In an era when top-flight players struggle to play twice in a week and managers love to bemoan the number of injuries sustained during an international break, the thought of one of the biggest stars in football turning out to compete in two games for two teams in ONE DAY is simply unthinkable; but astonishingly that’s just what Mark Hughes did on November 11, 1987.
The mid-1980s had seen something of a mass exodus from domestic football as much of the top talent at the time opted to ply their trade on the continent as the prospect of higher wages, bigger crowds and the chance to play European football, when all English clubs were banned following the tragedy at Heysel, was just too much of a temptation and Mark Hughes was no exception.
Having made a name for himself as a tough and fearless forward who was great in the air and with an incredible knack of volleying the ball goal wards from just about anywhere, Hughes was hot property and after helping Manchester United to FA Cup glory in 1985 soon attracted the attention of some of the game’s biggest names; so it wasn’t long before he joined Everton striker Gary Lineker in heading to Barcelona after the Catalan side made an audacious £2 million bid.
But after just one season in La Liga Hughes struggled to adjust to his new surroundings and suffered something of a disappointing second season under Terry Venables, soon finding himself out of favour at The Nou Camp; but having signed an eight year contract he needed to find a club that would take him on loan rather than simply stewing in his newly adopted city.
Luckily for the Welshman it wasn’t long before he was snapped up by Bayern Munich as his aggressive playing style and physical ability was seen as a better match for German football than Spanish and he quickly set the Bundesliga alight.
But it wasn’t just in Germany where he was proving his worth, Hughes was also a key part of an exciting Wales team who were in with a real chance of qualifying for their first major championships in nearly 30 years and it wasn’t long before he faced something of a conflict of interests.
With the likes of Neville Southall, Ian Rush, Kevin Ratcliffe and Pat Van den Hauwe alongside Hughes, Wales had a pretty useful side in 1987 and travelled to Prague to play Czechoslovakia in a game which they had to win if they were to qualify for Euro ’88 in Germany – the only problem was, Bayern had a German Cup replay with Borussia Mönchengladbach that day too.
"The week before, I’d signed for Bayern and I had dinner with Uli Hoeness who asked me what time the Wales match was,” Hughes told Four Four Two. “I told him it was around 4.30 and he said: 'that’s OK then, you can play in the evening as well.'"
So Hughes started up-front for Wales that afternoon as his side were soundly beaten 2-0 in the Czech capital thanks to strikes from Ivo Knoflicek and Michal Bilek, a defeat which left Mike England's men behind Denmark and Czechoslovakia in Group Six and unable to qualify for the following summer’s tournament.
With no time to reflect on the defeat, let alone a warm-down, energy drink or whatever the equivalent of an ice bath was back then, Hughes immediately headed to the airport and jumped on a flight to Germany so that he could fulfil his obligations and play for his club as they looked to progress in the cup.
“We actually flew over the ground and missed the first half.” Hughes explained. “But I got there at the start of the second half.” To say Sparky changed the game would be something of an exaggeration as, in his own words, he was: “hopelessly knackered,” but his introduction did have something of an impact on the outcome of the match as Bayern came from two goals down to win the tie in the ultimate display of dedication and endurance.
You wouldn’t get an international game played on the same day as top-flight league football or cup fixtures these days, but if it was to happen can you imagine one of today’s precious Premier League players making the effort or even being allowed to play two games in a day? No, didn’t think so.