RIP Hughie: football aficionado and unashamed Christian

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Hugh Peter Southon: May 3rd 1944 – March 23rd 2024

The third of May is not stand-out date for many of us. Indeed, it’s difficult to find anything of significance in history that happened. The best I can offer is it’s the day before Star Wars Day, and it’s officially Press Freedom Day (no, I’d never heard of it either).

This year, it is when the funeral of Hughie Southon took place in his hometown of Rugby. So, it is now a day that has assumed real importance for me.

Many readers of this magazine will have pored over Hugh’s words in Sorted over the years. He was a prolific writer of sports content and had firm views about music and the Rolling Stones. On occasion, like many of us, he could be cantankerous. But the man I knew for 36 years was generous and kind, and always passionate about his Christianity, never flinching away from a difficult conversation with a believer, non-believer or searcher. And once you met Hugh, you never forgot him.

Hugh died peacefully at home on March 23rd. He had been suffering from the disease COPD for many years, claiming whenever he suffered a coughing fit or breathing difficulties, it was the price someone like him paid for once being “a 40-fags a day man”.

His passing has been mourned by football fans all over the country, particularly those associated with one club in particular: West Ham United. Hughie had a deep and life-long affection for the Hammers. He followed them through the good times and the bad, and the club’s trials and tribulations on the football pitch, in some part, were a reflection on some of the difficulties Hugh faced in life. Yet his support for West Ham never waivered. Neither did his faith, or the love he had for his family.

A Fleet Street man to his core, Hughie was a talented and determined journalist. For more than 25 years, as an established and respected freelancer, he wrote for virtually every national newspaper there was (with the exception of the FT). The sports sections of the tabloids were his favourite home. That’s where, as a fresh-faced 23-year-old, I first met him.

Twice as old as me, Hughie didn’t react adversely to my appointment as his sports editor on a national Sunday newspaper, even though I was inexperienced, naïve and a “bit of a plonker”. Many would have resigned on the spot and given their unambiguous views for all to hear on the way out the door. Hughie didn’t. He assessed me quickly, decided he could work alongside ‘Yorkie’ – and quickly became someone I could trust implicitly. In a short space of time, he helped me improve my decision making, man-management skills and writing (I often realised our roles had been reversed). As a result of his generosity and willingness to support me, we quickly became friends. It was a friendship that lasted for almost four decades.

For the last 10 years, or so, quite unintentionally, Hughie built a phenomenon known as Claret & Hugh: it is a website dedicated to West Ham, delivering news, features and match reports on a daily basis. In every part, it represents everything that he loved about football. And it gave him an important channel to air his views and use his considerable knowledge and energy.

When he first started writing for his new baby, it was as a blogger. Almost overnight – and with little knowledge of technology and the ways of the Internet – Hughie found himself writing for hundreds of thousands of people every week. Soon it would become millions. Aged 70, he had found his niche. And he never looked back. Today, the site is a business employing other journalists. It is also an asset that Hughie’s family will be able to benefit from. What a great legacy.

Sorted, and its impact on Christian men, was also something very dear to his heart. Strangely, the magazine’s 100thedition dropped through my door on the very day I found out about Hughie’s passing. It seems very fitting both should be linked like this. For his life, and the continuing presence of the magazine, in its printed and digital formats, are reasons for us all to celebrate.

I started doing so yesterday. And I will continue to do so every year on the third day of May, as I remember my friend, Hughie Southon.

Main Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hugh Southon

Tony Yorke

Tony is an award-winning journalist, a committed charity worker – and the author of The Hacker Chronicles, a series of novels about the English Civil Wars.
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Sorted discusses the big issues of the day – focusing on subjects as diverse as culture, sport, cars, health, faith, gadgets, humour and relationships. We aim to be positive and wholesome in all we do. And we have been achieving this since 2007.

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