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Emlyn Hughes

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 14 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss

England Caps : 62

Goals : 1

Player and Captain : 1970-1980

Bill Shankly bought Emlyn Hughes from Blackpool when he was 18 and declared that he would be England captain one day making sure the spotlight was on Hughes from that point on. He did play for England, and he did become captain, he also ended up gaining more England caps than any other Liverpool player, at 59 (he was awarded three more while a Wolves player).


At Liverpool Hughes played as a holding midfielder who could attack as well, often going on mazy runs that got him the nickname ‘Crazy Horse’, but his England career started at left back. Sir Alf Ramsey, then England manager, gave Hughes his debut late in 1969 in a 1-0 win against Holland, at left back, having seen Hughes’ versatility.

From then on, Hughes was in the England squad as a regular deputy for then left back Terry Cooper, and was the youngest player to go to Mexico for the 1970 World Cup. England didn’t get past West Germany at the quarter-final stage and Hughes didn’t play a game.

Hughes continued as Cooper's back-up for a while but by the Home Championship of 1971 he had managed to cement a place as the holding midfielder, with his Liverpool defence partners Tommy Smith and Larry Lloyd often behind him. However, a bad leg break put Terry Cooper out of action and Hughes was back in the left back role for the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get past West Germany to reach the final tournament of the 1972 European Championship.

Polish Disaster

With Ramsey now looking to the 1974 World Cup, Hughes became a regular in the side and scored his first and only England goal in a 3-0 defeat of Wales in the 1972 Home Championship. But the World Cup qualifying campaign was left on a knife-edge with England needing to beat Poland at Wembley in October 1973 to go through.

Disaster duly ensued, with Hughes and Shilton between them unable to stop Domarksi’s shot in the 57th minute, from virtually their only attack, putting Poland in front. A penalty restored equilibrium but polish Keeper Tomaszewski was inspired and England could not score again, failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since their initial entry in 1950.

England Captain

This disappointment for Hughes was tempered when caretaker manager Joe Mercer, who took over six months later, appointed Hughes England captain. Twenty-three of Hughes’ 63 caps would subsequently be as captain, although the immediate future looked bleak as permanent appointment Don Revie dropped Hughes, as a captain and a player, after two matches, without any explanation.

He told Revie that he was disappointed but carried on turning up when requested, and toward the end of Revie’s disastrous reign he worked his way back into the team. On these occasions, bizarrely he was captained by Kevin Keegan, who at Liverpool, played under Hughes’ captaincy!

Captain's Return

Ron Greenwood was appointed manager after Revie’s dramatic departure and immediately reinstated Hughes as captain. Although England won their two remaining qualifiers for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, it wasn’t enough to qualify, although that second match, against Italy, saw Hughes gain his 50th England cap.

This serial disappointment at country level was at odds with the success that Hughes and Liverpool were achieving as they swept the board in England and Europe. As a popular, cheerful and charismatic footballer, he recieved the UK Player of the Year award in 1977.

Twilight Descends

By 1979 though, Hughes was not consistently in the Liverpool side as his place was now under pressure from a young man called Alan Hansen. Greenwood continued to pick him for England, but when Liverpool sold him to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 1979, it looked like the England career would wind down too. Greenwood valued his experience though, so took him to Euro 80, where he was the only member of squad who’d been at England’s last major tournament, the 1970 World Cup.

Once more there was disappointment for England as they went out a the group stage and Hughes didn’t get a match. Therefore his 62nd and final England cap proved to be the 2-0 defeat of Scotland at Hampden Park during the Home Championship just before the European Championship.

Final Battle

Emlyn Hughes had enjoyed tremendous success with Liverpool throughout his career and he was unlucky in that this coincided, as with his clubmate Keegan, with a completely barren and unsuccessful decade for England. Personal success after he stopped playing came with television appearances, in particular as a jocular and popular team captain on the BBC’s ‘Question of Sport’.

He lost his final battle, against brain cancer, in 2004. His modesty and light-hearted nature were wonderfully characterised by his comment on wining the 1977 Player of the Year award: "I won it as I was the chap lifting the trophies, and because the writers were running out of Liverpool players to give it to!"

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