One minute he was the Forrest Gump of east London. The next he was hit by a car and tossed into the air like a rag doll. For 13 years, Alan Hudson has lived with the effects of what he grudgingly calls his "accident", but whatever he lost in physical terms that day, the former England midfielder's capacity for strong opinions on the game he once graced remains undiminished.
Ahead of today's Stamford Bridge showdown between Chelsea and Stoke City, the clubs where he was the archetypal maverick playmaker in the Seventies, Hudson reveals a disdain for the he'll-be-disappointed-with-that school of punditry by articulating frank views on John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, not to mention England's captain, Rio Ferdinand.
Along with players such as Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke, Hudson was as high profile as that modern-day quartet, his private life making the front pages of the tabloids. Now 58 and living in north London, he is aware of the argument that their refuelling habits contributed to Chelsea's failure to add domestic honours to the FA Cup they won in 1970.
Yet while alcohol has been a constant and often destructive companion, it did not prevent his gaining a European Cup-Winners' Cup medal against Real Madrid – which he wears around his neck – or from playing for a decade at Premier League level.
Nor has it stopped him sifting through his memories and ideas for a new edition of his autobiography The Working Man's Ballet. The title is a phrase used to define football by Tony Waddington, the manager under whose empathetic patronage Hudson blossomed at Stoke after he and Osgood had a fall-out too far with Dave Sexton, the Catholic disciplinarian in charge of Chelsea. It first appeared shortly before the day in December 1997, at Mile End, which Hudson recalls "changed everything".
"No matter how I'd lived my life, I always loved training," he says. "I'd been out running that morning – I was the Forrest Gump of the East End – and I'd been on the bike. But all the life-threatening injuries I received [from a fractured skull and lacerated bladder to a pelvic haematoma and ruptured kidney] left me in a coma for 59 days and in hospital for a year.
"At one stage the surgeons were going to take my legs off before they experimented with this new equipment called a C-Clamp. But I'm still struggling to walk, let alone jog. I've got nerve damage in both legs, I can't bend my knees, my toes are numb and I've got foot-drop in my right foot which makes you feel you could go over at any second. I was at Euston this week and the escalators weren't working. I just about made it."
But it would be a mistake to assume Hudson is consumed with bitterness. The feet, which danced and schemed their way to second place in the 1970 Footballer of the Year poll (behind Billy Bremner) when he was 18, may be damaged. But the independent spirit and critical faculties are intact, despite setbacks ranging from missing the Cup final and a probable place in Sir Alf Ramsey's World Cup squad due to injury, then being discarded by Don Revie after a dazzling England debut, to his brush with death.
Hudson, who grew up at World's End in Chelsea as a Fulham fan who wanted to "pass like Johnny Haynes and finish like Jimmy Greaves", backed Carlo Ancelotti's side to win the title and stands by his judgement. He also expects them to overcome Stoke, suggesting they will dominate possession, but has doubts over key individuals.
"Terry [who is suspended today] should be very worried about his form, as should Fabio Capello, since the news of his affair with Wayne Bridge's ex," he says. "Until then, I'd have said he was the best centre-back in the world, but the kind of press he's brought on himself is always going to play on your mind. The way he played against Inter Milan is a concern for the World Cup, more so because of the way Ferdinand goes missing.
"I'd take Ryan Shawcross, from Stoke, or possibly Michael Dawson, of Tottenham, because if anything comes into the area, they're on the end of it."
Turning his attention to Drogba, Hudson adds: "Sometimes he looks like he's never played before, others he looks a world-beater. He's strong and knocks defenders about, and sometimes he tries the impossible and makes it come off. But he's definitely no Osgood. Oz had a different sort of strength; he had guile and he glided past opponents, whereas Drogba's all about brute force. When he can't bully a defender he's not as effective. That's another reason why they lost to Inter."
Hudson has monitored Lampard's progress since his days as a West Ham reserve when his own son Anthony, now coaching Real Maryland in the US, was a YTS player. "I can't believe the transformation. Some players just stick to what they're good at but Frank's worked hard on his game. He's always been a tremendous striker of the ball and when he's not doing it, Chelsea aren't the same force. He's as good as anyone in our League, but I wonder if he can stand on the same stage as, say, Lionel Messi this summer."
Stoke, where Hudson was tantalisingly close to a League winners' medal in 1974-75, are no longer blessed with the stellar talents assembled by Waddington, the laissez faire purist he argues would have been the ideal manager for Chelsea rather than Sexton. What they do have, he asserts, is teamwork and organisation, plus a manager, Tony Pulis, who will ensure the players make it as awkward as possible for Chelsea and then United on the final afternoon.
Yet when Hudson calls Stoke "my club", it is as much because of "the people" as anything, the get-well cards from the Potteries easily outnumbering those from Chelsea after the accident. "A load of Stoke fans even visited me when I was recovering in Barts and they were going to Fulham," he says, breaking into a grin. "We ended up in a pub by the hospital."
The Working Man's Ballet (Best on the Planet Books, £19.99)
Thrown into confusion
When he sees Rory Delap unleash a long throw into the heart of a Chelsea defence lacking the suspended John Terry today, Alan Hudson's thoughts will return to his late comrade Ian Hutchinson. Hudson's father Bill recommended Hutchinson, then with Burton Albion, to Bobby Robson at Fulham, but Chelsea signed the fearless striker for £5,000 in 1968. "Hutch's throw made Dave Webb's winner in the 1970 FA Cup final replay against Leeds. Jim Langley at Fulham threw it long too," the former Chelsea and Stoke player says. "The difference with Delap is that he hurls it flat, low and fast. Tony Pulis was very clever in narrowing Stoke's pitch." Noting that another of his old clubs, Arsenal, conceded goals from Delap's missiles in three visits to Stoke, he is less impressed by managers who fall foul of them. "Too many don't know how to defend. Arsène Wenger's an obvious example. In training he obviously concentrates on possession, and going forward, at the expense of basic organisation."Reuse content