Gentle giants rarely make difficult decisions but Hudd did two summers ago. Perhaps he had no choice but Hudd left the comfort of White Hart Lane after eight years of bit-part prosperity. He had cruised in on a wave of early promise but the water was getting shallow and the shoreline was in sight. A manager once compared him to Beckenbauer but the talk didn’t do much good. There was only so long that Hudd could just take the money and jog. His hair reflected this complacency, growing wilder with each stray shot and each game gone missing. The consensus was that Hudd had everything except desire – two great feet, a languid grace and the vision of Hoddle. Like the hyena, Hudd had the strength of a lion but the heart of a mouse.
To Hull he went to prove them all wrong. At the base of their midfield, Hudd slowly woke from his slumber. His pace rarely quickened but there was a new determination to drag himself around that field. Hudd began to dictate games against the lesser teams, lazily but effectively, as the loyal ones always knew he could. The eternal teenager was showing signs of responsibility and discipline. Hudd rarely crossed the halfway line and developed a keen eye for the good foul. His pass completion rate was better than Garry Barry’s, and some of them even went forward. The England calls came round again like suitcases at baggage reclaim.
Just occasionally, Hudd was spotted around the edge of the opposition box. Excitement would build and the shots would soar. The hair remained, bigger and heavier than ever, like Atlas holding up the world. It was more than two years since Hudd had scored. The charity fund he’d started had raised over £20,000. In his youth, his shot had been a fearsome weapon; in training, he found the net for fun. So why couldn’t he do it when it mattered most? Hudd didn’t know but he’d keep plodding along.
Against Fulham, Hull found themselves 3-0 up with half an hour to go. The fans knew there was only one way to confirm this unexpected demolition. And so the story played out. The ball came to Hudd on the edge of the penalty area. There was a collective groan from the crowd, with eyes tracking the imagined trajectory into the stands. It sat up perfectly for him to blast on the volley but this time Hudd had a smarter plan. He dummied the approaching defender with his right foot, making space for the composed finish. Swinging a sluggish left foot at the ball, it rocketed into the bottom corner.
Hudd had never looked so animated as he charged off to celebrate, a beast unshackled. He couldn’t wait for that haircut. On the touchline, the physio stood waiting with the scissors. They’d been wearing a hole in his pocket for months but Hudd wanted to get the performance just right. He held out a single lock for the cutting. It was just a token snip for the watching world but already Hudd felt lighter.
In the aftermath, the media gathered for the big event. Hudd sat on his throne and was shorn like a sheep. Holding court, he described his new style as ‘a tamer Mr T’. The smile never left his face but the critics had their qualms. What if Hudd was a modern day Samson, powerless without that huge head of hair? Had it been the reason for his rejuvenation?
At first, the doubts were largely assuaged. With his new streamlined look, Hudd led his team to Premier League safety and the verge of FA Cup glory. He scored goals against Cardiff City and West Ham, followed by a phenomenal solo strike against Sheffield United in the semi-final. It was the greatest expression of New Huddism; he drove from deep, he exchanged the one-two, he sprinted, he beat the man and he curled calmly past the keeper. Spurs fans watched on and wondered what might have been.
Sadly, it proved to be a false dawn. Second season syndrome hit Hudd like a strong dose of valium. His hair was gone and the goals had finally arrived – what more was there to achieve? He returned to the shade, half-heartedly chasing ghosts around the football pitch like a sad, clumsy drunkard, always one step off the pace. With Carrick back, England would never come a calling. The hair got shorter and shorter, and Hudd became increasingly cantankerous. Joey Barton grabbed his testicles and he traded blows with Mario Balotelli. Hudd scored zero and got sent off twice in 31 games. His midfield partner-in-crime tested positive for cocaine. Hull were relegated.
Hudd looks very presentable but he is now a Championship player.