Ex-hooligan Hughes out to make headlines for right reason

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The Independent Football

When Craig Hughes was last seen on the pitch at the end of an FA Cup shock it cost him four years of his liberty. Today, the convicted hooligan is planning on a rather less infamous celebration. For this time Hughes is playing.

Indeed, if Hughes was not turning out for Newport County in their derby against Swansea City in the Cup's first round he would not even be allowed inside Spytty Park. The striker is banned from every football ground in the country after being jailed for violent disorder offences. Which made his comments at the start of last week all the more explosive.

"Swansea hate me and I hate them," said Hughes to his evening newspaper. "The more they boo me the better. I can only be honest - to me they are the enemy."

By now, it should be clear that Hughes is a Cardiff City supporter, who was involved in the club's controversial afternoon in 2001 when a 2-1 third round victory over then Premiership-topping Leeds was marred by a pitch invasion. Hughes was arrested and then descended on a spiral of thuggery which led to two prison terms. He was released last year and as a "changed man" set about fulfiling the talent Gordon Strachan noticed when signing him at Coventry.

After he impressed at Carmarthen Town, the Conference South club came in for the former Welsh Under-21 international last November. Despite widespread criticism - one Welsh politician equated it to "jailing a motorist for drink-driving and then letting him out to drive buses - the move has worked out for both parties. Peter Beadle, County's manager, calls Hughes "the hardest-working player I have ever worked with", an opinion backed up by Hughes's 13 goals this season.

Hughes credits Newport with giving him something even more precious and said: "Joining them basically saved my life. This was my last chance in football after I'd wasted four years of my life and I've done time all over Britain. But I was in the wrong and I had to pay.

"It's made me a better person. And as a player, I'm 27, but I feel like a 23-year-old having lost so many years of my career. The best part about it all is that my dad now loves coming to games. I've put him through hell and making him proud means everything to me."