As seen on the front cover of Saturday’s match programme, long-serving and devoted member of the Wolves staff Graham Hughes has officially retired from his duties. Although whisper it quietly, as we are delighted to say he won’t be going away! Well-respected Midlands journalist David Instone penned the below tribute in the programme to a man whose influence has extended way beyond the corridors of Molineux. We have reproduced it below, along with a message from Graham himself, whose retirement was officially marked with a function in the Hayward Suite on Friday night. The guest list included friends and colleagues past and present including the likes of Graham Turner, Jez Moxey, Jonathan Hayward, Dave Wagstaffe, Steve Bull, John Richards, Willie Carr, Derek Parkin, Keith Pearson, Keith Downing, Matt Murray, Lee Naylor, Tony Daley, Wayne Hennessey and many many more. A number of presentations were made during the evening, and part of the players' gift - a signed shirt - was presented by skipper Karl Henry before Saturday's game.
When your all-time playing hero is a man whose League career with Wolves was done and dusted before the Second World War, your memories and knowledge are priceless indeed.
Which is why Graham Hughes has been the perfect first call for decades for the stream of supporters who have visited Molineux with nostalgia on their minds.
Descendants of late former players, starry-eyed schoolchildren, budding authors, even supporters from around the globe just using a holiday in England to drop by and swot up on some gold and black history.....all have benefitted from the special insight of this hugely popular Wolves fanatic of some 70 years.
Staff colleagues, including players past and present, crowded into Molineux’s Hayward Suite on Friday teatime for what was described as his ‘official’ retirement. Anyone who knows Hughesie, though, will not be surprised to learn that he will still be around plenty to lend a helping hand here – during the week as well as on match days. And the place will be all the better for that.
“He’s a first-class man – Wolves through and through,” said Graham Taylor. “All my memories of him are good ones.
“I’m not sure how many years he has been at the club but, knowing him, I’d guess it’s probably about a decade longer than what the records actually show. That’s what he’s like.
“In my experience, he was always around when you wanted and needed him. He was a first-class member of staff.
“As a manager, I always considered it important to be surrounded even on the non-football side by good people and you knew he was very loyal. You never had to worry about him talking behind your back or saying something out of place. I never felt anything other than totally relaxed in his company.
“I also loved that quiet sense of humour of his and found I could happily discuss other things with him, especially through our mutual love of cricket. Even if he does prefer Sussex to Warwickshire!”
By being born in Codsall in 1933 and remaining resident there approaching 80 years later, you could argue that Graham hasn’t moved far. Not so. And what intimate times he has had along the way with the club of his dreams!
First brought here (at least as far as he is aware) for an emphatic Wartime League Cup semi-final victory over Albion in 1942, he followed up an apprenticeship as a heating engineer by spending his national service with the Royal Corps Signals. His Army physical training instructors during his stay at Catterick were Albert Quixall and Alan Finney, both of them legends at this Saturday’s visitors Sheffield Wednesday.
Time in the West Country followed, initially at Taunton, then at Bristol, where he remained active in the heating trade while also catching a few glimpses of City and Rovers. And afternoons and evenings at Ashton Gate and Eastville didn’t represent his only temporary deviation from the road back to Molineux.......
So huge a hero in his young life was pre-war Wolves goalkeeper Cyril Sidlow that he struck out to occasionally stand on Anfield’s Kop after the Welsh international goalkeeper, who spent his twilight years in Codsall, had been transferred. “I was only on loan as a Liverpool fan, though,” he stresses.
Molineux was always where the heart was. He would board the ten past midnight train from Bristol to travel to home games, arriving in town by his favourite mode of transport at the unearthly hour of six o’clock.
He was lucky enough to be at Wolves’ 1960 FA Cup final victory over Blackburn and returned to Wembley for the 1974 and 1988 League Cup and Sherpa Van Trophy triumphs respectively, although he couldn’t be present when another Hughes lifted the silverware in 1980.
A couple of seasons after that surprise conquest of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, Graham joined the staff here, having returned to his Codsall roots in the mid-1960s.
Initially, he helped out as a handyman at the giant old Social Club, where Dave Wagstaffe was the perfect front-man, but there is much more to his working life than even many of his Wolves colleagues realise.
They all know that, for well over a decade, the immaculate showpiece cabinets in the stadium’s foyer have been a particular pride and joy. Well, who wouldn’t enjoy showing those pieces of family silver off to fellow supporters?
But we can add stadium maintenance, including duties carried out for former groundsman Bill Pilbeam, dressing room upkeep, helping load up the team coach for away games, sorting and distributing the post, keeping the players topped up with hot drinks, processing endless items of memorabilia and running frequent errands to Asda, Marks & Spencer or the banks to his long list of ‘boxes ticked.’
“He has looked after the home dressing room at Molineux for many years and I’ve looked after the away one,” says his close pal and work-mate Cliff Moss. “He calls me ‘his YTS’ and I’m 81!
“Obviously the changing areas have to be clean and tidy for when the players come in on a match day. Often, they need sweeping out after the teams have gone out on to the pitch and the bath water needs running just before the end – earlier maybe if a player is sent off.
“He has taught me how important it is to be discreet and mind what we might say because we see and hear a lot in the dressing room and tunnel area. But the phrase I will best remember is ‘Watch the doors, Mossy.’ That’s what he shouts when we are about to open up ready for the teams to walk out for the kick-off.”
While we’re on the subject of sayings, fellow staff might chuckle if we allow ourselves to reveal at this point that ‘during the war’ and ‘but they were good days’ are two that frequently seem to cross his lips at the start and finish of sentences. Another, invariably used when his photo has cropped up somewhere unexpected, is: “I didn’t know they were taking it.” Presumably that also applies to the front page photo with the play-off trophy which appeared the day after victory over Sheffield United in 2003. He was of course even more flattered when pictured in the vicinity of another of his all-time favourites, Billy Wright, and Ferenc Puskas, here in 1993.
One expression no-one will ever recall hearing Graham use is: ‘As I noticed when surfing on the Internet the other day.’ Infact, he usually calls it ‘the spider’s web.’ Mind you, he is a dedicated buyer of any Wolves (and much other sporting) literature, had many friends in bygone years at the Express & Star, where he also worked for a while, and still laments the demise of ‘the Pink’.
Hundreds of players will have their own fond memories of Graham but who better could we turn to than the always affable, always entertaining Mike Stowell to sum up the man’s popularity in the dressing room?
“He’s an absolute diamond,” Mike says. “The heart and soul of the club. When I came back with Leicester recently, he was there as usual as we walked in, standing by the kitchens, proud in his collar and tie and just happy to be about the place.
“In the old stand in the early 1990s, he would make the tea for us before and after training in those old stainless steel pots and then have a long walk down the corridor to the dressing room. We would be shouting all sorts at him as he approached.
“We could hear the cups and pots rattling and half the drink would be on the tray in the end, swimming around the bottle – not a jug – that he used for the milk. If any sugar should be spilled, there would soon be a trail of ants to it and there would always be leaks from the home dressing room roof when it rained – sometimes so bad that we had to stand on the benches to get changed.
“Hughesie never complained, though. He’d just get his mop and bucket out and clean the place up. They were real character-building days and we looked on him as our one luxury.”
So highly thought of was he among the players that, when he was knocked off his bike on his way to Molineux in the 1990s, they had a whip-round to buy him both a new one and a high-visibility jacket to ensure his journeys were safer in future.
He certainly wasn’t put off by his discomfort. You could be pretty sure of finding him at the stadium most Saturdays in the summer; in many ways, he has been married to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“I used to kid him that it must have been all horses and carts on the road when he started going to Wolves,” Mike added. “But he’s golden. The stadium is magnificent now and still getting better – and he’s still the same; such low maintenance. He just does his job, goes home and remains a friend to everybody.”
Hand in hand with Wolves’ recent climb up the table, the coming together of the club’s spectacular new museum in time for an autumn official opening has been manna from heaven for Graham Hughes. An endearing personality universally described, from Stan Collymore to Steve Bull, Matt Murray to Joleon Lescott, as a ‘top man’. Few would argue with the sentiment that he really is, a treasure among treasures.
A MESSAGE FROM OUR GRAHAM
The club have thanked me but it works both ways and I want to thank the Club for all the enjoyment and the pleasure I have had over the years.
It has been a privilege and honour to work for Wolverhampton Wanderers and to work at Molineux Grounds!
I just look back and think about all the great times – when there are tough times you just get on with it don’t you?
As a football fan and a Wolves fan since 1941 what a privilege and honour to be able to work for the club for so long – the next best thing to playing!
I have enjoyed meeting everyone from my colleagues to the fans to the players and all the visiting players and managers who have come to Molineux during my dressing room duties.
I am very proud that I have only missed two games looking after the dressing rooms on matchdays since 1984.
There are just too many people to mention, and to thank, and I have loved meeting fans whether local or from all over the world when they come to see the ground.
I am also particularly proud to have looked after the history from Molineux House in 1730 right through to the present day, looking back at all the Club’s wonderful achievements.
We were founder members of the Football League, have won the league and FA Cup on several occasions, and had all those great European nights in the 1950s, which led to the birth of the European Cup.
There have also been the promotions to the Premier League in more recent times which have been very enjoyable.
It has been a privilege to look after the archives chronicling all those events which will shortly be on show in the new Museum.
Working at Wolves it is about the whole Club - I am just very proud and privileged to have been a member of the team and enjoyed some wonderful memories.