Harry Hughes – ‘Captain Continuous’
Nowadays, when thoughts of who’s going to be next onto the treatment table dominate Gills fans’ thinking, it seems incredible that someone could play for over FOUR YEARS without getting injured, dropped or sent off. Harry Hughes did, and he did it in the days of playing in big heavy boots and massive shin-pads, on pitches that had mud oozing over your ankles or were pretty much frozen solid after snow had been shovelled off, and against players who didn’t exactly stand on ceremony when it came to putting the boot in.
Harry was a centre-half who we signed from Bournemouth in July 1958. He was tall and well-built, a very powerful header of the ball, and was quite unique amongst Fourth Division centre-halves in that he played a very clean game. He was the sort of guy who looked a captain, and very soon he was appointed to the job. His record-breaking run of 177 consecutive league games began on 21st February 1959 in the away match against Crewe and ended on 16th February 1963 in the home match against Workington. Taking cup matches into account, his consecutive number of Gills matches reaches 192, the last game being the much postponed home Third Round Cup Tie with Port Vale on 27th February 1963. Gills lost that match 4-2, manager Freddie Cox was furious and swung the axe hard, and both Harry and Johnny Simpson were dropped.
It brought to an end Harry’s record-breaking run, which at that point was over 60 games more than any other Gills player ever, and effectively meant the end of Harry’s career with the Gills. His replacement at centre-half was Mike Burgess, whose robust play was more in line with Cox’s thinking. Harry got back into the side at right back towards the end of that season, but in the summer he moved on to Guildford, where ironically a badly broken leg finished his career a couple of years later.
What marked Harry out for cult status was his incredible technique for taking penalties. We first saw this in December 1960 when Gills were awarded a penalty against Millwall. The ball was placed on the spot and everyone stood around the edge of the box, no-one seemed to be prepared to take it. The referee asked what was going on, and the players pointed to Harry, waving from just outside the centre circle. He then raced up like a fast bowler and smashed the ball as hard as he could. He scored, finishing up in the back of the net with the ball. Not sure what John Motson would have made of it. Unfortunately we lost 2-1.
From then on, a Gills penalty carried the extra bonus of seeing this extraordinary technique, and the total bemusement of referees and opposition. A couple of times teams argued that the whole thing was illegal, with the predictable response from the crowd. Harry only missed twice, both in the 1962/63 season, against Brentford when he miscued horribly and nearly took someone’s head off in the Rainham End (we lost 4-1), and in a more amusing incident at the Gillingham End against Bradford City. The keeper stood his ground and the ball hit him clean in the chest, knocking him right into the back of the net, where Harry finished up as well. The ball rebounded off the goalkeeper almost to the halfway line, and we started another attack with it. We won 2-1.
Including his record run which still stands as a club record, Harry Hughes played 219 times for Gills, and scored 17 goals, 10 from the penalty spot.