We continue our countdown of Elland Road cult heroes. Who is in at number 2?
By his own admission, Andy Hughes will never be considered the most talented player to play for Leeds United.
However, he was told shortly after joining the club that as long as he offered 100 per cent during his time at Elland Road, the fans would take to him.
Hughes never offered anything less during his time at the club, and was awarded with the affinity that he deserved.
Even Hughes’s decision to join the club was because of the battle that it faced after being relegated to League One and being docked 15 points.
He said: “Dennis Wise told me the challenge and the position the club was in. He wants fighters and I felt the challenge of playing for Leeds United and Dennis Wise was too good to turn down ... The manager at Norwich told me he didn’t want me to leave, but I didn’t want to stay and be a squad player.”
Hughes was used in a variety of positions over his Leeds career, but never once complained about being shunted about on the football pitch.
During his most important season for Leeds, when the Whites were promoted from League One back to the Championship, Hughes, ostensibly a midfielder, spent most of the season covering for the injured Ben Parker at left-back.
Hughes played in that position when Leeds travelled to Old Trafford to take on their eternal rivals Manchester United. His performance that day belied the fact that he was playing out of position, with the English champions getting very little joy down their right flank.
There were few on the pitch that day who celebrated as wildly as Hughes when the final whistle went to confirm Leeds’s 1-0 win.
Another key game that season came against Bristol Rovers on the final day of the season. Leeds fought tooth and nail on that day to earn the 2-1 win that they required to return to the Championship, with Hughes as important as any of the 10 players left on the pitch after Max Gradel’s dismissal.
When Leeds’s promotion was confirmed and fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes, Hughes was more prominent than anyone. The image of him being held aloft, shirtless, has become the iconic image of the day. Written on Hughes’s face is an outpouring of emotion, the clear notion that it was the most important day of his career.
An editorial in The Square Ball shortly after Hughes left spoke of the reality of his career at Leeds, and his perspective on the club. He represented Billy Bremner’s motto of ‘side before self’ better than most.
Hughes spoke to Yorkshire Radio when he left, and said: “Alright, it was a promotion from League One, but to say I did something for Leeds United that I set out to do from the start, and to do it in front of these fans, home and away, is the biggest honour… its up there with the birth of my daughter.”
As The Square Ball pointed out, it was “something for Leeds United”, not for himself.
Why did he leave? Because “Andy Hughes isn’t going to make Leeds United better.”
His wife was even upset, because “she knows how much it has meant to me, to come and say that I played for Leeds United.”
Hughes, with his utter devotion to the club, something the fans were well aware of, became a hero at a club that he viewed as larger than himself.
There will never be a statue built of him, but Leeds fans who witnessed the club’s rise out of League One will remember Hughes, the effort he put in, and his importance to a dark period of the club’s history.