Liverpool will be playing matches on consecutive days in December. In November 1987, one man managed to participate in two games on the same day.
A lot has been made of the fact that Liverpool are being forced to play on December 17 and 18 in the Carabao Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Yet back in the 1980s, matches on consecutive days were a reasonably regular occurrence. In 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1986, Liverpool played League fixtures on back-to-back days, and without the comfort of the huge squads that clubs enjoy in the modern era.
Teams playing matches in a short space of time is one thing. But how about a player taking part in two matches during the same day? On November 11, 1987, Mark Hughes accomplished this feat. For a man who had been short of match action, it was very much a case of making up for lost time.
It was no secret that Hughes had been enduring a nightmare since his move from Manchester United to Barcelona in the summer of 1986. Whereas fellow new signing Gary Lineker hit the ground running, Hughes struggled in Spain, his playing style not appreciated by the Barcelona fans or press. “For the most part it was a full-blown, X-rated horror story,” Hughes admitted in Sparky: Barcelona, Bayern & Back.
By the start of the 1987/88 season, Hughes’ days at the club were numbered. Frozen out of the first team and desperate for a return to Manchester United, the Welsh striker knew a move back to the UK before April 1988 would cost him thousands of pounds in tax, since he had not been abroad for the full exemption period. And then came a lifeline.
A loan deal with Bayern Munich until the end of the season was agreed. At last Hughes had “escaped from the physical and mental torture of his ‘imprisonment’ at Barcelona,” as Clive White wrote in the Times. Scoring a goal and making another on his debut against Bayer Uerdingen, Hughes was understandably delighted.
“I was getting credit for things that were part and parcel of my game that would never get a mention in Spain,” Hughes declared after his debut. “I was given more opportunity to get into the penalty area, which I was rarely given at Barcelona. I think I can do well there. I'd like to repay Bayern for their faith in me.”
That last sentence was crucial in relation to the events of November 11, 1987. With Bayern General Manager Uli Hoeness desperate for Hughes to build on the momentum of his debut, the former German international insisted that the loanee had to play five days later in the German Cup against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Nothing unusual in that. But there was a tiny snag; on the same day as Bayern’s match, Hughes had the small matter of a crucial European Championship qualifier for Wales against Czechoslovakia in Prague. However, Hoeness was not going to let this mere inconvenience get in the way of his plan.
“Soon, he was off making dozens of phone calls,” Hughes explains. “Private jets, standby cars, minute-by-minute schedules. I couldn’t believe what was happening.” Hughes, who had played just three games in two months – two of those for Wales – was now being prepared to see action in two matches on the same day.
A Wales win would see them qualify for Euro 88; sadly, the 2-0 defeat proved another case of so near yet so far for Welsh qualification hopes in the 1980s. Not that Hughes had too long to mope about the situation as he got back to the dressing room.
“Hustler Hoeness made sure of that,” Hughes wrote. “Outside engine revving, waiting to hurtle us to the airport, was…a Lada. I’m not kidding. Through the Czech countryside we zoomed at all of 30mph, but in that heap it felt as if we were breaking the land-speed record.” Reaching the airport, a private jet waited to whisk Hughes away.
Hoeness’ Porsche was available to hastily transport Hughes from the airport to the Olympic Stadium. Just over two hours before, Hughes had been playing for his country; as the second half of the Bayern match commenced, he was now in his Bayern kit, warming up on the touchline.
“Hoeness had deliberately not told any of the players, officials or public of his secret scheme,” Hughes recalls. “So I was smuggled into the stadium and kept in hiding upstairs until the team had gone out for the second half. He wanted maximum psychological impact – and he got it.”
Before Hughes could get on to the pitch, Gunter Thiele put the visitors 1-0 up. It was time for one of the most surprising substitutions in football history. “Nobody could believe it. I was supposed to be hundreds of miles away in Prague. It wasn’t possible. And nobody was more stunned than the Borussia players.”
Lothar Matthaus equalised, and Hughes almost completed the fairy tale when a trademark volley went close late on. Extra-time followed, with two Michael Rummenigge goals giving Bayern a 3-2 win. Hughes admitted in his book that the whole affair had left him feeling good about himself.
“It’s good to have the ego polished occasionally – particularly after my recent experiences – that particular exercise certainly did my heart good. To consider that any club would go to such lengths for a single individual player was quite staggering. It didn’t just make my day, it made my season…And almost convinced me to stay for another couple of years.”
Alas, Hughes found the pull of his boyhood club was just too much to resist when Manchester United came calling at the end of the season. But the love that Bayern had shown him, the support provided, and the fact that his spell in West Germany had got him back on his feet made the decision to turn down Bayern that much harder.
As Hughes hinted, it’s not every day that a club would bend over backwards to accommodate one of their players. But on that one particular day in November 1987, Bayern Munich went the extra mile to ensure that Mark Hughes would become part of a story that still beggars belief.