IF ANY Stoke City supporter over the age of thirty was asked to pick their all-time Potters Xl, we would feel pretty confident that the name Alan Hudson would almost certainly appear in one of the midfield positions.
Anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing him perform for Stoke during his, and our, hey-day in the mid-seventies will testify to the incredible talent that was Alan Hudson. Can Stoke City ever have had a more naturally gifted midfielder than Huddy?
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, the game was blessed with some of most flamboyant entertainers ever to have graced English football pitches. There was George Best of Manchester United, Rodney Marsh of Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United’s Tony Currie and the nomadic Frank Worthington. To that list you could quite easily add the name of Chelsea’s Alan Hudson.
Chelsea and Alan Hudson went together like Christmas and Santa Claus, and it was hard to imagine him at any other club, and certainly not one outside of London. As was the norm with his kind of player, Huddy had something of a playboy image, always up with the latest fashions and a regular patron of the trendy Kings Road nightclubs.
Having made his Chelsea debut at the tender age of seventeen, Huddy seemed destined for a glittering career at Stamford Bridge. Before his 21st birthday, he had already won a European Cup Winners Cup winner’s medal, played ten times for the England U-23 side and picked up a League Cup runners-up medal.
The thought of Alan Hudson even contemplating leaving Chelsea at this point seemed laughable, but not half as much as the prospect of him signing for an “unfashionable” club such as Stoke City. However, during those Waddo-inspired days, miracles did happen, and incredibly, in January 1974, The Potters shocked the country by clinching Huddy’s signature for a fee of £240,000. In fact, Waddo had even offered Chelsea £500,000 to team Huddy up with his fellow Blues star, Peter Osgood, one of the most prolific strikers in the game, but failed to complete that half of the deal.
The transfer had amazed everybody with few unable to understand why Chelsea would part with a player as gifted and influential as Alan Hudson, and even fewer could understand why a player like Hudson would come to Stoke.
The fact of the matter was that Chelsea were flat broke and Huddy was genuinely convinced that Stoke City were a club going places.
Perhaps he’d been influenced somewhat by being on the losing side against Stoke in the 1972 League Cup Final, but undoubtedly the real reason was Tony Waddington and his ability to sell the potential of the club to any player. Huddy has often said that it was Waddo who impressed not only himself but also his father, who advised him to sign for Stoke City.
There are those who argue that one player doesn’t make a team, and maybe they are right. However, in the case of Alan Hudson and Stoke City we saw an example of one player exerting such a massive influence over the club that he was able to completely turn around the flagging fortunes of the team.
When he arrived at the club, Stoke were lying precariously in 17th place in the First Division, and the only real aim for the rest of the season was to avoid relegation. From the first match Huddy played in though, against Liverpool at the Victoria Ground, the season began to take on a whole new complexion.
Crowds came pouring back through the turnstiles, results improved dramatically and Stoke began to bulldozer their way up the table. Some of the Huddy-inspired football was breath-taking, and the division sat up and took notice, particularly on a memorable day in February when Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds United side was stopped dead in its tracks. Leeds had arrived at the Victoria Ground unbeaten in 29 league matches since the start of the season, needing only to avoid defeat to equal Burnley’s 53 year-old record of 30 matches.
Leeds’ hearts were broken though, and Burnley’s record remained intact as Stoke pulled off a sensational, and some would say unlikely, 3-2 victory, with Huddy scoring his first goal for the club. That was the highlight of a memorable second half of the 1973-74 season at the Victoria Ground, as Stoke went on to finish fifth and clinch a place in the following season’s UEFA Cup competition.
Huddy had shown what a massive difference one player could make to a team, and he showed that the brilliant start to his Stoke career had been no fluke by improving his form into the 1974-75 season, when he was an ever-present in the side, as Stoke made a genuine attempt at winning the Championship.
Alan Hudson was the conductor of the orchestra for Stoke, and the media and experts enthused over his exceptional midfield form. There was no shortage of people queuing up to heap praise on a player who simply had everything you could wish for in a midfielder.
Though passing was his forte, Huddy was blessed with superb vision and awareness, he could tackle with the best of them and his ability to dribble put many a winger to shame.
Huddy’s supreme ability was all the more breathtaking considering some of the pitches on which he demonstrated his genius. On pitches that resembled a bog, and would almost certainly now be deemed unplayable, Huddy showed that they were playable. Sometimes your memory plays tricks on your mind, but fortunately proof is available. Just take a look at Huddy’s performances against Derby County and Manchester City on the ‘Magic Moments” video and you’ll see just how incredible his talents were.
Such a talent could not long be ignored by England and sure enough Huddy was called up to the national side by Don Revie. An unfortunate drink related incident during his time in the Under-23 team had seen Huddy banned from the England team for some time but once he was back in the frame he took his chance in glorious fashion by masterminding England’s midfield in a 2-0 win over world champions West Germany at Wembley and then earning a second cap against Cyprus in a European Championship qualifier. Huddy again played his part but it was big Malcolm Macdonald who grabbed the headlines by scoring all the goals in England’s 5-0 victory.
Incredibly though, that was to be it for Huddy’s international career. Don Revie was at the time destroying what little chance he had of making a great England team by refusing to pick any player who showed the least bit of individuality or dared to question his robotic methods. Not surprisingly Huddy was one of those players and tragically he was ousted from Revie’s plans.
What a criminal waste that a player like Huddy should make only two international appearances while other far less talented players went on to grab a display cabinet full of caps. We are almost too embarrassed to think of modern players like Carlton Palmer and Geoff Thomas making more of an England career than Huddy did.
Whether his shoddy treatment at the hands of Don Revie affected him or not we don’t know but things took a downward turn for Huddy after that.
The 1975-76 season was not a good one for Stoke. They failed to live up to expectations, finishing in mid-table, and Huddy himself had a much quieter season. As any Stoke fan will know the 75-76 season was doubly disastrous for Stoke as it saw the event which would plunge the club into a crisis from which it would never fully recover.
The storm which blew the roof of the Butler Street Stand also blew out the flame that had flickered so brightly for Stoke City in the Seventies. Players had to be sold to cover the costs and Huddy became one of those players when he moved to Arsenal for £160,000 shortly into the 1976-77 season.
You would have thought that a move back to London would have been ideal for Huddy but his choice of clubs was more debatable. The Gunners are not the type of club you would associate with a player of Alan Hudson’s style and character and sure enough, despite an FA Cup Final appearance in 1978, Huddy never really settled in at Highbury and in the summer of that year he had his contract cancelled.
Like so many other players at the time Huddy tried his luck with the Seattle Sounders in the American circus that was the NASL. Huddy may claim that he enjoyed his time in the States but it was a level of football that was never really taken seriously by the rest of the world and for the people who had so adored him in his time in England it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.
You might have been forgiven for thinking that Huddy was finished in English football but he crept quietly back to Chelsea in 1983. He failed to make any impact back at Stamford Bridge but he was to have one last moment in the sun as Bill Asprey turned to him in a time of need for Stoke.
The Potters were rooted to the bottom of the table and in need of a miracle to escape. Huddy was brought back to the Victoria Ground in a deal that took Mickey Thomas to Stamford Bridge and amazingly history started to repeat itself.
His legs may not have been as good as they were but his brain had lost not of its awareness and he inspired a Stoke revival that made the “Great Escape” pale by comparison.
He missed over half of the following season, though it is highly doubtful whether even he could have done anything to help a Stoke side that had relegation written all over them from the first game of the season to the last.
After a mere handful of games at the start of the 1985-86 season Huddy picked up a hamstring injury which led to him finally hanging up his boots for good at the ageof 34. It was as a quiet end to a career that had certainly had its share of great moments but which had achieved only a mere fraction that his talent and potential had promised.
With his playing days over, Huddy chose to stay in The Potteries area and embarked upon a series of usually failed business ventures, not least his nightclub in Newcastle. Nowadays though Huddy is more well known for his weekly column in the Sentinel which has seen him stir up a great deal of debate, and often anger, with his controversial and strongly held views.
He gets a lot a criticism for the things he writes in his columns but it would be a tragedy if Stoke supporters, particularly the younger ones, were to forget just what a brilliant player Huddy was for Stoke. In many ways he is similar to Jimmy Greaves, who is thought of these days as an outspoken and often ridiculed TV pundit but was, in his day, one of the greatest strikers England has ever produced.
Huddy’s career can be likened to that of George Best. Both players blessed with an incredible talent and yet both guilty of wasting what should have been the greatest time of their career. George Best was effectively finished in English football at 26, and Alan Hudson was packing his bags at Arsenal and heading off to America at 27. Both players seem to have self-destructive tendencies which cannot have helped them during their playing days. With Best it was a basic lack of discipline and an obsessive love of the fast life. Though Huddy is well renowned for his social activities it is more likely his mouth which has got him into the most trouble.
When Huddy has something on his mind he comes out and says it, as we’ve witnessed many times in his columns. He’s constantly “having a go” at people and personalities from his own playing days and you have to feel that he didn’t get on too well with them then either.
Making enemies of people is never a good thing to do but it seems that Huddy made a few in his time. How many of these people were instrumental in denying him the chance of improving his playing career and how many have helped stick a knife into his hopes of staying in the game, perhaps in a managerial capacity?
His attacks on ex-Stoke team-mates currently holding managerial positions (Shilton, Pejic and Smith to name but three) and indeed other managers suggests that Huddy is aggrieved that players that he considers were less talented than him have got on in the game while he has not.
The petty squabbling that goes on between Huddy and Stoke fans these days (ourselves included) and his needless attacks on other figures in the game do not do him justice. He was a brilliant player for The Potters but he has done much to diminish his respect and stature with a Stoke following that once hero-worshipped him but has long grown weary of his bitterness and rantings, especially at a time when the long-suffering supporters have at last enjoyed at least a modicum of success.
The Huddy we like best is the one who did his talking with a football, not with a pen. The Huddy we prefer to remember is the one who could drink an Irish Navvy under the table on a Friday night, and then go out and take the Liverpool midfield to pieces on the Saturday afternoon.
One of the best stories you’ll ever hear from a footballer is the one Huddy tells relating to the famous free-kick at Birmingham in 1974-75, when he and Geoff Salmons are seen talking over the ball before Salmons floats in the kick for Jimmy Greenhoff to score with a header. The match commentator commends them for their tactics but Huddy will tell you they were actually discussing the route of their pub crawl that evening and which nightclub they would be visiting.
Now that is the kind of character Huddy was, and should be remembered for. A brilliant player from the Kings Road who, on his day, really was the King of the Road.
The article first appeared in Issue 108 of The Oatcake in on 10th December 1994