Meeting up with Alan Hudson for the first time today was like catching up with an old buddy.
Warm, down-to-earth, a happy go lucky personality, here is a man at peace with the world and the incredible challenges he has faced in a rollercoaster life that would have derailed all but the strongest of human souls.
When I arrived at the Oyster Room Bar on the Fulham Road, little more than a goal-kick from the Stamford Brige home of his first club Chelsea, the local lad made good was already beer in hand relaxing with a couple of his drinking pals.
To the casual observer there was nothing to suggest that here was one of the most gifted football talents this country has ever produced. A footballing genius whose stand-out performance in a 2-0 England win over World Champions Germany in 1974 earned him the admiration of the great Franz Beckenbauer no less.
Three years earlier, Hudson played a major role in Chelsea winning the European Cup Winners Cup, when the Blues beat Real Madrid in the Final. It was the crowning glory of a dazzling spell in West London alongside equally flamboyant footballers in his good friends Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke.
The only clue to the identity of this unassuming 66-year-old, as I walked over to shake his hand, is the gold medal he won that night in Athens that hangs around his neck. And to be honest that was hidden from view beneath his blue sweater.
Medal of Honour
The truth is there is nothing ostentatious about this talent from a bygone era, who belonged to a rare breed of footballing heroes when he graced English football with breathtaking skill and a swashbuckling style during his heyday in the seventies.
I would say his medal of honour is more like a self-motivational memento that keeps him positive when it would be easy to revel in self-pity. A sobering, daily reminder of the life he used to have and what he achieved, before he retired from the game and was hit by a series of life-changing setbacks that culminated with the most horrific of ‘accidents’.
Hudson was left in a coma and given the Last Rights after he was hit by a car while walking along a London street on 15 December 1997. The conviction that this was no accident but a pre-meditated attempt on his life – ignored by the police who refused to investigate – gives you some sense of the demons he has had to overcome mentally since his miraculous recovery.
The physical challenge on the other hand was even worse. Much worse. He spent 59 days in a coma. He had more than 60 operations, some performed in the ward because he was too ill to be moved into the operating theatre at the Royal London Hospital. And surgeons feared the only way to save his life would be to amputate both his legs.
“If I’d lost my legs to save my life, I would have ended it myself,” Alan told me in a calm, matter of fact manner that did not beg cross examination. His tone was final.
“I would have waited until my birthday in June and thrown a party for all my friends and family. And then at the end of the night I would have taken all the pills I could find and that would have been that.
“I could not have carried on without my legs.”
The fact it did not come to that is truly nothing short of a miracle. Where he got the strength from to fight as surgeons battled to save him is truly awe-inspiring. And a stroke of luck contributed to saving his legs, as he explained to freelance writer Mark Irwin, an old colleague of mine.
“Three days before my accident the hospital had taken delivery of a special machine,” explained Hudson.
“Nobody even knew how it worked but they wired a plug on and stuck me on it and it saved my legs. Another 15 minutes and they would have been amputated.
“My pelvis was totally smashed, I had water on the brain and internal injuries.
“Every time I was close to death, a cross would appear on the wall of my sister’s flat in Chelsea. It frightened the life out of her.
“Her boyfriend was so scared he ran out of the place. They painted the wall and the next time I took a turn for the worse, it reappeared.
“After the Royal London they moved me to St Bart’s, where they replaced my stomach. One morning I was doing some light exercise and my whole bowel fell out. So I had to have the operation reversed.”
The other setbacks he has overcome seem like a walk in the park in comparison. Bankruptcy that made him homeless and a turbulent personal life complicated by a love of alcohol and gambling are the kind of challenges faced by ordinary people. But Alan Hudson is no ordinary person, even if he does pride himself on being ordinary and just a decent bloke who has time for anyone.
His devastating injuries mean he now shuffles around in a permanent state of being reminded of his accident. He gets by on state disability benefits and a small pension from his time at Stoke City, where he moved from Chelsea.
Hudson had a prolific spell at Stoke, where the manager who became his friend and mentor Tony Waddington described the style of football he helped bring the team as a “Working Man’s Ballet” – the title of Hudson’s 1997 autobiography, written shortly before the accident.
Recently updated, it is typical of Hudson, that even on the edge financially himself, he is donating £1 from every book sold to his pal Stan Bowles, who is battling against dementia. The book is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nJx8RK
So too is his new book written by excellent writer and author Jason Pettigrove. Released to mark the 20th anniversary of his accident this Friday (15 December) ‘Huddy’ is The Official Biography.
“Lovingly written by his friend, ‘Huddy‘ describes “Alan’s determined fight for life and how his single-mindedness enabled him, along with the brilliance of the NHS and the support of his closest family and friends, to recover from his horrendous injuries and rebuild his life. Alan Hudson’s fascinating story is one that has never been fully told …until now.”
Having today heard first hand from Alan about his life and how he has survived, I would love to turn his story into a full-length documentary. This is a human story that is much greater than your ordinary biography about a former football star. It is so much more than that and there are many more themes I have not even touched on in this article that are truly fascinating and inspirational. The world owes it to Alan Hudson that his story be told. And if we can raise the funding we need for the documentary to happen, it would be an honour to be the storyteller.
Meantime, on Friday the man himself will be sharing his memories and thanking the people closest to him at a small gathering enjoying “a few drinks” at a local pub in Stoke. “This is a special occasion for me and I want to spend the time with my mates and the people who came to see me when I was in hospital and needed their support,” says the working man’s hero.