Football Read Review: Played-out ballet


JUST before Christmas, I spotted former Chelsea star Alan Hudson outside Fulham Broadway station selling his biography on a stall. I was a little shocked by seeing this rather forlorn figure hawking his book in this way, but if you read his story, you’ll understand that Hudson’s life has not worked out quite like one would have expected.

As someone who saw Hudson in his pomp at Chelsea, a precocious teenager with sublime skills and vision, the Hudson story makes somewhat sad reading. However, he accepts he is the maker of his own destiny and has certainly “lived a life”.

The Working Man’s Ballet is, if nothing else, a great title, and provides some insights on Hudson’s career, starting with the golden period at Chelsea where he was destined for greatness and included in the 1970 England World Cup 40. But it also tells the story of thwarted talent, of under-achievement and a career that should have been laden with more than “what might have been”.

Hudson should surely have won more than two England caps, should have won more honours and, perhaps, should have stayed at Chelsea and become the centrepiece in the club’s team right through the 1970s. However, the move to Stoke, after a fall-out with Chelsea manager Dave Sexton, saw him produce some of the best football of his career. He’s probably regarded more highly at Stoke than he is at Chelsea, largely because his departure from Stamford Bridge was somewhat acrimonious, demonstrated by his first return to the ground when he scored the winning goal. Chelsea fans never sang for the return of Hudson like they did for Osgood’s homecoming.

He basically had just two and a half good years at Stoke before signing for Arsenal, but by the age of 27, Hudson’s career in England was starting to fizzle out. He did return to Chelsea in 1983, but his fitness was always an issue and he never played in the club’s promotion campaign.

Anyone who saw Hudson in his prime will recall a superbly gifted player, potentially one of the best of his generation, but as his book underlines, he could have been so much more than a London version of George Best. He probably adopts the Edith Piaf approach when summing up his life, which has had severe setbacks in recent years. This book relives a fascinating period in football history, most notably the dynamics at Chelsea in the 1970s, but what a player Alan Hudson could have become in the right circumstances and with the right application.

A good, well-written book for Chelsea and Stoke City fans, and although the “maverick” story has become rather clichéd, an enjoyable read.

The Working Man’s Ballet by Alan Hudson is published by London Books.

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