had experienced its glory years during the 60s, even playing European football at one point, but by the time Hughes had arrived at the club in 1970 they were back to midtable mediocrity. Hughes remained with the club for three years until he rejoined Haarlem in 1973.
Hughes’ second stint at HFC Haarlem would probably go down as the most memorable part of his career with the Welshman remaining at the club for 7 years. Hughes would go onto to be an iconic figure at Haarlem, as he became famous for the ‘dai cap’ (flat cap to those who were brought up outside of Wales) he wore in the dugout. Hughes put together a team of players he would later describe as “crooks and veterans” who were unwanted in the Eredivisie, but provided much needed fight to climb up the Dutch divisions. Soon Hugheshad taken Haarlem from the Third to First Division. It was when the club arrived at the top tier of Dutch football that Hughes discovered the player who would have such a huge impact on European football.
Whilst representing Haarlem, the 16-year old Gullit would become the youngest player ever to play in the Eredivisie, but soon he was playing far beyond his years. Gullit excelled in an average Haarlem team and after making 91 appearances for the club and scoring 32 goals, he was unsurprisingly snapped up by a bigger club, in this case, Feyenoord. Hughes could not speak highly enough of Gullit, even comparing him to the great Duncan Edwards regularly in his youth.
In an interview before the 1997 FA Cup final between Chelsea and Middlesbrough (Chelsea were by then managed by Gullit), Hughes claimed that he would regularly encourage English coaches such as Arsenal’s Terry Neil and Don Howe to come over and have a look at Gullit, but despite the coaches taking Hughes up on their invitation they would not follow up their interest – Hughes reminds them to this day what a talent they missed out on. Hughes even acknowledged that Gullit deserved further praise for playing so well in a team that was not exactly full of positive role models for him:
“When Gullit joined us he was playing with men who were drinking themselves stupid, having fights or telling him their sex stories in the dressing-room. Then he heads off to Feyenoord and Johan Cruyff takes him under his wing – and the rest is history.”
Later in his career, Gullit would hail the impact Hughes had on his career and he dedicated many of his triumphs to the Welshman who discovered him.
It had actually taken Hughes a lot of effort to sign Gullit in the first place, as there were still undertones of racism in Dutch football, particularly towards the emerging crop of Surinamese-Dutch players such as Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. As David Winner notes in his excellent book, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football:
“[A]fter Surinam gained independence, many Surinamese went to Holland. Life in the Netherlands was not easy.‘In the 1970s Surinamese people in Holland had a bad name’,’ says (Humberto) Tan (one of Holland’s few black sports journalists). ‘A lot of people who came were disappointed in a society they weren’t used to. They weren’t successful, so some of them turned to drugs. There were dealers, pushers, pimps and addicts on the Zeedijk.’ It was hard for Surinamese footballers to get through the door of Dutch clubs. The Welsh manager of Haarlem, Barry Hughes, had a tough time convincing his board to take a risk on a big young centre-half called Ruud Gullit.”
Perhaps inadvertently, by introducing the genius of Ruud Gullit to Dutch football, Hughes helped subvert the stereotypes which surrounded Surinamese footballers (and people in general) and helped give them a gateway into Dutch football. The small part Hughes played would lead the way for a whole host of Surinamese-Dutch footballers over the next 30 years, such as Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf to name just a few.
As well as discovering future superstars, Hughes was even winning strange plaudits of his own. In December 1978 viewers of ITV’s football highlight show The Big Match awarded Hughes the title of December ‘Personality of the Month’. Hughes was awarded the prestigious accolade thanks to his humourous ‘raspberry’ gesturing on the touchline towards a rival manager. No mind games for Hughes – just simple, uncensored childish insults (as you can see in the Big Match interview below).
Not only was Hughes making a career in football circles, but Hughes even embraced the music industry. Perhaps a precursor of the awful football song efforts of Terry Venables, Waddle & Hoddle and 1978 saw him release his own single, Voetbal is Koning. Safe to say, Hughes was no John Lennon.
It would be at HFC Haarlem that Hughes would be best remembered, but there was still another 8 years of Hughes’ Dutch managerial odyssey to go. Just like the famous book the Odyssey, Hughes career was take in a stop at Sparta; obviously not the Sparta of Homer’s famous story, but Sparta Rotterdam. Hughes would lead Sparta to a 7th place finish in his first season, followed by a 9th place and an impressive 4th place finish in his final season with the club.
Hughes’ career would finish with one season at each of FC Utrecht, MVV and FC Volendam, before he made a return to Sparta in 1986. In 1988 Hughes finished his coaching career at the age of 50, having left a significant mark on Dutch football. Barry Hughes – we salute you.