PICTURE by Wynne Evans.
NOT many people from Anglesey would be able to say they have come up against Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. Or indeed saved a penalty against Atletico Madrid. But Hotspur Reserves goalkeeper Connor Hughes has ticked both of those things off his footballing list.
The 24-year-old, who has lived in Bodedern for most of his life, has been playing football since he was just three years old – citing both former France shot-stopper Fabien Barthez and his own dad as just two of his idols.
Over the years, he’s enjoyed great success both with his respective clubs and on a personal level too – building his way up into being one of the best goalkeepers on the island right now.
Hughes, recognisable on the field due to the Petr Cech-esque rugby scrum cap he wears on his head in games, began his journey with Bodedern Juniors – playing there until he was about 10 years old.
The potential he showed there then saw him move on to Wrexham AFC’s Academy, where he played for five years.
It was there that he had, what he himself now describes as an ‘amazing experience’ of playing against the likes of current Manchester United man and England international Marcus Rashford.
Hughes said: “Rashford scoring a hat-trick against me that day is a career highlight by now. when I was playing for Wrexham we played against Manchester United in Carrington training ground. It was an amazing experience.
“The Manchester United team were unbelievable. We lost 7-1 I think and Rashford (below) scored a hat-trick – but I had the game of my life even though I conceded 7, I still made around 20 saves. I have still got the keeper top I wore that game.”
After his days at Wrexham’s academy came to an end, Hughes made the switch to Connah’s Quay’s under 16’s team – where another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ensued as he played in Spain and saved a penalty v an Atletico Madrid side!
Recalling that trip, Hughes: “We stayed in the Spanish national football teams hotel it was crazy. Spain under 21 we’re staying there at the time. They had an area to play on ps3 and I was playing PES next to Suso!
“We played against Rayo Vallecano and I think we lost 4-0. We then had a training session in Real Madrid training ground and we also had a training session from one of their coaches. We then had a game v Real Madrid under 15s and 16s we lost that game as well, maybe 7-2.
“On the final day we got to play against Athletico Madrid in their training ground and that’s when I got a chance to save a penalty against them – it was a great moment.”
After departing the Nomads, Hughes returned home to play his football for Bangor City’s under 18’s and went on to represent Amlwch Town (2013/14) and his home village club of Bodedern Athletic.
The top shot-stopper then moved to Llanfairpwll, before going to Glantraeth and then Holyhead Hotspur – where a career highlight for him he says was representing the first team in the Cymru Alliance (tier two) aged just 18.
He won the Reserves League with Hotspur Reserves in 2016/17 and in 2017/18, the season he started wearing his famous scrum cap, he played for both Hotspur and Boded.
Th following season, Hughes represented Gaerwen and Llanfairpwll. With Pwll, led by Vinny Walker and Spud Thomas – who he says ‘helped him get his confidence back’ – he showed his class in the Anglesey League.
After a fantastic season-and-half there, Hughes moved back to Hotspur to play for the Reserves, also in the Anglesey League, in late 2019 and continued to impress.
Talking about making that switch, Hughes said: “Moving to Hotspur was a very tough decision for me as I love Llanfair and have so much respect for them. The turning point for me was when we were going to be playing Cemaes Bay (who went on to win the division) and we only had 11 players – including two keepers. You can’t be going to Cemaes with 11 players. I knew Holyhead needed a keeper so I asked for the move.
“I personally felt like it was the right move less travel to training and a good setup and I knew most the the team/coaches. From when I joined we didn’t lose a single game I played in and got to the final of the Dargie Cup. Biggest moment for me was either beating Cemaes in the league 2-1 or playing Llanfair in the semi final of the Dargie and winning!”
Having well and truly settled in at Hotspur’s New Stadium with Tom Scott’s young and exciting side, Hughes now regards a few of the club’s players, including some from the first team and Scott himself, as some of the best he’s ever played alongside.
He said: “I’ve been very lucky to play was some great players.
Alex Jones is a brilliant CB who is great with the ball, has aerial ability and is a leader. Gives you so much confidence as a keeper when you can trust your CB. Mike Edwards (Eddy) is another fantastic player. Nothing the guy couldn’t do. Could be losing a game and he would turn it around by either scoring a worldie or breezing passed players for a tap in.
“Tom Scott (above) is another one. I wouldn’t say Tom is the most technical gifted player I’ve played with but he brings so much more to the team. He has a desire to win and will give you 100% every game – you always need a Tom Scott in your team. Chris Corrie is one for the future. The guy is a machine who doesn’t stop running and can play defensive or attacking. Can ping a ball and has a great shot too.
“Others I have to mention in this category are Jordan Taylor, Daniel Owen, Casey Boylan and Sam Faulkner.”
As a player who is still only 24 years old, Hughes has been at North Wales’ best academies over the years and has enjoyed many a great personal success to date.
He has won countless Players Player, Managers Player and even Fans Player of the Season accolades for his fantastic efforts between the sticks – as pictured below!
He says he’s learnt a lot from all of his coaches down the years, citing his old goalkeeper coach at Wrexham – Fred – his goalkeeper coach at Hotspur Mervyn Williams and Llanfairpwll’s Spud Thomas as three of the ones who have helped him the most.
Looking forward to the future when football returns with Hotspur, Hughes said: “I’ve really missed the social side of football catching up with friends and meeting new people.
“The hope now is to play a full season of football, winning a few trophies on the side would be nice too!”