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Colourful life of Ginger Ninja.

Byline: Richard Warburton Home Affairs Correspondent

At just 27-years-of-age Lee Hughes has secured his place in West Midland football folklore as one of the region's greatest goal scorers in the modern game.

Alongside the likes of Jeff Astle, Andy Gray and Steve Bull, Hughes appeared to score for fun and was able to change a game in an instant.

Four years ago the 'Ginger Ninja' was awarded the Adidas Golden Boot for scoring 31 league goals during the 1998/99 season -more than anyone else in all four divisions.

Remarkably, his closest rivals were Dwight Yorke, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen. The lad from Smethwick literally had the world at his feet and was linked with all the Premiership's top clubs.

His star was rising, but a Baggies fan as well as leading the club's forward line, he wanted to remain at the Hawthorns -his spiritual home.

However, never one to turn down the chance of a party, Hughes began to secure another reputation -a lad about town.

He has courted controversy ever since he started his career with Kidderminster Harriers in 1995, where he banged in more than 20 goals in two seasons.

It was after he joined the Albion for pounds 250,000 in the summer of 1997 that he made his name for both all the right and all the wrong reasons.

Once at the Hawthorns, Hughes not only wore his heart on his sleeve, but wore Albion on his arm with a Baggies tattoo that endeared him to fans and made him a hate figure among opposing supporters. The official WBA website describes him as the player every club would want playing for it.

'Lee is the kind of player every club wants, not just because of his on-pitch qualities, but because he is the embodiment of the supporters' dream -the fan who came down off the terraces to play for his team,' it said.

In 1999 Hughes hit the headlines for his antics off the pitch after a teenager who claimed the player had fathered her child said she had been pestered with death threats.

Sharlene Gillis, then aged 19, said she endured violent phone calls and even made Hughes take a DNA test which later proved he was not the child's father.

In the same year, Hughes' personal life was put under the microscope a second time when he got engaged to lap dancer Donna Nisbet after a whirlwind romance.

The two later split up, but only after Hughes endured crude chants from away fans at every game he played.

After splitting from Miss Nisbet, Hughes married Anna Kuzmanic in a quiet ceremony in Croatia in June 2000 -six months before their first child, Mia, was born.

During his first spell with his beloved Albion, Hughes struck up a partnership on the pitch with Jason Roberts which flourished into a 40-goal double act as the Baggies finished the 2000/01 as losing play-off semi-finalists.

But in August 2000 the pair were questioned by police after a man from Dudley claimed they assaulted him outside a pub in Brierley Hill.

The police dropped the case a month later and within a year Hughes's love affair with the Albion appeared to be over when he joined West Midland rivals Coventry City in 2001 for pounds 5 million.

At Highfield Road he continued to bang in the goals -15 in 38 league appearances -but when the Baggies finally made it back into the top flight he could not resist an offer to return to the Hawthorns.

But the return of the prodigal son was not the success it was billed as Hughes failed to score as the Baggies were relegated after just one season.

CAPTION(S):

Lee Hughes' home with the boardedup front door clearly on view
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 24, 2003
Words:630
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