Hudson haunted by Ramsey's words

BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Working Man's Ballet by Alan Hudson (Robson Books, pounds 17.95)

Perhaps it is symptomatic of English football at international level that it can bemoan wasted talents such as Glenn Hoddle, yet once Hoddle himself took over as England manager even he was unable to harness successfully similarly mercurial abilities as possessed by Matthew Le Tissier. At least Le Tissier has managed to acquire more than two England caps, though.

Alan Hudson's England career was finished at 24, despite his orchestrating victory over Germany at Wembley on his debut, and in this book, he admits that Alf Ramsey's prediction about him was "chillingly accurate - a feeling of unfulfilment was to haunt my life".

From the moment that Fulham rejected Hudson as a 12-year-old, resentment built up against any and all that did not share his own unbridled faith in his ability. This book details the frustration, anger and depression which resulted.

Hudson's problem was not his celebrated closeness with the bottle, or the ankle that was as delicate as bone china, but that he never hesitated to believe the flattery, while never accepting the criticisms.

Of course, it is difficult to ignore the siren voices when they have the Scottish accent of Bill Shankly, who after one game against Liverpool, took Hudson to one side to tell him, "that was the finest 90 minutes of football I have ever seen. I thought Peter Doherty's performance could not be surpassed, but you just did it".

Not that Hudson was unaware of his problems. For a player with talent to waste, there was too much time spent fighting (often literally) with coaches in faraway bars. He details the near-bulimic state he reached when he tried to control his weight when injured, and the chronically poor medical back up that failed to diagnose his broken leg until the day after the game, after he had managed to walk off the pitch and (true to form) spent the evening in a local night club.

The book is at its best in these sections. Much of the detail of football in the 1970s seems almost quaint by today's standards, such as the way his manager at Stoke, Tony Waddington, would call in the local Fire Brigade to soften the Victoria Ground pitch to help cushion Hudson's fragile ankle. It was Waddington who gave the book its title, perhaps not so pretentious in a football age that has now annexed an anthem sung by an opera singer. But Hudson also spends too long settling scores - in one early chapter he snipes at seven former players, before turning on his bete noir, Dave Sexton, and then Dickie Attenborough.

This is the second version of this book, and an improvement. Since Hudson is so fond of quoting Sinatra, one suspects that were he given a second chance on his career, he would still do things his way, and it would be his fans left with the regrets. Then again, too few to mention.

Steven Downes

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