Monday 7 May 2018

Alan Hudson

Huddy gets down on one knee
Alan Hudson was one of the most gifted footballers of his generation. He found fame at Chelsea (1969-1974), infamy with England and later played with Stoke City and Arsenal before decamping for a while to America. In 1997, he cheated death (just, and I mean just) when he was involved in an horrific hit and run accident: an accident that kept him in a coma for two months - the priest actually gave him the last rites.

Now an acclaimed writer and broadcaster, Hudson's autobiography 'The Working Man's Ballet' set the benchmark for all sports bios that followed. These days he lives a modest life in south west London, not a million miles from where it all began in the late sixties.

Being a west London boy signing for Chelsea must have been like a dream come true?

I was brought up in a backstreet prefab just off the King's Road. Strange thing I was the only Fulham supporter in my neighbourhood, along with Bill Boyce, my best friend from Jamaica. I was the best footballer/long distance runner and Bill the best cricketer/sprinter, we won everything. I opened the batting with him but he was incredible and would have made it if not for racial discrimination in those days. Something we experienced together.

My father was Fulham born, Walham Green in fact, therefore it was Craven Cottage for me and I loved it. It was the first stadium I played in winning the London Federation of Boys Club Cup and handed the trophy by Johnny Haynes a great Number 10 and a man who was becoming a good friend before his fatal car accident. There is a picture of this in the original Working Man's Ballet.

The Chelsea dream did not emerge until 1969/70. I was playing for Chelsea Youth team on Saturday morning and going straight to the Cottage afterwards. Chelsea never discovered me, my father, after me being turned away by Fulham for being 'too small', walked me through those big gates at Stamford Bridge and that was where it all started under Tommy Docherty on a Tuesday and Thursday night. Tommy loved me as a player and I became very close to his son Michael, but unfortunately he moved on to Burnley when we were striking up a midfield understanding.

Anyhow, when it took off in late '69 (love that song 'Summer of') manager Dave Sexton moved in and I was out injured with Schlatters disease of the knee - and Dave had never seen me play. He gave me a run out at QPR in Mike Keen's Testimonial and signed me on the spot, and the following week I was in Mozambique with the first team. It was the dream start. It all began in Mozambique. I wanted to play and travel the world with my new friends not knowing we were going to conquer Europe together. Because of me being dressing room bound through my injury I knew the first team lads, but they did not see me as an up and coming player, more of a glorified boot boy. I loved Oz (Osgood), Eddie McCreadie, Marvin Hinton, and John Dempsey who made his debut with me in that disastrous 5-0 whipping at Southampton - not knowing we'd go on to win Chelsea's first ever FA Cup together.

Then my father found Ian Hutchinson playing for Burton against my brother (Guildford) in the Southern League. I was on the Underground coming back from Highbury when my dad told Bobby Robson (then Fulham manager) to 'take a look at this boy, he can do anything' but it fell on deaf ears.
So Chelsea signed him after scouting him at Cambridge. Hutch then was my new mate. You must remember we only had small squads then of 14/15 players. I loved the unsung heroes like John Boyle and Tommy Baldwin who I was with yesterday at Ray Wilkins' Memorial. After that I loved the newcomers Chris Garland and Bill Garner and Peter Houseman  - he he was a lovely man, I loved Nobby Houseman.

Were you in awe of of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke et al?

I wasn't in awe of anyone, I played against Charlie George when I was thirteen West London v Islington at Highbury and thought he was the benchmark, he was something else as a kid.

What was it like being a Chelsea idol?

I never once thought of myself as an idol and always had my feet on the floor because my father, although not strict, guided me carefully and told me if I was going off the rails. I'm not into being idolised even today, I'm simply proud of my career and certain performances - in particular ones I know others cannot reach, apart from say Alan Ball.

Do you remember your first interview you did with Brian Moore on the Big Match in 1970? (I saw it on Youtube recently); despite your youth it didn't seem to phase you.

I briefly remember that and thought I was a little under the weather through a very heavy night of celebration. Interviews never bothered me, in fact, I love getting my views across, especially if they upset someone.

What did Chelsea teach you that you took with you to Stoke and Arsenal?

When I hear 'this player was developed at Chelsea or Arsenal it's 'bull': young players like Charlie, Tony Currie, Stan Bowles, Osgood, Worthington around that time will always be players given the opportunity, I'm not a great lover in coaching, in fact, it destroys more youngsters than improves them. I went to Stoke in the worst form of my life and Tony Waddington took the biggest gamble of his life. But he was a magician, not a coach, a man manager who treats men like men and loves a player and we cracked it from day one, that was Dave Sexton's problem, communication, he should have stuck to the training pitch.

In an England shirt - a rare photograph
Only two caps for England. Their loss, right? 

People don't believe me when I say I should have retired  straight affter my first match against Germany, to show Revie and England management I did not need them. I also knew Revie wanted me out. So, had I thought of it in the dressing room afterwards I would have told Revie where to stick his England team. Had my father had walked in and suggested doing such a thing I would not have thought twice because I had proved my point that I could do it against the likes of Beckenbauer. I should have walked away and the Fleet Street gang would have had an enquiry, and my answer is the England set-up is not only bent but racial: Revie hated us Londoners. As for making Gerry Francis captain I believe he used that as a smokescreen! 

Best goal? Best game?

My best goal came at Coventry when I ran the entire field and slid it past Bill Glazier. Although I didn't score many, those I did were precious. My goal against Spurs for Stoke to give them their first win at The Lane in 100 years was special. And the performance as well. After that match Tony Waddington said "Alan Hudson will play for the World XI before he does England" and someone sat up.
My best performance was when Tony flooded the Victoria Ground pitch because my ankle would not take a third match in four days (Easter Monday 1975) on hard pitches. But the Stoke Fire Brigade came to my aid and I ran Liverpool ragged - that's when Bill Shankly came in and shook my hand saying "Young man, I thought I'd seen the greatest performance of my life by Peter Doherty (Man. City & Northern Ireland) but today you surpassed it, you were magnificent, well done" and he was not one for going into the opposition dressing room after defeat!

Best manager you played under?

Need you ask? Waddington was my manager, my mentor and my best friend at Stoke City; he wanted to be a player like me and saw a lot of himself in me. He loved everything I loved, the good life, best food, best wine, best music, and of course beautiful women - I adored him as a man and as a manager he was the wisest I ever met, a lovely man who loved his football and once told me "You're doing all the right things but in the wrong order."
And I only ever heard him swear once: when staying in my home in London after we went to Epsom races and my house was being decorated and he said to me, "Who's decorating this place?" to which I replied "My dad" he then said "Do you know that they say about decorating?" and I said I didn't. He said, "They say whoever invented decorating needs fucking and whoever invented fucking needs decorating", I was gobsmacked and we went straight down my local pub screaming.       

Your best George Best story? 
Nobby Stiles wishing his hair would blow in the wind
George was special to me in many ways and the stories I heard I took with a pinch of salt like the one with the hotel porter about "Where did it all go wrong, George?" The loveliest thing though was sending me a personal handwritten letter when I got my three year ban from England around the time he walked out on Manchester Utd; he never wrote to anybody. But one funny story was when drinking with Phil Hughes, his agent, after George had promised writing a foreword for an upcoming book. I said to Phil one day 'I'm waiting for George to get back to me' and he said, "George said, you go ahead and write it because he trusts you" so I wrote the most wonderful foreword bigging myself up, and at a book signing a people kept coming up to me saying "I did'nt know how much George loved you as a man and a player" - and I was screaming inside! 

What was it like living and playing in America in the late 70s/early 80s?

Leaving Arsenal was a bitter pill to swallow because I was injured throughout my stay there - which was the reason for my falling out with the manager. If there's one thing I don't do it's cheat or fake an injury. I played over 80 consecutive matches for Waddington with a chronic ankle injury until breaking my leg at Derby. But Seattle and the whole of the American scene was where Alan Hudson belonged: playing at New York Giants' stadium, and partying in piano bars until 7 a.m., thinking 'This is where Billy Joel sang to Christine Brinkley' ...and all that jazz. 
And going away on a 10 day road trip to play in New York, Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale and Chicago and getting paid for it was truly HEAVEN. I loved every single second of my life in the USA, even though it cost me my marriage. I love flying and to fly to such places as captain of Seattle Sounders was as close to my heart as my heart itself. I was devastated when the new owners unfairly fired me.
Plus, I got to play against Franz Beckenbauer, Cruyff, George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia (the Mafia boss), Bogicevic, Neeskens, Muller and Cubillas. It was incredible and the unknown and untapped talent was extraordinary, there were some fantastic players from all over the world. 

Your well documented accident was a game changer. Michael Parkinson aid about the Working Man's Ballet: "Apart from being abducted by aliens, just about everything that could happen to Alan Hudson, has" What have been the truly memorable bits?

My most memorable moments were putting in special performances like against Liverpool (twice) European Champions, Leeds on several occasions, especially when 2-0 down and winning 3-2 at Stoke to stop them breaking the record. The West Germany match simply and purely because Revie selected me to 'fail' and that is for certain as he could have chosen me in any other match before that one but he thought 'I'll save him for the World Champions.' Unlucky Don, and he never looked at me after, no 'well done' or handshake, nothing. That gave me great satisfaction. I cannot tell you the elation of seeing his long face afterwards.

And my greatest experience was coming through my coma and my years in hospital which was something else. I loved every day, it was like playing Leeds every day, a fight after fight after fight, operating theatres were my best friend, I loved them and my family couldn't understand it. One day my water tasted like the finest wine, which I told me uncle George and I went upstairs to see my father and best friend, the experience that has got me through this last twenty years, and people ask me why are you always happy and I say "because I believe in being positive."

What happened to me in 1997 could have happened after my first season in 1971, then I would have been suicidal. 

When did you twig that you could write?
Player turned author

I have always loved writing but in my first season after becoming runner-up to Billy Bremner in the Football Writers Footballer of the Year I spent many an hour in the pubs and clubs in Fleet Street with the likes of Jeff Powell. Nigel Clarke, Bob Driscoll, Ian Gibb, Brian Madley and Ken Montgomery. And had I not been a player,  I would have wanted their life - writing and flying around the world and having one big party.
I find writing the nearest thing to playing, to be able to put your thoughts down on paper and getting things off your chest. And I love writing about great people like Tony Waddington, Bobby Moore, Jock Stein (who I met and loved), Bill Shankly, Cruyff etc, and then there's the other side of that coin Don Revie and Alf Ramsey! 

Music. Big part of your life? First record you bought?

I recall my mother walking me down to the local record shop every time a new Beatles album come out and there were queues of people but I must have it that day, they were my early inspiration, and although I liked Paul at that time, Lennon became my hero.     

Your Saturday night record? 

Saturday nights out was in the Lord Palmerston listening to great pub singers like Ray Morgan 'The Long and Winding Road' who I was going to introduce on TV in that show they had on in those days.

And Sunday morning?

Was always Sinatra in our prefab, or Streisand, although my dad would say "Al Jolson never needed a microphone". But our prefab, even at parties was centred around football with dad holding court in our tiny kitchen and music playing in the living room - it was the perfect upbringing, those days I thought would never end x

Is getting paid for talking about football any sort of consolation for not playing anymore?

I would talk about football and music for nothing as we do every Sunday in my local, I love doing Stand Up Talk Shows - if only I could get more work. I simply love mixing seriousness with funny stories, only real ones, unlike others.
There will never be a replacement for getting up each and every morning and going in to keep fit, have a laugh with the chaps and then Saturday do battle with Leeds. You had to live it to believe the absolute delight of such a life, and yeah, if only we were paid the money today's lesser generation get. 

Is the modern game any good Surely it's not a patch on the 70s when you and Bestie, Stan Bowles, Tony Currie and Frank Worthington were walking tall - on and off the pitch?

Todays game is false in many ways. We were brought up to avoid tackles from Tommy Smith, Norman Hunter, Ron Harris, Giles and Bremner but today they pull shirts because they cannot defend properly. It was a 'Mans Game' a 'Contact Sport' whereas today's game is all about handbags and holding your face when you've had your toe trodden on.

Have you made your peace with Chelsea? 

Chelsea betrayed me. I cost them nothing. My father taught me the game and gave me to Chelsea on a plate. They sold me for £240,000 and me and my family never got not a penny - yet they slag me off. It was not my fault they sold me and Peter Osgood to pay for the new East Stand.

I was there yesterday out of respect for Ray Wilkins but had no contact with anyone but Tommy Baldwin and my old mate Tony Woodcock in the Sydney Arms. Plus, when I was in hospital for that year and after that 59 day coma when my mother and family were in bits with worry, Chelsea could not even be bothered to send her any flowers or make a phone call. I played 145 matches in a blue shirt and yet they snub me!


  1. I saw him once in a pub in Leek.
    He had an aura about him and still looked as fit as a butcher’s dog and as hard as nails.

  2. He’s been thru the wringer, that’s for sure.