People often say to me 'Eric, it's all very well having a go at the Daily Mail, but that is like putting a bet on Jade Goody to win an Ugly Thicko competition. Well, today they have their day. I thought the following article in the sports section of The guardian was appalling. Not only is it pandering to the lowest common denominator but it is very lazy writing.
Chairman Blitz hires Hughes and kicks sensitivity into touch
Simon Blitz's claim that signing Lee Hughes was not a 'moral' decision is difficult to accept.
August 29, 2007 11:59 PM
Either the thespian community of these isles has a new Olivier in its midst or Lee Hughes, recently released from Featherstone prison into the promiscuous embrace of Oldham Athletic football club, really did mean it when he said this week that he would never forgive himself for the despicable conduct that caused the death of 56-year-old Douglas Graham in a car crash almost four years ago.
"I am not coming here [to Boundary Park and professional football] to be a hero," said Hughes, who served three years of a six-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He need have no worries on that score, at least not in the eyes of anyone who rightly judges that a man's ability to stick the ball in the net is a trivial thing in the greater scheme of life.
Nevertheless, Hughes's status as the principal pariah in an awful human tragedy may be under threat after the contribution of the Oldham chairman, Simon Blitz, who claimed this week that the decision to sign the player was absolutely not a "moral" decision. "For us it is a pure footballing matter," he went on.
Long experience has taught us not to expect too much in the way of good judgment from football club chairmen but this contribution from Blitz surely sets a new low.
Given that members of Graham's family had already publicly voiced their disgust at Hughes's return to professional football, the very least - or, rather, the very most - this buffoon should have said on the subject is nothing. That he said what he did, and that he said it on a day when he must surely have known that the emotions of the Graham family would be at their rawest, shows an absence of sensitivity, and a lack of respect, that could be interpreted as utter contempt.
As for the substance of Blitz's remarks, it would require us to accept that professional football is not bound by the same moral code as the rest of us. Of course, some within the game behave as if this is indeed the case, but it is not. And it most certainly is not the case if it means the feelings of a grieving family are overruled by the need for an English League One club to solve their goal - scoring problem. Are we being asked to believe that Hughes is the only available player in England capable of lifting the Boundary Park club out of their midtable torpor? And if other club chairmen embraced Blitz's approach and took it to its logical conclusion, where would we be ? Lee Harvey Oswald for Southampton? Mark Chapman for Chelsea?
The truth is that signing Hughes was absolutely a moral decision, but that Oldham and their chairman lacked the intellectual courage to defend it, probably because deep down they realised it was indefensible.
The player, reading a prepared statement, did say this on his own behalf: "I have served the sentence laid down by the law but nothing I can do or say can change what happened. I can only keep saying sorry although I know that is not good enough for some people." This is because "some people", though accepting the court's decision, happen to think three years is far too little for causing the death of another man in a car accident after a night out on the town and leaving the scene before the police arrived. It is because some people would argue that Hughes's debt to society would have been paid back in full if he spent the next four years - or however long his professional football career might have lasted - coaching football in the inner cities, or in another worthy capacity. Instead he has chosen to return to a full-time career in professional football, where his name on the Oldham team sheet will serve as a weekly reminder to the Graham family of their loss.
It is Hughes's right to make this choice, selfish though it may be, but it is Oldham's shame that they made it so easy for him to return to the game he has disgraced.
I once saw Lee Hughes play for West Brom, his home club against Tranmere at Prenton Park. After the match, we were astonished o see Hughes running away from the ground still in his WBA kit. It turns out that he had just learned of his father's heart attack and was getting a lift from fans as the team coach would not be leaving until later.
Nobody condones his actions. He killed a man. He injured another. However, the witch hunt which has grown since his release is irrational. I am, therefore, peeved that the Guardian allowed this populist nonsense to be printed. It is also disappointing because in the author's column in the paper edition, he makes an extremely good point in highlighting anti-Islam racist abuse in Scottish football.
The problem with the article can be summarised thus:
- Should our judicial system punish people harder because they have the capacity to earn money after serving their sentence?
- Should prisoners not be allowed to undergo rehabilitation?
- Should sentences be linked to career length? The article implies that Hughes should have to serve a further community penalty.
- It is crass to equate this crime with those of pre-meditated ones committed by Mark Chapman and Lee Harvey Oswald. Very bad journalism.
- The views of the victim's family are irrelevant. The law should not take them into account. If we were in that position we may feel different but the law must stand back from emotion lest justice judges one person's grief higher than another's.
- Hughes will be vilified by away fans when he plays for Oldham. (November 6th at Prenton Park).
Whilst it can be argued that the sentence was too lenient or that Hughes is symptomatic of a footballer with too much money, this article does neither. It is very, very lame. I was heartened to see that others commenting on the story felt the same. Hey, at least we can comment in The Guardian. Imagine trying to get a comment printed in the Daily Mail without wishing that Richard Litttlejohn was running the country. Oh, but I forget there is no bias. My friend told me.....
- Please be assured that there is no editorial policy in place that would seek to prevent the discussion of both sides of the story and we value comments from both perspectives.