Once Alan Hudson made himself at home in Seattle, he never foresaw leaving. This week marks his homecoming.
Hudson has returned to the Emerald City for the first time in 31 years and, among other activities, will join fellow Sounders and FC Seattle alumni at Friday's match versus Vancouver.
While longtime Sounders fans will remember Hudson for being a smooth midfield operator and setting-up many, many goals from 1979-83, he's traveled a very rough road for the past 17 years. His friends, former teammates and coaches have rallied to help make the trip not only possible but one to remember.
Back in 1979, when Hudson's acquisition from Arsenal was announced, it seemed, well, a bit odd. Why in his prime, at age 27, was a bona fide, top-flight English star settling for playing in America?
Hudson had never watched an NASL match, much less set eyes on Seattle. Only a chance encounter with, and endorsement by the legendary Bobby Moore led him to Jimmy Gabriel, the Sounders coach.
"Jimmy is a magnificent man," say Hudson. "I knew that the move was right.
A player strike, injuries throughout the squad and a rapidly improving league made for a challenging first season, yet Hudson was enamored with the city. When Gabriel resigned, he wavered on his commitment to stay. But new coach Alan Hinton won him over, making him captain.
Over the next three seasons the Sounders "could have more than held their own back in England's old Division One" and "played some wonderful football," states Hudson. He envisioned himself playing out his career in the Kingdome, eventually making the transition into coaching.
Hinton says that even with the demise of the U.S. professional leagues in the mid-80s, there would have been a place for Huddy. "He would've been a dream as a youth coach; he knew what players needed to be successful, and he would've succeeded."
In four-plus seasons Hudson assisted on 51 goals in 112 matches across all competitions, a club record. Still, his value could not be measured my mere statistics.
Unfortunately in 1983 the new Sounders ownership sprung a trap door. Hinton was fired and Hudson, in a purely cost-cutting move after the first match, was unceremoniously released. Just months after seeing himself in Seattle forever, he was flying back home to finish out his career. "But I never wanted to leave," contends Hudson.
Few footballers of his era earned enough to retire in the high life. Hudson was able to make ends meet as a media pundit and writing books on his sporting life. Then came the crash.
A week before Christmas 1997, while walking across a London street, he was struck by a car and nearly killed.
The supervising doctor's notes paint a grim scene: fractured pelvis, sternum and skull; ruptured kidney, lacerated bladder, feared brain damage and more than 30 units of blood lost in the first days. He was in a coma and grave condition for nearly two months. When he awoke, doctors thought he might regain some upper limb function, but with nerve damage to lower extremities he was unlikely to walk again.
Hudson defied that prognosis. Eleven months after the accident, he walked into the doctor's office using crutches. It was a "recovery nothing short of spectacular," wrote the doctor.
Although he resumed writing, Hudson's finances were in ruin. Late this summer he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer.
"After the trauma of my latest news I am now looking forward to returning, for it's been far too long," Hudson says.
He remembers a visit to the Space Needle 35 years ago, when he first fell in love with the city. He remembers the friendliness of the people and the friends he made, on and off the field. He knows the Kingdome has been razed and the crowds have returned in record numbers to watch the current incarnation of the Sounders.
"The fans will be much more educated from when I first arrived," he acknowledges. "I'm looking forward to seeing the new stadium and imagining playing there now."
For now he's back home, welcome and spending a week reuniting with long lost friends.
Friday, as he surveys the surroundings and hears the Brougham End begins to generate the energy and atmosphere that will eventually fill the night air, Hudson can take heart. For any footballer this is paradise, and he's come from hell and back, and lives another day to revel in it.