I got to know John Hughes through his good friend, CQN’s own, Alex Gordon. He was in his 70s by then, but retained a charm and mischievousness. He loved talking football and, in particular, Celtic, who he continued to follow as a fan. Unlike you and I, when John talked Celtic, there was an edge that could only come from playing for the club you loved.
Had he cared less, missing out on Lisbon would not have mattered. It did, though, you could hear the pain in his voice when talking about it. The five European Cup games he played that season, however, brought the team to the final. A chance not converted three years later in Milan also troubled him; John wanted to deliver for Celtic as much as anyone ever did. He scored the equaliser in Celtic’s home semi-final at Hampden against Leeds, front of 136,000 people, which will forever remain an attendance record for a European Cup match.
I often found the Lisbon Lions faultlessly diplomatic. John, however, told it as it was. Some of his experiences cut too deep to bandage over. Fans recount the past through the prism of football results, for players like John, memories of events past were about what you were like as a person. I am glad we had his testimony to eventually add to the annuls of Celtic history.
On the park, he was a Bear of a man. A striker with strength whose record as goal scorer is bettered by only seven others in Celtic’s illustrious 134-year history. He took the club through its most transformational time, the 1960s, when Celtic went from being domestic also-rans to kings of Europe.
For most of us, the most enduring memory of John will not be of a prolific footballer, it will be of a smiling legend we met at Celtic Park. The Celtic world is enormously poorer today; how lucky we were to have such heroes. Our condolences to John’s family and close friends.