The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Jamie Holt

DROP­PING down a di­vi­sion hardly seems the log­i­cal step for an am­bi­tious foot­baller, but Fleet­wood’s Jeff Hughes claims he’s not the only one to have been reeled in by the Cod Army’s bold plans this sea­son.

League debu­tants last term, Fleet­wood have been trans­formed again this sum­mer by their am­bi­tious boss Gra­ham Alexan­der and ruth­less chair­man Andy Pil­ley, who has dragged the club up from its knees over the past decade.

In all, 18 play­ers have left and 12 – in­clud­ing for­mer Notts County mid­fielder Hughes – have been brought in dur­ing the close sea­son with last term’s 13th-place fin­ish now no more than a min­i­mum re­quire­ment.

It’s a far cry from ten years ago when Fleet­wood were a part­time side, stuck in the North West Coun­ties League and strug­gling to at­tract more than 100 fans to a run-down High­bury Sta­dium.


But 28-year-old Hughes, now en­ter­ing his prime, ad­mits one meet­ing with Alexan­der made him turn down the of­fer of a oneyear ex­ten­sion with Notts and join the rev­o­lu­tion hap­pen­ing on the Lan­cashire coast.

“I had reser­va­tions about mak­ing the step down at first, but I flew over from my home in North­ern Ire­land to speak to Gra­ham and im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards I told my agent, ‘that’s it, this is for me’,” said Hughes, who started his ca­reer at Lin­coln and has also had spells at Bris­tol Rovers and Crys­tal Palace.

“They have shot up through the leagues and the plans they have are very im­pres­sive, they are very am­bi­tious with what they want to cre­ate at the club.

“I am a bit older now, and I’ve had a cou­ple of moves and it was very im­por­tant that my next one was some­where I was go­ing to fit in, at some­where that plays the way I wanted to play.

“Gra­ham has brought play­ers in to do just that. I know it gets said all the time by new play­ers at new clubs, but all the lads who have been brought in have a great at­ti­tude.

“I think that was the key at­tribute he was look­ing at, there doesn’t ap­pear to be a bad ap­ple at the club. Even the ones who have been left out af­ter the first game have been first class.

“Gra­ham was a top player him­self and I think that helps. He’s try­ing to get ev­ery­one pulling to­gether, and we’re go­ing to need that this sea­son if we are to get out of League Two.”

Af­ter scor­ing on his de­but in last week­end’s 3-1 vic­tory over Da­gen­ham & Red­bridge, Hughes got the chance to say a proper farewell to his for­mer team­mates and fans when he made the trip down to Meadow Lane in Wed­nes­day’s 3-2 League Cup de­feat.


But the for­mer North­ern Ire­land in­ter­na­tional, who scored 17 goals in his first sea­son with the Mag­pies, ad­mits he was touched to see a par­tic­u­larly loyal cou­ple make the trip up for the Dag­gers clash.

“I got a good re­cep­tion the other night which was pleas­ing,” he added. “I don’t re­ally read any in­for­ma­tion about what the reaction has been usu­ally.

“It’s funny be­cause a cou­ple who used to spon­sor me in the pro­gramme, Sue and Dougie, came all the way up last Satur­day and sat in the Fleet­wood end with Notts shirts on.

“That was nice, and I spoke to them af­ter­wards. It’s strange be­cause I’ve never played a com­pet­i­tive game against one of my old clubs be­fore so it was a new ex­pe­ri­ence and for it to be so soon was weird.

“But this is a new chap­ter for me now, I want to be suc­cess­ful here at Fleet­wood and I think we can be given the plans that are in place.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

BIG JUMP: Jeff Hughes has taken the plunge and dropped a di­vi­sion to join Fleet­wood Town from Notts County

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