Gary Rowell: Billy Hughes is one of my all-time favourite Sunderland footballers and his legacy involves starring in Roker Park’s greatest ever game

Sunderland lost another iconic figure from the past with the sad news that 1973 Cup final hero Billy Hughes had passed away just before Christmas.

Monday, 6th January 2020, 2:48 pm
Billy Hughes and Jim Montgomery hold the FA Cup as they circuit the pitch after Sunderland beat Leeds.
Billy Hughes and Jim Montgomery hold the FA Cup as they circuit the pitch after Sunderland beat Leeds.

Whenever I think of Billy Hughes I see him racing down the wing at Roker Park, a flair player capable of getting the fans out of their seats with a burst of acceleration, a moment of magic or a crucial goal.

On his day, he could destroy any defence. That was never better illustrated than against Man City in that famous cup replay at Roker Park in 1973.

Voted Roker Park’s greatest ever game, Billy was magnificent that night, scoring twice as that great old stadium came alive and created the greatest atmosphere ever.

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I was a 15-year-old in the Fulwell End that night and it was exhilarating, a little bit scary too but what an experience to see Billy Hughes and the rest of the team take apart one of the country’s best teams of that era.

As I was an apprentice at the time, we were all in the next morning cleaning and polishing the players boots and what was usually a chore felt like an honour and a privilege as we talked about what we’d seen the night before.

What a legacy for Billy Hughes to be the star of Roker Park’s greatest ever game, then go on to Wembley and take the corner that led to Sunderland’s winning goal.

However, he had even more, he had the looks, the haircut and was always the coolest guy on the pitch - if he was playing today he would be worth a fortune from image rights.

Billy’s career was coming to an end as mine was just starting but I did play in the same team as him for a few games, even making a goal for him in one of my early games and that gave me great pleasure.

Billy was most definitely not your average run of the mill footballer, he was a character, a maverick, somebody you couldn’t take your eyes off thanks to his talent and charisma.

Billy Hughes is one of my all-time favourite Sunderland footballers and he has gone too soon but he left many great memories and will never be forgotten on Wearside.