AFTER ambitions of glory for Hibs, manager has delivered first major honour for Inverness, writes Alan Pattullo
“I HAVE always been a dreamer,” John Hughes admitted on Saturday night, just prior to breaking his ten-year booze ban to toast Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s first Scottish Cup triumph.
He had just been asked whether he had ever envisaged the scenario that had developed that afternoon: John Hughes, Scottish Cup winner. It was indeed reasonable to ponder whether Hughes, the seemingly becalmed, possibly even washed-up figure of two years ago, could have entertained starring in such scenes as he did over the weekend.
Sacked by relegated Hartlepool – although he had come closer than anyone expected to surviving the drop after accepting an almost impossible challenge – the future looked bleak. Never mind winning the Scottish Cup, would he get another job in football?
Lifting the famous trophy had seemed a more likely proposition – and this is saying something – when he was manager of his boyhood heroes, Hibernian. Indeed, in an interview with The Scotsman in 2009, he told me that by the time he turned 50, he wanted to have given the ultimate gift to the community of Leith where he was brought up: a Scottish Cup win. “It’s the holy grail,” he said, just days after his 46th birthday. “What I’d do to be coming down Leith with that, seeing all the faces. Maybe that’s me dreaming. But you’re allowed to dream, are you not?”
Now 50 – he reached the half century in September – he has realised this ambition of winning the cup, although there is one crucial difference. Rather than watching the faces light up on Leith Walk, something he told me he yearned to see, he spent yesterday observing the joy he has brought to another community.
When there is not much money about, you see people who are in it for the love of the gameJohn Hughes
On a cup parade in Inverness, Hughes was relishing bringing a major trophy to the Highlands for the first time. It might not represent the “holy grail” to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the way it does for Hibs fans, whose club have gone since 1902 without a victory – as Hughes, a born and bred Leither, knows as well as anyone. But for a club who were only formed in 1994, it is a landmark achievement nonetheless.
And what a personal tale of endurance too. What a testimony to Hughes’ self- belief following a series of blows, his surely premature sacking by Hibs among them. Not only did he earn the chance to manage Inverness by out-performing promising young candidates such as Paul Hartley in the interviews for the post vacated by Terry Butcher, he instantly set about improving things when most assumed they could not be improved upon.
“I have always been a dreamer,” said Hughes. “I have always had great belief in what we do and the style of football we play, and all that stuff. And even at Hartlepool, although this probably surpasses it, that was a fantastic experience, it really was.
“I do not have a big ego,” he added. “I just love being involved in football, winning Scottish Cups and doing what we do. Through it all is the style of football we play – these players have taken that on and implemented it. That’s my biggest buzz.”
He doesn’t need alcohol. Indeed, before Saturday, he hadn’t touched a drop for a decade. “When I get a drink I get too excited,” he explained. But, while breaking this vow of abstinence for one night only, he wasn’t planning on going over the top. His No 1 priority was to drink in the moment rather than anything else.
“I am going to sit back and watch everyone else enjoy themselves,” he said. “I don’t usually milk it, but with the family and all that, you get the photographs. Go and enjoy it, that’s what I have said to the players.”
But, he stressed, it wasn’t only about the players. It was about a club, a community. He himself has underlined his commitment to the area by moving to the Black Isle. He is living often alone there, while his twin daughters Jessica and Victoria, both of whom were such vivid presences on Saturday due to Hughes’ insistence they join him on the pitch for the celebrations, finish school in the Edinburgh area.
This victory, as well as being for Craig Gowans, the young Falkirk player so tragically killed in a training ground accident while Hughes was manager at the club, was for a community who have been so welcoming to a lowlander, this child of the Leith docks. It is for a club that shows what can happen when everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel.
“See when you are up there, and you don’t have much, you are scrimping and scraping,” said Hughes. “It brings a real spirit of togetherness, the boys just get stuck in. When there is not much money about, you see people who are in it for the love of the game. They put their heart and soul into it.”
This is what Hughes has done too. This is what he has always done.