AMBITIOUS HUGHES IS REEL DEAL
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.”
BIG JUMP: Jeff Hughes has taken the plunge and dropped a division to join Fleetwood Town from Notts County