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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Hughes' dream career ends in nightmare
Lee Hughes
Hughes turned up at a police station 36 hours after the crash
His life appeared to be the epitome of a football fan's dream.

At first rejected by the team he supported as a youngster, Lee Hughes' talent as a goalscorer catapulted him into the Premiership and made him one of West Bromwich Albion's most popular players.

With his fame came the riches - he boasts a 16,000 a week wage packet and a 750,000 mock Tudor mansion in the desirable Warwickshire village of Meriden.

But his career now appears to be in ruins after he was jailed for causing the death of a car passenger when he crashed his 100,000 Mercedes.

Lee Hughes' prolific years
1997/98 season 14 goals
1998/99 season 32 goals
1999/00 season 16 goals
2000/01 season 22 goals
Coventry Crown Court heard Hughes, 28, was driving too fast and "like a madman" in wet conditions before the crash which killed Douglas Graham, 56, near the player's home.

Prosecutors claimed Hughes then fled the scene to dodge a breath test, although the footballer denied he was over the legal drink-drive limit.

His conviction may provide a shattering finale to the rags-to-riches story of the former roofer who joined Albion from non-league Kidderminster in 1997.

Ironically, he had been turned down by West Brom after trials with the club as a schoolboy.

Born and bred close to the Baggies' Hawthorns ground, Hughes' first four seasons represented every fan's dream coming true.

Lee Hughes
Hughes did not score in the Premiership
Nicknamed the Ginger Ninja, he was popular with supporters because of his enthusiasm, local roots and his desire to play for the club. He even sports a tattoo of the club's crest.

Hughes was also quickly stereotyped in the media for his love of baltis and success tasted even sweeter because he had been released by Albion as a schoolboy.

However, after his first season with West Brom, Hughes began to attract controversy.

A 19-year-old girl claimed the player had fathered her child, though a DNA test proved this was not the case.

He then had a brief engagement to a lap dancer, but appeared to settle down in June 2000 when he married Croatian Anna Kuzmanic in her home country before their first child, Mia was born.

But just two months later, Hughes and former team-mate Jason Roberts were questioned by police over an alleged assault on a man outside a pub in Brierley Hill, West Midlands, though the case was dropped.

Now his imprisonment comes with Hughes on the brink of another chance to finally make his mark in the Premiership, with Albion just being promoted.

Hughes has said in the past: "There's nothing to match playing for Albion at The Hawthorns.

"You run through the tunnel and look at where you used to stand as a lad. It's just the biggest buzz."

But the slightly unreal escapist world of professional football now seems unimportant compared to the tragic consequences of last year's crash.




SEE ALSO:
Hughes jailed after death crash
09 Aug 04  |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Player 'regrets' fleeing scene
05 Aug 04  |  West Midlands
Hughes 'drove like madman' claim
03 Aug 04  |  West Midlands


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