JOHN Hughes last night told how he was ready to step down from his job amid the Josh Meekings affair.
The Inverness Caley Thistle manager’s revulsion over his young defender’s gut-wrenching predicament was such he was ready to walk away from his post and the game he loves, just weeks before an historic Scottish Cup final date.
Hughes revealed he only stepped back from the brink of resignation after taking a vast volume of supportive messages from the football fraternity.
Meekings’ Hampden Park fate was decided last night but Hughes insists the “unprecedented” SFA wrangle that has rocked the game must now be the catalyst for revolutionary change in Scottish football’s governance.
The former Celtic and Hibernian defender wants “real football people” drafted into the highest echelons of power in place of the “suits” he claims lack understanding of the nuances and spirit of the professional game.
Hughes also seemed to direct a thinly-veiled accusation straight at SFA chief executive Stewart Regan by alleging that compliance officer Tony McGlennan, who cited Meekings for the controversial handball missed by officials in the semi-final against Celtic, was a mere “patsy” in the process.
I was that sick of what’s been going on in Scottish football I was contemplating my futureJohn Hughes
Hughes, a keen cyclist who lives in the Black Isle just north of Inverness, had all but resolved to step down on Wednesday while out on his bike.
The 50 year-old revealed: “I came in here this morning after a day off. I turned my phone off and was away myself, away out on the bike with plenty of thinking time: a great freedom of mind.
“I was that sick of what has been going on in Scottish football I was seriously contemplating my own future. I’m serious when I say that.
“I had just had it up to here and was ready to just give it up. If it wasn’t for what happened when I turned my phone back on, with the phone calls and texts I received from people I really value in football, that my spirits picked up again.
“The calls and texts came in from all over the place, from some of the highest levels across the game. I’ve had phone calls that have really got me back on my feet. I wouldn’t like to name them all, but there were a lot of good people and a good few close friends in the football fraternity. They were saying, ‘You need to lead from the front, you need to fight it’.
“That restored and galvanised that focus and drive in me. And, if that was how I was feeling, how is the boy Josh Meekings feeling? I really feel for him. It should never have come to this.”
Hughes’ aversion to the various SFA committees and panels manned by people he mostly couldn’t name has long been rising.
Overwhelmed by the huge upswell of support from Celtic and every corner of the Scottish game for Meekings, he wants to harness the mood to secure an insurgency.
The former Hibs, Falkirk, Livingston and Hartlepool boss wants the faceless decision-makers swept away and replaced by experienced former players, managers and coaches to take football decision-making in Scotland back to those, he feels, who have the sport’s best interests at heart.
Hughes, who last witnessed first hand the disciplinary process within Hampden corridors as manager of Livingston, said: “No disrespect to those sitting on [the judicial panel], but you need football guys and that’s where it is flawed. That’s why I promised myself I’d never go back down there until that gets sorted out.
“The last time I appeared was when I was down at Livingston. It was quite galling. No disrespect to the people that sit on it, but you have to be qualified in what you’re judging on.
“There’s no one better qualified than ex-players and ex-coaches. For some reason the SFA don’t want to go down that line. Why?
“I couldn’t tell you who I sat in front of while at Livingston, but they weren’t football people. I’m talking about playing the game, managing the game, coaching the game. There are hundreds of these guys I’m quite sure would go in there and do it, for the sake of football. I don’t think you’ve seen the end of this.
“We need to use this to make sure the whole process works better. Josh’s case was unprecedented. How was that? Somebody needs to explain that to me.
“I know the verdict has gone in our favour but I don’t think this is finished. We need to sit down and look at the Judicial Panel process. There is so much we can learn from all this.
“People might ask why I wasn’t at Hampden but I was supporting him and he was in the hands of lawyers. I believe we put a good case together. The reason I wasn’t there is because I don’t believe in the system and how it operates.
“I don’t believe in the Panel, with all due respect to them. I promised myself a couple of years ago I wouldn’t walk back into Hampden until it changes. I would never question their integrity but I want football people sitting in judgment.
“They are making a football decision and I want football people. Look at what is at stake. Here we were talking about a young player’s chance of playing in a Scottish Cup final. I’d be more confident with football people because they know the game.
“The compliance officer is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Is he getting used as a patsy in all this? I honestly don’t know.”
Hughes also refused to point a finger of blame at former club Celtic for the letter of complaint the defeated semi-finalists wrote to the SFA in the furore after their treble dream died.
Hughes, who accepted Meekings would have warranted a red card had the referee spotted the offence, said: “Celtic keep getting flung into it, but I came in here this morning and all Kristine, our receptionist, says to me is that the phone had never stopped ringing with Celtic supporters wishing Josh Meekings all the best and hoping he plays in the final.
“I believe that comes right from the top at Celtic. They conduct themselves in a great manner.”