Sunderland legend Billy Hughes sadly passed away this week at the age of 70.
Hughes - who played for Sunderland for eleven years, between 1966 and 1977 - was an explosive inside forward who excited supporters with his ability to run at defenders with trickery and pace. He scored 81 goals in 335 appearances and was a huge fan favourite at Roker Park, during which time he famously crossed the ball for Ian Porterfield’s goal which won Sunderland the FA Cup in 1973.
Former Labour MP for Wrexham Ian Lucas - who is a massive Sunderland supporter, hailing from Gateshead - recalls a magical night that lives long in the memory:
One of the most magical nights of my life was the replay against Manchester City in the Fifth Round in 1973. I remember the expectation, queuing on the Sunday for tickets, the atmosphere, under floodlights, with over 50,000 in the ground and, above all, the goals.
Billy Hughes scored one of them. My memory, which may be wrong, was that it was a mazy run from the right wing in the first half, adding to Vic Halom’s stunning opener.
I was 12. The night ensnared me in SAFC and I don’t think I missed a home match for the rest of the 1970s. I am not sure how long Billy played but he was a big part of a special team. At his best, he was unplayable.
I was very sad to hear of his passing, but he leaves us great memories.
Jon Hume recalls Hughes fondly, and remembers the bustling forward being the one player that all the Lads on the playground wanted to be:
What I would say about Billy is that he was the flair player in our side - the one who could do something special. As a school kid playing football with your mates you all wanted to be #8 and Billy Hughes. He was truly a special player.
Andrew Clennell compares the talent of Hughes to one of the greatest players of all time, and remembers meeting him after the famous cup win in 1973:
I always thought Billy Hughes was our George Best. He was so skilful, and would go past people like they weren’t there. In our 6 weeks school holidays every day we would go to Washington training ground to get the players’ autographs.
In 1973 I was nine and went to every cup game, except the final. When Billy scored that goal in the semis the noise was unreal. In the July my family were in Newcastle airport, as were the Sunderland players, and Billy recognised me.
He was a top person, and top player.
Mike Treanor recalls how watching Billy and the Lads play in 1973 convinced him to switch allegiances and become a Sunderland supporter:
As a young lad my dad was into horse racing, not footie, so I supported Manchester City who were the dream team at the time. As I approached 13 I managed to get a ticket for the fifth round replay in 1973 (not sure how) - the atmosphere was incredible and from that day I have been a Sunderland supporter through thick and (mostly) thin.
Billy, Dennis, and my idol Dave Watson were my favourites - the passion Billy and others showed for the club (even though they were probably paid a pittance compared to today’s players) was brilliant. Today is a sad day.
Lads fan Mike Smith remembers Billy as one of his ‘all-time favourites’:
Flair, hair and style - a player who at his best was inspirational, pace to burn and a character to go with it. Great memories where he characterised the Bob Stokoe mentality where when he arrived Stokoe said: ‘I want to see my players play with a chuckle in their boots’.
Step forward, Billy Hughes.
Get a look at that goal in the Fulwell End in the fifth round replay against Man City in ‘73. That’s his legacy for me in the greatest game seen in my lifetime at Roker Park. The goal against Manchester United - where we lost 3-2 in the match of the day ranked game of the season, in Man U’s only season in Division Two - was typical of what flair he produced.
Also that other 3-2 loss at Blackpool (different season I think - I was at both games) where he missed a penalty as a lunatic steward danced behind the goal to put him off was another iconic moment. Again in that game the goal of the season was scored by Walsh of Blackpool and again we lost from 2-1 up, again in Division Two.
We were setting that league alight over 3 or 4 years, and Billy was centre stage.
But most typical of him was the off field moment with his laughing box as the BBC cameras live filmed our build up to the FA cup final on the morning of the game. Great camaraderie which was so crucial to the win that afternoon.
So there you go - that’s why in a long list (honestly) of great players in my 55 years of watching SAFC he is right up there as one of my all time favourites.
Chelsea supporter Andy (@AndyTheFireman) passed along his regards:
I’m actually a Chelsea fan whose geordie dad loved all football, so as much as it probably hurt him, we watched and cheered on SAFC in that FA Cup win.
Billy Hughes was memorable to me for his style of play. Not a big lad but a quick, direct robust runner with two good feet, who didn’t mind a tackle or two.
As a small inside forward myself he was a player I enjoyed watching whenever Sunderland were on ‘The Big Match’ or ‘Match of the Day’. I’m pretty sure he (and that moustache) was also on the cover of Goal - my favourite magazine as a kid.
Andy Maguire - who saw many games at the old Roker Park - spoke glowingly of Billy’s ability to excite the supporters in the stands with his skill and pace:
Billy was probably the first player to really excite me, from my earliest games at Roker Park. I always got a buzz when he was on the ball, because he was a skilfull and creative player and would therefore invariably make things happen.
His link-up play with the likes of Kerr, Tueart, and Porterfield, and his corner-taking are memories I have of him. And of course, he was a regular goalscorer, too, which all made for one very happy kid! The standout memory has to be his corner from which Porterfield scored the only goal in the 1973 FA Cup Final.
Michael Cunnah “loved” watching Hughes - and thinks that Sunderland could do with a player with his abilities in the team today:
I loved watching Billy, who was a very skilful player. Along with Monty, Watson and Tueart he made the 1973 FA Cup winning team a really special one. Playing just behind the striker (inside right) he scored 74 goals for The Lads in 287 appearances - none more valuable that the two he got against Man City in the quarter final in the “best match ever at Roker Park” and in the semi final against Arsenal. How we could do with him today!