Football: Ginger spice inspires Baggies

Home-town hero Hughes provides the goals to keep Albion on course for the top flight. By Phil Shaw

WHEN MOST of his current team-mates were serving their footballing apprenticeships, Lee Hughes earned his living laying roofs. These days he is busy raising them with his beloved West Bromwich Albion.

Hughes, 22 years old but a full-time professional at The Hawthorns for only 18 months, goes into Saturday's visit from the First Division pacesetters, Norwich City, as the leading scorer in the English game.

Six goals in four starts may not put him in the Dwight Yorke price-band. Yet add that haul to the 14 he chalked up during his first season after a pounds 250,000 transfer from Kidderminster Harriers, and it is easy to understand why the ginger-haired Hughes has joined Wolves' Robbie Keane and Birmingham's Dele Adebola as the most coveted strikers outside the Premiership.

For the time being, the big clubs are wasting their time. A Baggies fan since he was a boy growing up in nearby Smethwick, Hughes is in no rush to leave. The Albion manager, Denis Smith, is under no pressure to sell.

Despite the fact that he inherited Hughes when he succeeded Ray Harford, Smith is entitled to share the credit for the player's development with Kidderminster's Graham Allner. Harford, having plucked him from the Conference, used him exclusively as a substitute.

Not until Smith's first home match, on Boxing Day, was Hughes' raw talent used in Albion's starting line-up. The footnote became a fixture in the second half of the campaign, when he began scoring regularly alongside Andy Hunt.

Hunt's move to Charlton left Hughes to work on building a rapport with Micky Evans. A 20-minute hat-trick in Evans' absence at Port Vale last Saturday confirmed the impression that, whoever he plays with, Hughes is what Glenn Hoddle terms a natural finisher (at 5ft 10in he is more of a Michael Owen than a Dion Dublin).

The first goal was notable for the power of the shooting. The second was a triumph of persistence and composure as he stumbled before steering the ball past the goalkeeper after pouncing on a defensive error. A header, after he reacted fastest when his shot came off the bar, completed his first treble since leaving the roofing trade.

As the supporters with whom he used to stand chanted "Hughsie, Hughsie" in the way Old Trafford once lauded a Welsh warrior, the beaten manager was shattered if not surprised. John Rudge had tried to sign his tormentor before Albion, who rejected Hughes as a teenager, made him an offer he could not refuse.

This most local of heroes - he celebrates a win with a Balti curry and still turns up to watch Kidderminster training - reflected on his feat in a manner that belies the image of modern players as mercenaries with no feeling for their clubs.

"It's hard to explain what it feels like to score a hat-trick for a team you've followed all your life," Hughes said. "It was unbelievable. All I ever wanted to do was play for the Albion.

"When I was 15 they told me that I wasn't good enough which was horrible, especially as I lived five minutes from the ground. When they gave me a second chance I jumped at it. Some people moan about training, but I'd run all day for a job I love doing."

Hughes insists he is "enjoying life too much to think about playing for anyone else", but Smith is increasingly asked how much it would take to persuade him to part. "I spent most of my time at Oxford United selling my best players to keep the club afloat and it was very disheartening," he said. "I don't have to do that here.

"Lee's a bubbly character who comes in with a big smile on his face every morning. But he's also a handful for defenders. If we provide him with the service, he'll put the ball in the net."

It is a sore point with The Hawthorns crowd that the club practically gave Steve Bull to Wolves. Hughes might have been lost to their rivals, too, having had a trial at Molineux during Graham Taylor's reign. Once bitten, Albion are clearly intent on building a promotion side around him.

His current spree has prompted them to promise to review his contract again, only weeks after he agreed an improved four-year deal to replace the original three-year contract he signed last summer.

It has also had the historians checking when Albion last scored nine times in their opening three League games. The answer was not in the Cyrille Regis era, or even the age of Jeff Astle and "Bomber" Brown, but way back in 1932.

By coincidence, the attack then was led by one Billy "Ginger" Richardson, whose 39 goals in a season has never been beaten.

Hughes is more likely to break defenders' spirits than Albion's record. However, if he reaches his own target of 25, his valuation could well go through the roof.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary