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Arriving from Arsenal, it was fair to say Stephen Hughes was no stranger to foreign players.
That did little to prepare him, however, for the general lunacy of Thomas Gravesen when the two became teammates at Goodison Park in 2000.
Hughes, who will this weekend watch two of his former clubs do battle from the press box at the Emirates where he will be doing radio punditry, remembers well how the Dane quite literally started with a bang.
“Gravesen was quite a character,” recalled the recently-retired 35-year-old, who went on to play for Watford, Charlton, Coventry City and Walsall after leaving Everton.
“He had only been at the club for three or four days and there was this huge bang, a massive great bang. He had these mad Danish bangers and he took half a wall out at Bellefield. Everyone was like – who is this nutter?”
It wasn’t only Gravesen’s bangers disturbing the peace and quiet. The shorn-skulled schemer with the withering stare was obviously eager to make his mark and had been putting himself about during his first few sessions with his new teammates. It was time for the pugnacious Dane to be reminded who was boss.
“Fergie (Duncan Ferguson) was injured at the time and everyone came in from training and said how this lunatic, who had been here three days, had been running round in training kicking everyone,” added Hughes.
“Gazza was particularly upset and was saying somebody needs to ‘launch’ him! Fergie said ‘don’t worry, I’ll be back soon and I will sort him out’.
“A few days later we were doing circles in the morning and Fergie was in Tommy’s
“Tommy did not know Fergie at all – he had no idea what he was about. It was Dunc’s turn to go in and Tommy was telling him to go in, but Dunc refused and told Tommy to go in.
“He said ‘no’, so Dunc picked up the ball, threw it up in the air and volleyed it – literally the hardest volley you have ever seen – right into Tommy from about three yards away.
“Tommy did not know what to do. He did not know whether to cry, whether to laugh, whether to try and fight him. The whole place went quiet and Fergie just stood there, like ‘what are you going to do’?
“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was thinking ‘is this a dream, is this really happening?’
“It was a little marker from Fergie. He was saying ‘the boys are getting sick of you’. It was just him being the top man and keeping everyone in check.”
There were big expectations of Hughes when he arrived at the club. He was a quality up and coming English player who had forced his way into the reckoning at Arsenal, despite being surrounded by some of the finest midfielders of that era.
He came to Goodison for regular football and, although very much being a fish out of water as a Londoner who had never even been to Liverpool before, he threw himself into life on Merseyside.
“At Arsenal I had Petit, Vieira, Parlour, Ljungberg and Overmars all there and trying to dislodge them was a bit of a thankless task,” he continued.
“But being around those players taught me a lot and I did manage to get a lot of game time – particularly in 1998 when we did the double. Petit was injured quite a bit and I got a decent run of games and picked up a couple of medals.
“After that it wasn’t as good for me and I was restless and wanted to play. I was always knocking on Arsene Wenger’s door – I probably drove him mad – but he sat me down and told me I would not play regularly and, when you hear that as a young player, if you have got anything about you then you know you have to move on.
“Arsene told me there were a few clubs in for me and it was really between Everton and West Ham. I went and met Walter Smith, Everton were playing in London and I met him at the hotel and he was great with me. I really, really liked him. Everton and Arsenal agreed a fee and I was on the train and on the way up to Liverpool.
“I didn’t know much about the place but one thing I would say is that scousers are the friendliest people in the world. I wanted to try and fit in and live right in the city so I got a place on the Albert Dock and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“The club were brilliant with me. I knew Kevin Campbell from Arsenal and it was a great dressing room at the time and they welcomed me really well.
“You had Gazza, Richard Gough, Fergie – larger than life characters everywhere – and the camaraderie and team spirit was amazing. Even looking from the outside in now they still have it. It is a special place.
“That spirit was a highlight for me. My career at Everton was cut short for one reason or another but I loved playing with all of them.”
Hughes’ joined Everton on March 7, 2000, made his debut a few days later against Chelsea and went on to make 20 appearances before the end of the season.
However, in his second campaign as a Blue, personal problems compelled Hughes to return to London. Soon it was agreed it would be in everyone’s best interests if he and the club parted company and his Everton career came to a premature conclusion.
“I played quite a few games to start with and I loved playing regularly for the first time,” he said. “It was whirlwind. All of a sudden I was up there on my own and playing games.
“I never had a clue just how massive Everton is as a club. The fans are amazing, particularly the away support, which is just incredible. And at Goodison, when they really get behind you, I will never forget that.
“In my second season there were things going on in my private life that affected me and it was best for me to go back down south.
“I was back up and down on the motorway all the time and I just needed to go back. People at the club knew what was happening. I tried to use playing as a release but when I look back it definitely affected my football.
“My head was all over the place and Walter was very good with me. He is a great man manager and the decision for me to leave was made well before the end of the season.
“Unfortunately my Everton career was all too short but I have nothing but good things to say about the place. Everton were brilliant to me. The team spirit was amazing and the fans were great. I don’t think people down south have any idea of just how big a club it is.”
Hughes is now approaching two years out of the game having left his last club, Walsall, in 2009.
He is dabbling with a bit of media work and has also just completed the first stage towards qualifying as a coach.
“I am keeping my options open,” he said. “I do bits and bobs for Arsenal and will be at the game on Saturday doing some radio stuff. I am really looking forward to it, Everton are hard to beat and will give Arsenal a game.”
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