At 32, Emlyn’s even younger

Tuesday, August 28 – 1979
Emlun Hughes today spends his 32nd birthday performing his favourite party piece – playing football. The colours have changed from the tangerine of Blackpool to the red of Liverpool and now to the old gold of Wolves, and a second-round League Cup-tie at Burnley is hardly the most glamorous setting.

But Hughes, the enthusiast’s enthusiast, will be out there centre-stage enjoying every minute of it. “My last 16 birthdays have all been spent playing, thinking or talking football, and I can’t imagine anything else I would rather be doing,” he said yesterday.
If someone had told me on my 16th birthday what I was going to do in football and what I was going to win, I wouldn’t have believed them. I couldn’t have written a better script for my career.

If it were not for Emlyn Hughes talking, those birthday thoughts might be interpreted as the reflections of someone moving contentedly towards retirement. In fact, retirement is the last thing on my mind. I’m just starting a new career and I’m enjoying it so much it’s unbelievable.
I have been impressed with everything and everyone at Wolves. Whether it’s this year, next year or three years’ time, this club is going places – and I’m looking forward to being part of it.
Of course, it was a hard decision to leave Liverpool. They had treated me fantastically and made it clear that I could have stayed there. I spend a lot of time thinking about whether I should leave – and exploring the alternatives like the eight offers I received to become a player manager in the Second, Third or Fourth Division.

I sought advice from those I respected most in the game – people like Bill Shankly, Ron Greenwood and Joe Mercer – and they all told me: ‘Carry on playing, you have plenty of time later to be a manager.
More importantly, I felt I could continue to play First Division football and I chose Wolves from the four clubs who offered me that opportunity.”

Wolves manager John Barnwell said: “From the day I arrived at Wolves I realised we needed a leader on the pitch and there are not many with the special qualities I wanted. It’s no secret that I tried to get Roy McFarland and alongside that interest I kept a very close watch on Emlyn’s situation.
When he decided to join us I knew I was employing a professional footballer with the perfect attitude. He respects the game, he loves playing it, and that famed enthusiasm is incredibly infectious.

His authority and experience put something into a team that you just don’t find in coaching manuals. In just two games I can see a calm assurance about our defence that wasn’t there before, and it’s probably no coincidence that Emlyn is playing in the only First Division yet to concede a goal.

Emlyn can do with us what Dave Mackay did at Derby and what Martin Peters is doing at Norwich.
People start panicking when players pass 30, but you don’t find teams of teenagers winning the European Cup. As far as I’m concerned, there is no age limit on the playing careers of the Emlyn Hugheses of this game.
(Daily Mail, 28-08-1979)

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