Football has become a much more hectic sport than it used to be many decades ago. The pace of the game has changed and the intensity has increased. Players play more matches for club and country combined, leading to an added burden on their shoulders.
The Premier League is probably the most intense one, as a lack of a Christmas break sees players tire themselves out over that period. While they do have a winter break now, it wasn’t always the case. The lack of a break does make it hard for players. But the betting and fantasy football industry thrives on things like that.
They have more to play for in a smaller amount of time. That leads to a higher profit for not just bettors but for companies like nostrabet.com as a whole. Having more games to play makes the football industry thrive and keeps the entertainment levels up. While betting companies make lucrative profits, that isn’t the case for players.
Rarities do exist in football though. And they probably always will. Mark Hughes was one of those rarities in the game, when it comes to fixture congestion. It is an issue that gets talked about a lot. But the man who was known as ‘Sparky’ couldn’t really care much about that back in the days.
That made the Welshman one of the very few footballers who have played in two games in the space of just 24 hours. Hughes did that without caring much about or cribbing about it. This was a man who loved playing the game at whatever cost.
It did come though, at a strange period for the English game. Right after the Heysel Disaster, there was an exodus of players from England. Most of these were British players themselves who sought opportunities to play European football by joining Spanish, Italian or French clubs.
Hughes was one of those players. The prolific Manchester United goalscorer was wanted by the Terry Venables-led Barcelona in the summer of 1986. It isn’t just him that Venables wanted though, as the then Everton man Garry Lineker was also a wanted man for the Catalan outfit that summer.
As much as Venables’ stuff of dreams was to have an all-English frontline at Barca, that didn’t actually come true. After failing to settle in at Spain, Hughes was out of the club’s team for a good part of the second half of the season. He had his mind made up- he wanted to leave. And his intentions only stepped up a gear when Venables left the club at the end of the season.
In his autobiography, Hughes described his Barcelona experience as: “For the most part it was a full-blown, X-rated horror story.”And he wasn’t keen on going back to England as it would have cost him thousands of pounds in tax because of him not being abroad for the full extension period. A move back to England wouldn’t have come before 1988.
When Bayern Munich came calling to sign Hughes on loan, he had no doubt about it. While the Welshman did have an eight-year contract at the Nou Camp, he had no choice but to leave. On the table for negotiations for the Bavarian club was general manager Uli Hoeness.
During negotiations, Hoeness came up with a strange question. He asked Hughes when his international game for Wales was. The striker’s response was firm- 4:30 in the afternoon. But Hoeness’ reply was surprising. He said: “That’s OK then, you can play in the evening as well.”
In a sense though, it wasn’t overly surprising. The German had done the same with Soren Lerby in the past. About this incident, Hughes once told the BBC:
“In passing he said ‘what time is the game?’ And I said, ‘I think it’s about half-past three, four o’clock’.
“From that moment on he was making phone calls and came back into the room and said, ‘I think you may be able to play for us the same night’.
“I thought he was just kidding but obviously he wasn’t, so he organised everything.”
And once Hoeness did everything, there was no doubt what was going to happen. Hughes would play Wales’ game against the Czech Republic and then fly to Germany to play Bayern’s German Cup game later in the day.
The Welsh side did play well in that European championship qualifiers game. But despite their best efforts, they couldn’t deny the Czech’s from winning a hard-fought battle. A win would have guaranteed Wales a passage to the group stages of the Euros of 1988.
Before Hughes had the time to go over what had gone wrong in the 2-0 loss, he had to leave right from the dressing room. Hoeness’ phone-call during negotiations pertained to having someone pick him up from the dressing room and get him to the Olympic Stadium for the game against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Minutes after the game finished, Hughes had an engine revving outside. It was a Lada. Like how it would happen in today’s era, he was to be driven from Czechoslovakia to Munich. But after a drive, Hughes had to hop onto a private jet to reach Munich-finally.
In his autobiography, Hughes wrote: “Outside engine revving, waiting to hurtle us to the airport, was … a Lada. I’m not kidding. Through the Czech countryside, we zoomed at all of 30mph, but in that heap it felt as if we were breaking the land-speed record.”
Within two hours, Hughes found himself in Bavaria. He was smuggled into the stadium like a secret weapon that the Die Fohlen would know nothing of. The game wasn’t happening too far from the Czech border of Germany, but Hoeness himself wasn’t at the game on time having watched Hughes play against the Czechs.
In a sequence of events that would seem movie-like in the modern-day, Hughes was late to feature in the first half. When he reached the stadium, no one was told to make Hughes’ arrival public.
Hughes says in his book: “Hoeness had deliberately not told any of the players, officials or public of his secret scheme. So I was smuggled into the stadium and kept in hiding upstairs until the team had gone out for the second half. He wanted maximum psychological impact – and he got it.”
The Foals were in the lead when the first-half had kicked off. Gunter Thiele had scored, but the fans were in for an absolute shock. So much so that it could be one of the contenders for one of the most shocking substitutions in the game’s history. It was impossible for a player, who was hundreds of miles away only two hours ago, to play for Bayern. The fans and the Gladbach players were taken aback.
And perhaps, it did make an impact on Gladbach mentally. Lothar Matthäus did score in the second half for the Bavarians and Hughes nearly scored too to make the occasion sound even more strange. The game went to extra-time and Hughes played till the very end.
Two goals from Michael Rummenigge helped Bayern seal a 3-2 win. And about three hours after sustaining a damaging defeat with his national team, Hughes was experiencing the joy of winning a dramatic cup game for his new club. A unique thing- something that will be seen as even more strange 20 years on than it is today.