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Fan Allner casts admiring glances at Albion's pounds 4m snip; Michael Ward finds Lee Hughes' former boss happy to sing the praises of one that got away.

With the wisdom of hindsight, Graham Allner wishes he had asked for at least pounds 1million when West Bromwich Albion approached Kidderminster Harriers to buy Lee Hughes last summer.

The transfer fee of pounds 250,000 was a tidy sum for any Football Conference club and a record sale for Kidderminster, whose manager at least had the foresight to negotiate for Albion to pay them a little extra if Hughes established himself.

The 22-year-old Smethwick-born striker has done that in no time and he needs to make only 20 more first-team appearances before Harriers receive a final payment of pounds 130,000 increasing the fee to pounds 380,000. Not bad for a Conference club except that Hughes is now worth pounds 4m.

Again with the luxury of hindsight, Allner wishes the additional cash was based on the number of goals Hughes scored in his first couple of seasons in the Nationwide League a figure, say, of pounds 10,000 a goal.

With 14 to his name last season and 12 under his belt before a quarter of the 1998-99 campaign is up, Harriers would be looking at an extra pounds 260,000 and counting.

Allner's consolation, as his former boss, is knowing that Kidderminster discovered him in the first place. And as the list of Premiership clubs showing a keen interest in Hughes increases by the week, Albion can take comfort from the fact that the First Division's hottest marksman has told Allner he has no wish to leave The Hawthorns.

"I spoke to him the other day," Allner confirmed. "Lee made it clear to me that he's perfectly happy where he is. He's an Albion fan, remember, who supported them as a boy. He wants to play in the Premiership, but his ambition is to get there with Albion ."

Allner last night recalled how a skinny, flame-haired teenager turned up at Aggborough for a trial seven years ago.

He said: "A lad who used to watch our games told me about this young kid he knew called Lee Hughes who lived in his area and could play a bit. I suggested he brought the youngster along to train with us so I could have a look at him.

"Lee was 15 at the time and I liked what I saw. Another young striker, Jay Powell, came at about the same time and I put them both in the youth team.

"The following pre-season, Lee broke his leg in a friendly and I'll never forget the hours I spent waiting for him at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton.

"But he recovered very quickly and he was fit again by Christmas. Lee was a midfielder in those days and from being a regular at youth team level, I moved him up to the reserves. He was a very good player then, but not what you would call really special. He and Jay Powell were about the same.

"Lee's first-team chance came when he was 18 and I took him on a club trip to Guernsey because one or two players had dropped out. He was in and out of the side at first in the Conference games, but then he progressed at a sprint.

"Pace wasn't his biggest asset at first, but he developed that and worked hard to improve all the other aspects of his game. The main thing about Lee is that he's an amazingly good learner. He doesn't have to think about learning, he just does it natural ly.

"At Albion, he's learned to play down the middle as opposed to the wide role he had here. When he was with us, Lee would play on the wing and just turn up in the box to score more or less when he felt like it."

Allner is not surprised to hear how Hughes has set the First Division alight with his searing pace, his skill on the ball and above all the scoring prowess which has attracted Premiership scouts like moths to a candle.

Neither does Allner have any doubt that Hughes would settle instantly into the top flight if Albion decided to cash in on the pounds 4m he would fetch at today's market prices. Which they won't, of course.

"When we had him, Lee played at every level and immediately looked comfortable at each," continued Allner. "From Conference football, he's moved up three levels into the First Division and taken it in his stride. He scores a lot of goals and he misses pl enty but he's always there and wherever he goes, he forces you to pick him.

"If Lee went into the Premiership tomorrow, he wouldn't be out of place. He'd relish the big stage that's the beauty of Lee Hughes."

At this rate, the terrace fan-turned striker will be striding to 20 goals before Christmas.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 7, 1998
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