James Pallatt: Collapse of Hughes move leaves me with muddied shoes and mind
I HAD muddied shoes and mind by the end. Lee Hughes' Friday morning began at Port Vale and ended back at Notts County, while mine started at Meadow Lane and finished on a boggy field in Beeston.
Talk about a bizarre two hours, or, at least I think it was two hours. It's all still a bit of a blur.
There have been a few surreal moments in the last few years reporting on the Magpies, with Sven, Sol and the Premier League dream, which turned into a nightmare, and now this.
The collapse of Hughes' loan move from Notts to Vale was because the League Two club missed Thursday's league deadline for paperwork by three minutes.
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Let me explain it all. I got to Meadow Lane at around 9.30am for a press call ahead of the Magpies' League One clash against Swindon Town today, expecting the club to confirm Hughes' exit and the signing of a new striker to replace him.
I had barely sat down in reception when Chris Iwelumo, the replacement, arrived and was led through the players' entrance by the club physio.
Shortly after, all the local press were led through the same doors to interview Alan Sheehan ahead of facing the Robins, his former club.
Once pitchside we were given an embargoed press release. It's top line read: "Notts County can confirm that striker Lee Hughes has joined npower League 2 outfit Port Vale on an emergency loan."
The club were just waiting for official confirmation of the deal from the Football League, so it was all straightforward. Hughes gone. Iwelumo in, on loan until the new year.
With that in hand, Sheehan was asked about the departure of his team-mate and he said: "He will be missed by the fans and the players.
"He's a good friend of mine and he's a very popular guy in the dressing room.
"Like the fans say 'there's only one Lee Hughes', but we've got a new striker, in Chris Iwelumo, who's got a wealth of experience, so we need to concentrate on getting a win."
We were then invited into boss Keith Curle's office and after talking about his decision to sign Iwelumo from Watford, talk turned to Hughes, inevitably.
"Lee Hughes' representatives found out about an interest from Port Vale, then Lee came to see me on Thursday morning and said he'd like to go," he said.
"He wanted to go and play more games so I told him that if I could get a replacement that would benefit me and the club, I didn't have a problem with letting him go for a month – and I found one.
"Lee has not been forced out. He asked to go," he went on.
"I think any player that is not in the starting 11 is going to be unhappy, but the team has been playing well and when he's been called on he hasn't let me down.
"I've not got a problem with Lee and what he has contributed to the team, he's done very well.
"But the next level is things change."
With Hughes a hero to Magpies' fans, having scored 65 goals in three-and-a-half seasons, Curle knew it was a bold decision, but added: "That's what I get paid for.
"If it was down to favourites, Tommy Johnson would still be sat in the changing-room here because he's a fans' favourite, he's an iconic player for the club."
Iwelumo was next, but he had already left for training with his new team-mates by the time we had finished interviewing Curle so the Magpies boss gave us permission to head over to Highfields to speak to the Scotland international and we did.
He was doing a warm-up with the rest of the first-team squad when we arrived, but Curle pointed him in our direction.
Determined not to cool down, the 34-year-old's answers were punctuated by stretching and jumping, and like the rest, he thought Hughes was gone.
"I'm here to do a job. Lee Hughes going out, he's a fantastic player and a great character as well. I've known him many, many years and he was fantastic for the club and scored a lot of goals," he said.
"I wouldn't say I'm replacing him." How right he was.
He will now be competing with him for a place in the Magpies' attack because as he jogged off for more twists and turns, Curle told us of the biggest twist of all. Hughes' move had fallen through, words that were greeted with open-mouthed disbelief.
Off? Curle quickly explained. Vale had just failed to submit the paperwork for the deal before the loan deadline at 5pm on Thursday so the League had rejected it. Hughes was on his way back, not that he has ever really left.
Notts later released a statement and their chief executive Jim Rodwell said: "A proposed loan deal for Lee Hughes to go to Port Vale was discussed, however as it was so late in the day, the paperwork did not go through in time and we're delighted to confirm that Lee remains a Notts County player."
The fans are delighted too, of course. I'm off to clean my shoes.