By Les Crang
Anyone who saw Alan Hudson play when he was young and intact will remember a talent to amaze and will feel sad it was so wilfully squandered. In the final analysis the greatest calamity to befall him is the one suffered only by those greatly gifted people who take their talent for granted. He will never know just how good he could have been. - Sir Michael Parkinson
Alan Hudson was one of the ultimate mavericks of the 1970’s. A player with huge talent and a desire to perform on the pitch (when he wanted to), a womaniser and a heavy drinker. A player with two England caps. Along with Frank Worthington, Peter Osgood, Tony Currie, Charlie George, Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh (or just read Rob Steen’s excellent The Mavericks: English Football When Flair Wore Flares). A player with silky skill who played for an attractive Chelsea side (it did exist), Stoke and Arsenal in the 1970’s.
The 1970’s team of Arsenal started so well and then sunk and reappeared briefly in the late 1970’s. Having won 3 trophies between 1969-1971, Bertie Mee had started dismantling the team that had experience by selling players such as Frank McLintock and George Graham, as well as selling the talented Charlie George who were sold for a combined fee of £240,000. It’s not as if Arsenal didn’t try and rebuild the team with more skilled players (the double team was ‘committed’ but hardly attractive). After the double of ‘71, Arsenal started rebuilding the club with some very exciting players such as Alan Ball, Malcolm MacDonald, Brian Kidd and Alan Hudson. We also signed some dross such as Terry Mancini and Jeff Blockley.
Born in 1951, he made his debut in 1968 as a 16 year old. Alan Hudson had started his career at Chelsea, playing in the lead up to the 1970 FA cup final, but unfortunately he broke his leg prior to the Final. Also in the same year Alan Hudson was part of the 28 team to be selected for the preliminary World cup squad (but not making the final 22 member squad), Hudson did have the opportunity of collecting a winners medal but refused as he did not play. Although he did help Chelsea win the European Cup Winner against Real Madrid 2-1. Hudson was also remembered in the 1970-71 for the goal that never was against Ipswich (see below)
The following year Chelsea reached the league cup final, losing to Stoke City 2-1. Chelsea seemed the team of the 1970’s as their fans started talking as if they had a history and a future. I have heard this before?
It seemed Hudson was a playmaker of the 1970’s. A player who could turn it on and cross a ball when he wanted. As Chelsea tried to rebuild the East stand and debts mounted, Chelsea had to sell him to see off these mounting debts. Hudson (in a soon to be repeated instance) had already fallen from grace with Chelsea manager Dave Sexton. In 1974 Hudson left Chelsea for the safe confines of Stoke City and a manager that Hudson respected in Tony Waddington. The season of 1974-75 almost brought Stoke their first title, when they missed out on the league by a mere 4 points. Later, Hudson said of the season and Waddington:-
No one understood me better than Tony Waddington. You could play for Tony because he loved skill – he brought so many great players to the place, starting with Stanley Matthews, and one of my regrets is we could not deliver him the title in 1975.
During Hudson’s time, he had made his England debut against the world champions West Germany. England’s previous match against the German’s at Wembley had ended in an embarrassing 3-1 defeat in a European championship Quarter-Final:-
Gunter Netzer ripped England apart. Within 18 months Alf Ramsey would be replaced with a new manager. The delightful Don Revie, previously of Leeds United. Hudson said he ‘picked me to fail’ for a friendly against the world champions West Germany. Unfortunately, Hudson played an outstanding game, Leaving Gunter Netzer to say ‘Where have England been hiding this player? He was world class’
In a revealing article prior to joining Arsenal, Hudson gave an interview in The Times (license required) that:-
Stoke City and occasionally of England, says, usually a frantic business of “flying about and tackling everyone”. This to any Continental fed on defensive football is the real game; and why should he not be satisfied watching British players take all of the bruises and his teams all of the trophies. Hudson stands for a lot of what the traditional British spectator considers out of character with the staple diet of sweat, kick-it-up-the-middle, get-rid-of-it football excitement. His style of play at Stoke has led him along a narrow Ideological path shared with few other players or plotted with any accuracy by most newspaper reporters. who, he believes, show fundamental ignorance about the game and, particularly, the way he attempts to play it. After many outstanding performances for Stoke and one remarkable game for England against West Germany, Hudson was acclaimed for his cool ability to determine the pattern and pace of an entire match. …his strong views on the way the game is played in Britain, at club and international level, are unlikely to make it easy for him to return to the international scene. In a revealing recorded interview he told O’Sullivan that his first and basic premise was that all football “starts from the back”. He explained: “I think a great example is Beckenbauer ; he starts all the moves off in Germany and he’s a back four player. So it proves, with them being world champions, that this is the right way to do it… We want the players at the back not to panic and use every ball. The more they use the ball, then the more chances we’ve got. If they belt it up the middle and we have to challenge in midfield for it, then we’ve just a 50-50 chance of getting it.” The England team who got knocked out of the European Championship were a hard working side. But you need people who are going to get through with a bit of skill now. Two flashes from that fella Masny for Czechoslovakia won them the game. This is what we haven’t got-apart from Bowles, Osgood and Marsh – anyone that can turn the game on their own. …If people don’t see you rushing around about 100 miles an hour and tackling everyone and kicking everyone they think you’re not trying. The people that go out and try and use a bit of brain and play football have different attitudes on the game.
An intellectual approach by a footballer, with an enlightened view on how the game should be played? This was a rarity in the 1970’s. Footballers were seen at best as oafish fools. Not something that enamoured himself to Don Revie either, who chose him one further time for England.
Although Hudson enjoyed his stay at Stoke, Hudson was transferred to Arsenal after Stoke’s (uninsured) roof got blown off in 1976, causing £200,000 of damage. Hudson also revealed that he needed to leave to pay a £5,000 tax bill he had incurred. The fee Terry Neill paid? The £200,000 for the roof in December 1976.
Neill had signed Hudson as an erstwhile replacement for Alan Ball, a man who had pushed for Bobby Campbell to become Arsenal manager. If Neill thought Ball was headstrong, heaven knows what he thought of Hudson.
The Times (license required) said of his transfer:-
In recent seasons Hudson has been determined to play his own way.He is convinced that the British game is obsessed with speed,and endurance to the detriment of skill. At Arsenal he joins an emerging team and the question is whether he will be allowed to go on pursuing his ideology or be asked to become the main provider for Macdonald… It would seem unlikely that he will be allowed to spend most .of the time building moves from deep inside his own half, as he does at Stoke. I have no doubt that if Arsenal can satisfy Hudson, who is not the easiest: footballer to manage, they will find themselves in possession. of Britain’s most gifted player. Failure to become a regular member of the England team has hurt Hudson far more deeply than he will admit. He won two England caps last year and was outstanding ‘against West Germany.
Neill had already bought in Malcolm MacDonald, an exciting, but greedy striker from Newcastle for £333,333,333 to make for a more exciting spectacle. Supermac said of Terry Neill in particular and Hudson in passing:-
Terry Neill’s revolving door policy as regards players [created problems]. There was a defender called Pat Howard, who arrived from Newcastle. He played around 9 games and then he was gone. In Neill’s opinion, he didn’t fit in. It was like that with the whole team. A hotpotch of idea’s with no one really knowing their place. Several wonderful players couldn’t really get along with his tactics. Alan Ball and Alan Hudson, for instance.
A player of outstanding ability, who had just turned 25, playing in a midfield that included Liam Brady and Graham Rix. Unfortunately, by the second game for Arsenal, against Notts County in the FA cup third round (Trevor Ross scoring the winner). The Times (license required) said of the game:-
Somewhere in the middle of the fast fading impressions is one of Arsenal’s newcomer, Hudson, playing a couple of priceless close passes leading to the winning goal being wonderfully volleyed from 20 yards by Ross… Arsenal’s infuriated supporters were obviously less confident about their team’s new patient outlook than its management and players. They were almost hysterical with rage as the game moved into its 97th minute, but long before that they began begging Arsenal to move more quickly. Hudson was soon told to “get rid of it”. If Terry Neill the manager, had wanted to buy someone to do this, no doubt he would have gone to the nearest public park.
Hudson also had three months of living in a hotel whilst the club looked into getting a permanent residence. This caused Hudson to be diagnosed with severe depression. His football was also taking a dive. Many fans felt he was lazy and worst. In drink. When he got badly injured in a games and went down one disgruntled fan was heard to say:-
A light ale bottle must have fallen out of his shorts and hit him on the ankle.
Rumours of his drinking would certainly come to the forefront in the infamous Australia tour in 1977. Terry Neill, who still had not won over the changing room and not helped by his choice of coach of Wilf Dixon. Arsenal needed a coach that would bring some discipline to the team. On the tour of Australia, senior professionals like Malcolm and Hudson were sent home after Terry Neill had said they had to come back to training earlier to do a money spinning tour of Australia. They were also told they could not drink. On learning this Hudson said ‘The tour was about taking the piss out of Terry Neill’. As Neill had already called the team ‘a bunch of morons’ in the press, in many ways, Neill deserved this backlash.
Whilst on tour in Australia Hudson was given a room at Sydney in which he described as ‘designed for Ronnie Corbett’. They then played poorly on the tour and prior to departing to Adelaide had both Supermac and Hudson went on a drinking spree. As well as getting very drunk the two were asked by some Sydney gangsters whether they would like Neill to ‘disappear’ after hearing their stories of the manager. Both Huddy and Supermac declined the offer. After a heavy session, they proceeded to (just) catch the flight to Adelaide. Drinking on the plane and going to a bar once they landed. An exasperated Neill sent both Hudson and Supermac back to London. The press had a field day. The Times were fairly conservative when they reported (license required):-
Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Hudson, of Arsenal, will be on their way home from Australia today after being in trouble there. A statement from the club said: “As a result of disciplinary action Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Hudson are being sent home today from the Far East tour.” Arsenal are in Adelaide. Macdonald, scored in his club’s 3-2 defeat by Celtic in a four club tournament in Sydney at the weekend. Arsenal had earlier lost. to the Australian national ‘team. They are due to play Red Star Belgrade today. Before moving on to Australia the English club competed unsuccessfully in a tournament in Singapore, which also involved Celtic and Red Star. In Adelaide Terry Neill said that the two English internationals were being sent home as disciplinary action for an incident during the tour. He would not elaborate, saying it was purely a club matter.
On return at Heathrow The Times reported (license required) the pair refused to speak to the press, adding:-
Macdonald stood in the car park, lit a cigarette, sunk his hands in his pockets and refused to speak, although he did quietly break into song: “I’ll do anything for you, anything for you . Earlier, the two Arsenal and England players had insisted on being last to leave the aircraft. They sprinted to the waiting coach clutching yellow duty free plastic bags. As they left the coach at the terminal, Macdonald broke into song, including “I feel so broke up, I wanna go home ” and “You’re so nice to come home to”. Passengers who had traveled on the flight said the players had been drinking orange juice and vodka. Macdonald, looking tired after the flight, was asked by a reporter: “Do you know we’ve been waiting here since six o’clock ?” He replied: “Well I’ve just had a journey lasting 33 hours”. Earlier, he said : “We’ve had nothing but aggro all the way back.”
Both were placed on the transfer list and both were quickly taken off. As Supermac had scored 29 goals in 1976-7 and Hudson had been bought to replace Alan Ball, Terry Neill would have been left losing his two most expensive superstars. Hardly a wise decision to make. A better decision would be just around the corner though for Terry Neill when Don Howe was brought back as coach. Howe brought in better coaching and timekeeping for the team.
The season of 1977-8 was an almost season, with Hudson having some great matches. During this season Arsenal came on leaps and bounds, reaching the semi-final of the League Cup and FA cup final. A memorable game for Hudson was his substitute appearance against Manchester City in the league cup quarter-final. The Times reported (license required):-
Brady, the metronome of this redesigned Arsenal, again provided them with a good flow of passes that should have inspired better things at this stage, but it was only when Hudson replaced Matthews for the second half that some rhythm came into Arsenal’s game. Hudson directed them from deep midfield, and with Price now regularly augmenting the attack, the City goal came under pressure.
That was probably one of the great regrets of my life. I thought I should have been in the original squad. Then someone dropped out and a call came through from Greenwood while I was in the Wellington pub in Sloane Square. ‘With all due respect, Mr.Greenwood,’ I said, I thought I should have been in the side anyway. I don’t want to get picked just because you’ve got injuries.’
By May, Arsenal had made their way to the 1978 against Ipswich. A day which ended in a 1-0 defeat.
Although Hudson had some nice early touches, Hudson was ineffective with both Brady and MacDonald carrying injuries. Afterwards Neill asked what went wrong. Hudson looked Neill in the eye and said ‘You picked the wrong team.’ Terry Neill, had enough of Hudson and by the following October, Hudson had departed for the Seattle Sounders in the USA aged 27 years old. Neill (correctly perhaps) feeling Brady, Graham Rix and David Price could cover Hudson’s position.
In total, Hudson played just 47 games with no goals. Hudson was a frustrating player, who could flit in and out of games, but he was a quality signing, along with Supermac. It showed a new Arsenal were willing to go for these type of players, not the Terry Mancini’s or Jeff Blockley’s. Unfortunately, it seemed to show that Terry Neill was unable to control them, something Neill would find to his cost at his time as manager at Arsenal.