A long-held opinion within certain quarters in the game is that England has always had a mistrust of ‘flair’ players. These are players who are thought to have had more than an average-sized share of talent, yet for one reason or another not been allowed or encouraged to flourish. As a result, rather than having teams built around their ability, they have actually fallen short in terms of recognition, accolades and, ultimately, tangible success.
The 1970s was a particular period for if not discarding entirely then certainly underutilising and under-appreciating such players. Often referred to as ‘mavericks’, these players were blessed with extraordinary skills and ability and were both crowd-pleasers and match-winners.
Among the names invariably mentioned whenever nostalgia takes us back four decades or so, is that of Alan Anthony Hudson of, most notably, Chelsea and Stoke City.
Now approaching his late 60s and more than three decades since injury finally brought down the curtain on a glittering if slightly frustrating career, Hudson is still seen as a hero at both Stamford Bridge and in the Potteries.
Born in 1951 in Chelsea, Hudson grew up a Fulham fan. Yet, it was their near neighbours that he signed schoolboy forms for. Rising quickly through the ranks, Hudson made his breakthrough in the 1969-70 season in an exciting Dave Sexton-led team.
While such players as Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and Ian Hutchinson grabbed the headlines, it was Hudson, alongside his midfield partner John Hollins, who sat at the heart of the team pulling the strings.
Quickly showing an eye for a pass and an ability to read the game way beyond his still-teenage years, Hudson was instrumental in Chelsea’s cup successes in the early part of the 1970s.
In 1969-70 Chelsea famously won the FA Cup, beating Leeds United in the most bruising of finals after a replay. The shining light of Hudson had been more than peripherally responsible for Chelsea’s march to Wembley, but when the big day arrived Hudson had fallen victim to injury for certainly not the last time in his career and so missed out on a place in the team.
The following season, Hudson did manage a winners’ medal as he played an integral part in Chelsea’s Cup Winners’ Cup success over Real Madrid.
These were heady days along the Kings Road, and the next season Wembley was reached once again as this time Chelsea won through to the final of the League Cup where they met Stoke City. There was to be no hat-trick of successes for the Blues, though, as Hudson’s future club prevailed by a 2-1 scoreline.
Nevertheless, Hudson had made his debut at Wembley after missing out in 1970, and at not yet 21 it was thought that many more opportunities would present themselves.
Into 1973 and Chelsea embarked on an ambitious redevelopment plan designed to turn Stamford Bridge into a futuristic ground fit for the 21st century. Unfortunately, somebody got their sums wrong and so started a plunge into desperate financial difficulties for the club.
This factor combined with a falling out with manager, Dave Sexton, ultimately led to Hudson leaving his beloved Chelsea and signing for Stoke City and Tony Waddington in early 1974.
Without him, Chelsea struggled, while with him Stoke City flourished. In his entire career Tony Waddington was perhaps the one man who most appreciated the skills and talents of Alan Hudson and so it is no coincidence that Hudson played some fantastic football during his two-year spell at Stoke’s old Victoria Ground.
The 1974-75 season saw perhaps Stoke’s best ever side come to within four points of taking the league title before finally having to settle for a fifth-place finish. Once again, instrumental in this push for silverware was Alan Hudson.
Playing with style and vision that belied a steely determination, Hudson really came into his element that particular season and his form was accompanied by calls for him to be included in Don Revie’s England squads.
Revie wasn’t keen on picking Hudson, however. This could have been due to a perceived mistrust of Hudson as a so-called ‘flair’ or ‘luxury’ player or as a fall-out to Hudson’s decision to not tour with the England u23 side a couple of years earlier.
Either way, Revie was unable to resist calls to include Hudson for much longer and so Hudson finally made his debut for England debut against West Germany in a Wembley friendly that was settled by goals from Colin Bell and Malcolm McDonald.
A further cap against Malta, also at Wembley, followed a month later (as did five further goals by ‘Supermac’) but then as suddenly as it began, Hudson’s international career was over. Alan Hudson was forever to remain with just two solitary caps to his name when players with less than half his ability have ended up with scores more.
Back to Stoke, and although the 1975-76 season was less successful than the one that had preceded it, Hudson was still firing on all cylinders and made more than 40 appearances.
Then came one of the weirdest transfers of all time. In the winter of 1976, an almighty storm hit Stoke City’s ground and the main grandstand was badly damaged. For reasons lost in the mists of time, the insurance cover the club arranged had either lapsed or was not sufficient to pay for the repairs.
This meant money had to be raised in another way. The decision was thus taken to cash in on the transfer value of Alan Hudson to the tune of £200,000 and so he was sold to Arsenal.
Two largely injury-plagued seasons at Highbury followed, and although the 1978 FA Cup Final was reached, more Wembley disappointment awaited as Ipswich won a drab final by the only goal of the game.
That summer, Hudson was transferred to America where he spent three years playing for the Seattle Sounders in both indoor and outdoor football.
In 1983 Hudson returned to England and initially signed for Chelsea. Although excitement levels were high at the thought of the return of the prodigal son, injuries and illness meant that he never appeared in the first team.
In January 1984 he was on the move again as he returned to his other old stomping ground, and rejoined Stoke City. By now well into his 30s, Hudson was joining a struggling team, and although his class was still evident, more matches were lost than won.
Relegation was avoided in 1984 thanks to a strong second-half to the season in which Hudson contributed to a run of 33 points from the final 17 games. The following season, Hudson’s last as a player, was a disaster as Stoke were relegated with only 17 points from a 42 game season.
Injuries finally forced Hudson to retire from the game in September 1985.
Although fondly remembered by supporters of all three of his English clubs, Hudson has at times expressed opinions that indicate the feeling is not entirely mutual.
In 1997 Hudson was involved in a horrific car accident that saw him transported through a windscreen. For a long, while his life looked to be in danger and he spent two months in a coma. Throughout this period he received scores of get-well cards and messages from supporters and members of the public, but nothing, he says, from Chelsea the club itself.
The accident itself has left Hudson with life-changing injuries and he is convinced that it was only his background as a professional athlete that ultimately brought him out of his coma and saved his life.
Since retiring, as well as almost losing his life and being permanently injured in a car accident, Hudson has suffered from a whole host of other problems and setbacks. He has at various times found himself broke, unemployed, and homeless. He has had times when he freely admits he has drunk too much and too often, and yet he has also enjoyed other times of impressive productivity.
He is the author of a number of books about football and his life in particular and prefers to write without the aid of a ghostwriter.