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Albion losing patience as Hughes transfer talk reaches fever pitch.

West Bromwich Albion last night fired the definitive "hands-off Hughes" salvo as they declared war on the mass speculation frenzy surrounding their prize striker.

In totally refuting any suggestion of selling multi-million pound-rated Lee Hughes, managing director John Wile has categorically spelt out the club's future no-sale policy over any other marketable Albion asset.

"Gingermania" has been raging at The Hawthorns all season ever since Hughes hit the first of this season's 21 goals that have made him the country's hottest property.

Hughes, signed for what now looks a snip at pounds 250,000 from Kidderminster Harriers last summer, is happy banging in the goals for his boyhood heroes.

Wile has been quick to scotch the growing interest in the league's leading marksman, blasting: "We're getting fed up with all the speculation.

"We want it to be made very clear that this club will not consider selling any player without the 100 per cent support of the manager.

"To put this thing to bed once and for all, West Bromwich Albion have never had an offer for Lee Hughes, and if we did, we wouldn't be interested."

The strength of Wile's words was fuelled by the furore created by reports of an alleged pounds 7 million Middlesbrough bid by Baggies old boy Bryan Robson for Hughes, to which boss Denis Smith reacted by lightheartedly telling an Albion Supporters' Club meeting in Kidderminster on Monday night that he'd quit if his star striker was sold.

"It was ridiculous the way it came out," said Smith. "It seems like I've threatened the board, but that was simply not the case. It was said in jest but taken seriously."

Smith added: "No club has spoken to me regarding a transfer. No club has been on to discuss a price. We've only had one offer for a player of any size this season and that was Middlesbrough after Kevin Kilbane, which we rejected."

Club secretary John Evans further backed up Albion's insistence that they are not generally a selling club by pointing out that, in the last 10 years, only two players have been sold purely for profit, Don Goodman, ironically signed by Smith for Sunderla nd, and Paul Peschisolido last season and, in each case, they met with the full approval of the then manager.

"What John Wile says for our policy over selling players goes for the 10 years I've been here," points out Evans.

"Goodman's move had the full approval of Bobby Gould. And the Peschisolido deal was begun, dealt with and finished by the manager at the time.

"When I hear Albion fans saying we always sell our best players, I always reply "Name six". We're still being blamed for selling Bryan Robson."

Wile now hopes all the fuss will die down, although he is realistic enough that the more Hughes finds the net, the greater will be the interest in him from elsewhere.

"The only time I want to read Lee Hughes' name in the papers is about him scoring even more goals for Albion," he added.

However, as Hughes, who has hit three hat-tricks already this season, prepares for his first crack at grabbing a treble with one of the league's new fluorescent yellow balls at Portsmouth tomorrow, the financial implications of Albion hanging on to their star man are already beginning to bite.

As Wile admitted: "It's starting to get a bit expensive Hughes going home with all these match balls."
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 20, 1998
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