Painful experience acquainted two prominent names of the post-war era in English football, Jimmy Hill and Ron Greenwood, with the qualities which brought Frank Dudley a highly respectable 120 goals in 295 Football League appearances in an 11-year career that led him from his home-town team, Southend United, via Leeds United, Southampton and Cardiff City, to Brentford.
The setting was a Second Division fixture at Brentford's Griffin Park ground on Christmas Day, 1951. Dudley was playing for Southampton with the score 1-1 when he took possession on the wing. Cutting inside he was faced by Greenwood – later to manage England – who stood off and tried to stall him rather than moving into the tackle and potentially allowing Dudley to pick out a colleague who had joined the counter-attack.
The angle was not conducive to shooting, but Dudley, who Hill – the future players' union leader, manager and TV pundit –described in his autobiography as "pacy, strong and gangly with a penchant for the unexpected", somehow squeezed the ball past the goalkeeper for Southampton's winner. Brentford's manager, Jack Gibbons, denounced Greenwood so vehemently in the dressing-room that he requested a transfer. Hill joined him on the list "out of loyalty and a sense of justice".
Dudley, who scored numerous headed goals and possessed a fierce shot, could play inside-forward, centre-forward or on either flank. He twice won the Professional Footballers' Sprint and secured a place in football's annals for a unique feat in the 1953-54 season. His first three goals were not scored for three different clubs in different divisions, Southampton (Third Division South), Cardiff (First) and Brentford (Second).
At the age of 15 Dudley had stood only 5ft 4in. By the time his RAF service ended and he joined Southend towards the end of their war-time league programme, in 1945, he had shot up to 5ft 11in and developed a turn of pace befitting his club's domicile at the greyhound stadium where they played before moving to Roots Hall. Early in 1949-50, after 33 goals in 88 appearances, he was transferred to Leeds in an exchange deal which saw Albert Wakefield join Southend and Dudley's weekly wage soar from £7 to £12 plus bonuses. Another newcomer settling into Major Frank Buckley's team, 17-year-old John Charles, later commanded a world-record fee of £65,000 and became a prolific marksman for Leeds and Juventus. However, the Welshman was then a centre-half, and Dudley headed the club's Second Division scoring chart with 12 goals in his first season.
He also played a stirring part in Leeds' progress to the last eight of the FA Cup that season, the furthest they had ever ventured, by scoring four times in a run that ended at Highbury against the eventual winners, Arsenal. Midway through the following season, after barely 18 months at Elland Road, he had contributed a further 11 goals when Buckley swapped him for Southampton's Ernie Stevenson. Dudley signed for the Saints on a Leeds-London train.
His consistent scoring record continued at The Dell, where he struck 32 times in 67 matches, although 1952-53 brought fluctuating fortunes. Despite being stricken with appendicitis at one point, he compiled 14 goals from 23 games, 12 coming in a mid-season spree including hat-tricks against Doncaster Rovers and Fulham. Yet Southampton were relegated for the first time and Dudley endured a rare off-night in a fifth-round home defeat by Blackpool in an FA Cup replay. Years later, Stanley Matthews told him, only half-jokingly, that the "Matthews final" would never have happened if he had been his customary ruthless self.
A third exchange deal, sending him to Cardiff with Bobby McLaughlin going the opposite way, saw Dudley enter the First Division for the only time in September 1953. Although he marked his arrival with a goal, he was plagued by knee problems. After only four months and as many matches the Brentford manager Bill Dodgin Snr signed him and saw to it his cartilages were removed. Again he maintained an impressive ratio of goals (32) to games (72), later saying that Brentford – who let him travel from Southend and train with his first club – was where he was happiest.
Leaving the professional game in 1956, Dudley played part-time for Folkestone Town. Between 1961 and '65 he coached the youth team at Southend, one of whose players, John Russell, married his daughter, Sue. In a 25-year career in local government he rose to chief officer but kept up his interest in football, becoming a shareholder and season-ticket holder at Roots Hall. A quiet, modest man who kept a programme and report from every match he played, he spent his final years in a nursing home suffering from the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis.
Frank Ernest Dudley, footballer: born Southend 9 May 1925; played for Southend United 1945-49, Leeds United 1949-51, Southampton 1951-53, Cardiff City 1953, Brentford 1953-56; married Audrey (deceased; two daughters); died Southend 14 September 2012.
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