Paralympics 2012: Football has kept me alive
By Owen Gibson guardian.co.uk –
Of the budding Paralympians featured in Channel 4’s upcoming documentary series Best of British, Robbie Hughes has had perhaps the furthest to travel to make the Games next year. But it is in his painful story that the power of sport is probably most apparent.
Hughes – who trained with Fulham as a young player under Kevin Keegan before playing semi-professionally for Sutton United – needed four brain operations after being left in a coma following a brutal group attack while on holiday in Malia, Crete, in June 2008.
“People don’t realise I don’t remember living a day of my life. But I’ve got some things in my head, I can remember films I used to watch when I was a kid. I hear songs from when I was a child,” he says.
“People who say they’re my family and friends, I find it hard to be family and friends with them because I don’t remember them. It’s frustrating.”
They include contemporaries from his football career before the attack, such as Sean Davis of Bolton Wanderers.
Hughes will be on anti‑fitting drugs for the rest of his life and struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. According to his mother, Maggie, he “has hardly any memory at all from the past”.
“He doesn’t remember me, he doesn’t remember his brothers and sisters, he doesn’t remember his team-mates. It’s frustrating for him and for us. It’s like being at a party and being there on your own and not knowing anyone.”
The one thing that has kept him going, says Hughes, is football. “Football has kept me alive. Without football I would be destroyed. It makes my day. Every day I wake up and think about football. What time I’m training, what matches I can watch,” says Hughes, matter-of-factly.
Prior to the savage attack, in which his head was brutally stamped on, he was about to sign for Bromley FC. After it, he was told he would never play again.
He has had to sign insurance waivers in order to play for Cray Wanderers. “When I’m on the pitch I can forget about my problems. When I’m on the pitch, I can just enjoy life,” he says.
Despite the complications and frustrations of his condition, British Paralympic officials are continuing to monitor Hughes and he remains on the long list for the seven-a-side team at the Games. All the players, who include the former Everton academy product and 2011 World Cup “golden boot” winner, Michael Barker, suffer from cerebral palsy or some other form of brain injury.
For Hughes, his innate talent remains following his recovery but the midfielder says that he has had to relearn other aspects of the game: “Because of my problems with memory, I’m learning it all again. I’ve been getting used to how to play in matches again, how physical it is.”
Maggie Hughes, who has campaigned long and loud for her son and other victims of violence abroad, added: “Some good has to come from something so bad. In Robbie’s case, he’s setting his goal to get into the Paralympics. My achievement will be to get justice for him and to help other victims and their families.”
Beyond the Paralympics, Hughes has ambitions to start a daily training academy for under-10s and plans to call on his contacts in the professional game to do so. “People may say I can’t achieve the targets I’ve set myself. But I’ll let those people talk. I’m going to keep on trying and once I’ve achieved it, then I’ll say something.”