Football: Hudson a walking miracle

A life-threatening accident has failed to temper a former Chelsea idol's outspokenness.
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The Independent Online
SIXTEEN DAYS ago, on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon in north London, Alan Hudson, unrecognised by most people in the ground, walked on crutches to a specially reserved seat in the unprepossessing main stand at Hendon.

Tonight, when the Rymans Premier League team try to knock Second Division Notts County out of the FA Cup at the second attempt, the presence of the former England midfielder who has become Hendon's lucky mascot will be spiritual rather than physical.

A year after a terrible road accident almost killed him, Hudson, whose ball-playing skills and flamboyant personality epitomised the fashionable Chelsea side of the 1970s, is back watching football, but only when his health allows.

Hudson's allegiance to Hendon goes back to this time last year when, shortly before his accident, he was invited by a friend to watch them play Leyton Orient at the same stage of the Cup. Hudson saw the non- League team draw the home game, then travelled to the replay and cheered Hendon to an upset win.

Club chairman Ivor Arbiter was so grateful for Hudson's divine intervention that he invited him back this year for what, uncannily, could prove to be a repeat performance. Hendon drew the first game 0-0 but no one involved at the club believes the tie is over, although Hudson has his doubts.

"I would be there with them if it wasn't such a long way away," said Hudson, who only came out of hospital five weeks ago and still has to undergo several gruelling hours of physiotherapy every day. "I'll be trawling radio and television for their progress. They're an honest bunch of players but I have to say I think the task may be too much."

Despite 10 months of hospital treatment, the first two spent in a coma, Hudson has lost none of his outspokenness which, he admits, has not endeared him to much of football's hierarchy. He says, for instance, that he would never go back to Chelsea. "Ken Bates is not one of my favourite people and I think the feeling is mutual," he said. "If Matthew Harding was still in charge, I would have liked to see Chelsea clean up and win everything."

Born a stone's throw from Stamford Bridge, Hudson made 144 League appearances in six years for the Blues before joining Stoke in 1974. In a colourful career, he also had a two-year spell with Arsenal and played for five seasons in the United States before returning to England for further brief stints with both Chelsea and Stoke. He only won two caps but Chelsea fans, past and present, still idolise him.

Conversely, Hudson is unimpressed with the current generation of Chelsea supporters ("hardly any of them are from the area like they were in my day") but has nothing but praise for Gianluca Vialli's championship-contending foreign legion.

"I can't understand why people criticise them. Ten years ago, our game was on its knees. The only reason Chelsea are selling out every week is because of the foreigners. It's the same with the others. Arsenal won two trophies last season but apart from the influence early on of Ian Wright, their success was mainly down to Bergkamp and Overmars. Look at Spurs today: you'd pay to watch Ginola any time. The rest, with one or two exceptions, are pretty ordinary."

Hudson's slow rehabilitation from an accident that left him clinging to life inevitably means he has to pick and choose his games carefully. Since coming out of hospital, he has watched just two matches: Charlton against West Ham and Hendon versus Notts County.

Most of time, he stays at home in Bow, catching as many games as possible on television and radio, keeping himself informed "in case the call ever comes again to be involved in the game".

He thinks that unlikely, given his reputation for making as many enemies as friends and that he is still recovering from his horrific injuries. "I'm out of work at the moment but I'm not one of those who moan about it. It's probably my own fault anyway for speaking out so often but I just can't stand fraud and dishonesty and there is a lot of both in football. For instance, I can't handle mediocre players earning a fortune and cheating the public."

Because there is still a court case pending for compensation, Hudson cannot say too much about what happened back on 15 December last year.

Suffice to say, he had just come out of his local tube station following a sports writers' function in London when he was struck by a passing car.

In all, he needed nine operations. Hospital staff, he discovered when he eventually woke from an eight-week coma, had virtually written him off.

"They as good as said I was a dead man. Apparently, I even had a clot on the brain."

His new goals, as he approaches the first anniversary of a day that changed his life, are numerous. To get back to writing (he used to have a column with the now defunct Sporting Life), to spend more time with his wife Anne and their three children and, crucially, to walk without crutches.

"They told me it would be three years before I could walk unaided. That makes two years from now but I'm determined to get there before that. I've lost a year of my life, remember, and I want to make up for it. I feel very good about the future."