I was very concerned to read newspaper speculation this week that Bristol Rovers were trying to sign former jailbird Lee Hughes from Forest Green Rovers. And I was even more concerned to find out it was far more than mere speculation.
There’s a paradox here. I support the principle of criminals being rehabilitated and reintegrated back into normal society but when it comes to footballers who rape and kill I’m afraid I don’t. Why is that?
I’m not entirely sure if it is possible to have a clear and coherent argument about this. Bristol Rovers have a self-proclaimed status as ‘a family club’, although it’s been clear which family it was for many years. The implication is that they are the club supported by cheery mums and dads and their offspring, unlike every other club which is supported mainly by middle aged men. But if you call yourself the family club, then how can you even think about employing a man who was sent to prison for driving the wrong side of the road, colliding with another vehicle killing one person and severely injuring others and then leaving the scene of the crime, only to hand himself in two days later?
Oh well, you might say: it was 10 years ago. He did the crime, he’s served the time. Let him resume his career?
Well, Hughes did find it easy enough to find new clubs to play for and shame on them. I am sure that the victims’ families who are serving a life sentence, unlike Hughes who did a couple of years in prison, are not cheering his every goal.
It’s not that Hughes these days is any kind of role model. He’s a 38 year old striker playing non league football. He isn’t going to get any better. But by playing football at a relatively high level, his name is in lights, it’s in the papers, if he scores an important goal, everyone will read about it. Including those whose lives were ruined by him.
Forest Green, that so called ethical club, saw no reason to not take him on in order to score the goals they hoped might take them to the Football League. I sincerely hope Bristol Rovers do not do the same.
Rovers, even after a humiliating relegation to the Conference, remain big fish in a very small pond. If Hughes arrived, Hughes’ profile would be enhanced. It would be big news, locally for sure and maybe even nationally. Is this really what ‘the family club’ want?
My understanding is that the manager sees the potential signing of Hughes as a purely footballing matter, a short term fix until Matt Tubbs, the man they really want, becomes available in January. It might bring a few extra goals, give the team a few extra points.
I haven’t been to a single Rovers game in a long time for other reasons but if Hughes was signed, even for a month, that would be it for me. The club would be setting aside its principles and its spirit just for a few extra points.
Perhaps principles don’t matter for much in football these days but maybe that’s why some areas of the game are leaving me behind. A club with Lee Hughes on the payroll would not be a club I would want to support.