FC Halifax Town: Hughes happy to lend a hand in Fullarton’s backroom team

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Town keeper Sam Johnson should be in safe hands with Phil Hughes as his goalkeeping coach.

The former Bolton, Burnley, Blackburn and Wigan coach combines his role as assistant manager to Jamie Fullarton alongside working with goalkeepers Johnson and Tom Nicholson.

Hughes played three times for Northern Ireland, making his debut at Wembley against England aged 21 after being part of his country’s squad for the 1986 World Cup earlier that year.

Hughes left Belfast aged 15 to join Manchester United and was in the same digs as fellow Irish players Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Ashley Grimes and Kevin Moran.

“I had a couple of years there and was in the youth cup team with Whiteside, Mark Hughes and Clayton Blackmore,” he said.

“We got to the final and got beaten by Watford who had John Barnes in their team.

“They offered me a professional contract but there were that many goalkeepers there that I was concerned at what stage, if at all, I’d ever get through.

“I went to Leeds and had a good time, making my debut aged 19.

“I eventually went to Bury and won the player of the year there, on the strength of which Billy Bingham took me to the World Cup with Northern Ireland in 1986.

“It was a great experience, and when I came back, Pat Jennings retired and I took over the mantle of first-choice keeper.

“It was crazy really, unbelievable. I can remember standing at Windsor Park cheering him on. He was one of the best goalkeepers in the world in his prime.

“He was 40-odd at the time and I was only 19. He was a legend and I would barely talk to him.

“I was very close friends with Norman Whiteside too, so that was great as well that we both went.

“It certainly stood me in good stead.

“It was a dream come true to then play at Wembley. It was a fantastic place to play.

“It went in the blink of an eye. Yes we got beat 3-0 but it didn’t matter to me at the time, I was a young lad playing against Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle and Bryan Robson. Peter Shilton was down the other end and I was just thinking ‘what am I doing here?’. It was fantastic.

“But even better than that was the game in Turkey in the European Championship qualifiers. It was one of the better games I played and it was fantastic to keep a clean sheet.

“Then we played a friendly in Israel that finished 1-1, and that’s when it all started to go wrong.

“But it opened doors for me which eventually enabled me to get my badges and go into coaching.”

A dislocated shoulder led to the premature end of Hughes’ playing career, and he moved into coaching, working in Leeds United’s academy then at Grimsby before moving on to Burnley, Bolton, Wigan and Blackburn.

Having worked with former colleagues of Town boss Jamie Fullarton, Hughes was deemed the perfect fit to fill the vacancies for assistant manager and goalkeeping coach at The Shay.

“When he spoke to me he wanted to know what plans I had in my head about how football should be played,” said Hughes.

“He’s the manager and he tells me if I can fit in with what he wants to achieve, and if I can help him in any way then great.

“I’ve got a bit of experience and he can tap into that when he needs it, but he’s competent, he knows his job and I’m sure he’ll be very successful.

“He’s very organised, very professional, very clear in what he wants. There are no complications with him.

“He gets his ideas and what he wants from the players across and there are no grey areas.

“The players have responded to that and I think that will breed success at the club in the long-term.”

Hughes sees a lot of potential in Town number one Johnson.

“He’s responded well to what I’ve delivered,” he said. “There’s a physical side to what I offer and I think he will get better.

“He’s at a good standard anyway and he’s got all the attributes needed to be a good goalkeeper.

“Does he have weaknesses? Yes, but so do Premier League goalkeepers.

“But Sam, working hard, getting more games under his belt, who knows where he can play.

“He can kick the ball, he’s got a presence and a good pair of hands.

“I’ve got a lot to work with and I’m happy to be in that position.”

Hughes says Fullarton’s approach has gone down well within the Town squad, and is anticipating more changes to come.

He added: “The manager has introduced a professional structure to what needs to be done here to get results, and I think the players have enjoyed that and responded to it.

“Hopefully what will come of that is results. We’ve got a good squad here and good players want that structure and professionalism.

“The fans want to be entertained with good football, but they also want to win games. There’s a happy medium with entertaining fans and winning games.

“Ultimately, we need more points so let’s get the points in the bag and I’m sure we’ll then be looking at bringing more player in to strengthen what we’ve already got with a view to having a good season next season.”