I was having a drink with Tony Millard, proprietor of fabled North Cheam Chelsea stronghold hostelry Tones Bar, a few weeks ago when he mentioned that he planned to host a tribute evening in his drinker in honour of the incomparable Blues legend Alan Hudson, with the great man himself being the guest of honour.
I’m pleased to report the date is now in place … Saturday December 15th. As an aperitif to the following days trip to watch Chelsea take on ‘the’ Arsenal at the Emirates library it promises to be a magical evening of true Blue bonhomie, with many other Stamford Bridge faces rumoured to be putting in an appearance.
Alan Hudson is a true football icon. Revered by old-school Blues supporters and the schoolboy generation to which I belonged at the time he graced the hallowed Stamford Bridge turf, the very mention of his name conjures up memories of the kings of the Kings Road era Chelsea side that brought panache, verve and flair to the English game during the glamorous years that followed the national sides World Cup triumph of 1966.
Born in Upcerne Road, a gentle stones throw from the Bridge, as a boy Huddy, by virtue of his father Bill’s roots, grew up a Fulham supporter taking his early playing cues at Craven Cottage watching the legendary Johnny Haynes who was coming to the end of an illustrious playing career. Displaying an incomparable degree of prodigious class and natural ability in the jumpers-for-goalposts fenced playground young Alan and his schoolmates called The Cage, it was a natural choice for Dad Bill to bring his son to the attention of Fulham Football Club … who promptly rejected the twelve year old for being ‘too small’.
Chelsea was the logical progression and Alan served his youthful sorcerers apprenticeship at Stamford Bridge under the watchful eye of then manager Tommy Docherty, his keenness to progress in the game encouraged by the sight of a shiny young diamond from Windsor by the name of Peter Osgood being given a first team opportunity at an early age. At 16, injury denied Huddy the chance to become Chelsea’s youngest ever debutant and he would be 17 years old when he made his first team bow in a depleted Blues side that ended up on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering at the Dell against a Mick Channon inspired Southampton. It wasn’t a loss of form or injury to senior players that had given Alan his opportunity against the Saints, more a case of first-teamers, Ossie, Tommy Baldwin, Johnny Boyle and Charlie Cooke being dropped as a result of getting caught drunk and incapable the previous day in Barbarellas, the fashionable drinking den adjacent to the Bridge.
The following season, Huddy established himself as the creative playmaker in Dave Sexton’s team that went on to finish third in the old First Division. Alan played every game in Chelsea’s glorious 1970 FA Cup run, an injury cruelly depriving him of the opportunity to play in the final at Wembley and the infamous Old Trafford replay victory over Leeds United.
As a member of the Chelsea team that triumphed over Real Madrid in the replayed European Cup Winners Cup Final in Athens the following May, Alan Hudson reached the pinnacle of a relatively short playing career for the Blues which ended in 1974 after just 189 games at the tender age of 22. Following a disagreement with manager Sexton, and with the Clubs finances in a parlous state, the immediate legacy of the punitive cost of constructing the East Stand, Huddy was sold to Stoke City for the paltry sum of £240,000.
My fondest childhood recollection of Alan Hudson came one Thursday evening back in the Spring of 1972 as I sat in front of our old black and white TV to watch Top of the Pops, an obligatory ritual back in the day. Suddenly, there he was … with his trademark raggedy mop of hair and mutton-chopped sideburns warbling away with the rest of the Chelsea team what has become the seminal Blues terrace anthem, Blue is the Colour. Brilliant! We can shine all the time, the track reached the giddy heights of number five in the charts performing better than the gloriously unpredictable Blues who were undone in the League Cup Final, for which the track had been released, by unfashionable Stoke City in whose red and white stripes Huddy would find himself playing his trade just two short years later.
Coupled with his natural flair, Alan Hudson had a playboy maverick streak that saw many liken him to his contemporary Georgie Best, and it is a combination of these factors that have ensured he will always remain close to the bosom of Chelsea fans. Our favourite wayward son spent a couple of years in the Potteries before returning South to join ‘the’ Arsenal, for which he has long since been forgiven, helping the Gunners reach the FA Cup Final in 1978. His England career was restricted to just two caps, one of these coming in a famous 2-0 victory over reigning World Champions, West Germany in 1975. ‘This is the finest international debut I have ever seen’, enthused German legend Franz Beckenbauer, but sadly injury and a fractious relationship with manager Don Revie restricted Alan’s opportunities at international level. A fallout with Arsenal manager Terry Neil, saw Huddy move to North America and the nascent NASL where he played for several seasons with the Seattle Sounders before moving on to Hercules CF in Spain.
The prodigal son returned to Chelsea in August 1983, but injury and illness prevented him from adding to his tally of appearances for the Blues who were battling to gain promotion from the Second Division. Alan Hudson finished his playing career back at Stoke City but it is as a dashing, youthful Chelsea player with a twinkle in his eye and a flashing turn of speed and skill that he will always be remembered.
Unfortunately since his retirement from the game, Huddy has been beset by an unfair number of setbacks, the worst of these coming in December 1997 when he was almost killed in a road accident which left him in a coma and with appalling injuries. Emerging from the coma in March 1998 he was not expected to be able to walk again but the determined side of his nature ensured that he battled back to regain the use of his legs. His autobiography The Working Mans Ballet was published that year to critical acclaim and a subsequent book Alan has written entitled The Tinker and the Talisman provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the man for who’s superlative on field genius could quite possibly have melded with a successful career in management if he had been dealt a fairer hand of cards in the great game of life.
To spend an evening in the great mans company is a rare opportunity too good to be missed. Tickets priced at a very modest £25, which includes a buffet, are selling out fast. For further details please call Tones Bar on 0208 6418224.
See you there … Up the Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classic ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’. His new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ will be published in December. Copies are available to buy, signed if you so wish, with free postage inside the UK and savings of up to 30% at www.overlandandsea.net.