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Paul Hughes

ASK most players and they’ll tell you football journalists are just hacks who weren’t good enough to play the game. Ask most journalists and they’ll tell you the players are 100 per cent right. 

I was never good enough to make it as a pro. It wasn’t through bad luck or bad coaching. It was simply through bad ability. That never stopped me trying though, especially after getting my first pair of boots.

I can still remember the bitter-cold December night my dad brought them home as a surprise birthday present for me. Black, blue and purple Mitre screw-ins, they were. Considering that’s how people’s shins used to look after I had clogged my way through games as a kid, they were perfect.

It was one of the few times my dad indulged me when it came to football. He didn’t mind coming to watch, driving me to games or shelling out every now and then for kit. He did, however, go to great lengths to warn me about my precocious talent. Or lack of it to be more precise.

One night in particular springs to mind, driving home from a pretty rough parents’ night at school. “Get those ideas of being a footballer out your head,” he warned. “Because you’re not good enough.”

I remember one particular school game on a miserable Saturday morning. It was chucking it down, proper Bibilical Ayrshire rain. I spent 80 minutes as a sub, trying to convince him I was about to get on. When I got my ten minutes, I ran about daft like a stolen motor, desperate for a touch. It never came.

I look back now and smile. He must have stood there soaking thinking: “Give it up son.” I always joked with him about the day he shattered my dreams. My dad used to shift and smile uncomfortably, not really sure if being so brutal was the right thing to do.

But it absolutely was. I was sh**e at football. I still am. My old man didn’t even really like the game that much yet he could still see I didn’t stand a chance. It was the boot up the arse I needed to start thinking about what I was good at. I knew I loved football. I had to be involved in some way. Which is when I realised I wanted to be a sports journalist.

My dad and I never went to the football every weekend together. It wasn’t his thing, he didn’t have a team, and to be honest, neither of us fancied spending every Saturday dodging punches and flying Buckfast bottles just to see our local team, Kilbirnie Ladeside.

It’s not something I feel like I missed out on if I’m honest. We had other brilliant experiences to strengthen that father-and-son bond. I’ve also seen and heard plenty of dad’s who fill their son’s heads with nonsense. Tell them they’re the best and they deserve to be the star of the show.

God-given talent will always win through. The way I see it, my dad was the ultimate talent-spotter. He realised I didn’t have any and nudged me off a path that would have been a waste of time.

And when I eventually started on the path of journalism, he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm. Every match report, every story I wrote for the local paper I first started working on, he read. He might not have been a football fan but he genuinely seemed impressed as I climbed the ladder, getting to know some of the more high-profile personalities in the game.

It’s hard to pick out one particular memory after all those games, all those years.
Some people make a good career out of their stories on the after-dinner circuit. I don’t have that talent of delivering a punchline.

But I look back now and count myself lucky. I’ve been to some great places, interviewed great players and seen some brilliant games – all the while getting paid to do it. I don’t think any of that would have been possible had I not been given the reality check by my dad. Which is why I find it hard that he won’t get to see what’s still to come in my career.

Two years after passing away from cancer, I’ve been luckier than ever with work.
He’s not here to see that, but without that intervention I might still have been wondering why my dreams never came true. 

For me, the memory he helped me get to where I am is better than any anecdote I could have with a player, no matter how talented they are.

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