One of Southend United’s greats, Frank Dudley, passed away on Friday September 14th2012, aged 87. In 2006 I conducted the following interview with the former Blues centre forward who played for the club in the immediate post World War II years.
Born: Southend-on-Sea, May 9th 1925.
Southend United (1945-49) 92 33
Leeds United (1949-51) 64 23
Southampton (1951-53) 67 32
Cardiff City (1953-54) 5 1
Brentford (1954-56) 72 32
Can you tell me how you got started in football?
Can you tell me how you got started in football?
Yes, it was 1945. I had always played football as a youngster with the Air Training Corps at that time. Somebody must have seen me playing and arranged for me to have two or three games with Southend United reserves, which I did. I thought I played terribly but they must have thought something because within a month they asked me to sign as a professional. This is in 1945 and that is how I got cracking in so much as after two or three weeks they put me in the first team and I really stayed there you know.
What happened to you after you left school?
I worked, do you know where Sainsbury’s is now? Well there used to be an outfitters place there called Holtby and Petty. They were credit drapers and mended suits and things and I used work there because I didn’t evacuate. The great majority of young people evacuated to the Midlands or somewhere but I stayed here so it was easy to get a job. I think really I was so keen on playing football even at a young age, perhaps ten or eleven, that it began to show then.
What are you memories of your first team debut?
I remember it very well, it was at the old Southend Greyhound track, the Stadium as they called it you know. To my amazement, the manager Harry Warren had called me in and said I am playing you against, I think it was Watford, on Saturday and he put me in. Again personally I thought I had a terrible game, I wasn’t at all satisfied with the game I was playing. But they must have thought there was something in it because they kept me going. Anyway after a while I started to score goals and that paid for itself really.
Were you nervous on your debut?
Yes, I was especially as I remember walking onto the field, against Watford I think, we came out in pairs and this old chap who was alongside me was about ten years older than me. He said I understand that this is your first first team game. I said yes it was, he said well you see that grandstand over there, I said yeah, he said well if you come anywhere near me this afternoon I will kick you right over the top. I thought what have I let myself in for? Anyway as it turned out I didn’t look back.
How did you get on under Harry Warren?
I got on quite well with him, I was only looking at a picture of him yesterday with me and he was a very fair minded sort of chap. I think he was instrumental in me going to Leeds from Southend, he had a lot to do with that.
From your playing career at Southend, who was the best player you played alongside?
The then captain was Jimmy McAlinden, an Irish international and a very very good player.
How did the Southend fans take to you?
Well I think they took to me quite well because I was a local chap you know. I dare say that there weren’t more that two or three local lads that made a career here, sometimes they would be transferred away from here.
How did the move to Leeds United come about?
Well it’s a bit of a long story so I will try and abbreviate it. I had a phone call from Harry Warren in the summertime to say would I go down to the ground, which I did, and he told me that this very well known manager at the time of Leeds United Major Buckley, he was a very well known chap in football and he had seen me play and wanted to sign me on. At first I wasn’t keen because I thought Leeds was along way away but when I saw it was the right move I went to Leeds.
I believe the fee was £10,000 which was a sizeable fee at the time, did you feel under pressure about that?
No not really, by then I had had four years playing at Southend, and by then I was quite confident in my own abilities especially as I was playing with better players as well you know.
How do you think you adapted to the higher standard of football?
Well, I did adapt although its true when I was with CardiffCity I was only there for a short period of time. I scored one goal and before I knew where I was I was transferred to Brentford. There was a difference in the class of play from one division to another but at the same time it wasn’t all that great and remember you’ve got good players with you.
Who did you rate as the best player from your time at Leeds?
There were a few but a chap named David Cochrane, who was an Irish international and he had been at Leeds before the War and after. He was undoubtedly a class player.
In February 1951 you joined Southampton, can you tell me about that?
Well the last person who ever finds out about anything is the player himself! You know its all cooked up between the powers that be I suppose, but I can remember it as if it was yesterday. In fact I have a press photo of me climbing aboard the train, looking very miserable, going down to Southampton to play for them. They were a good club, they weren’t one of these flashy clubs because they didn’t have the money, but I enjoyed playing for Southampton. They were a nice set of people there and it was a little bit nearer here as well so in the summertime one could come home here you know.
You then played for Cardiff?
That was actually in the top division, and things went wrong from the beginning in so much as I only there about six weeks or something like that and the next thing I knew Brentford came along. I will always remember it, we were living at that time in Central Avenue, here in Southend, and I was just on my way up to play for Cardiff when the telephone went. I was travelling on the Friday, and I was almost just going out of the front door when the telephone went and it was the manager of Brentford, a chap named Bill Dodgin, and he said I understand you’re going to Cardiff today, well I am ringing up to say don’t go. I said what do you mean don’t go? Well you’re travelling today, so there will be someone to meet you at Fenchurch Street and he will bring you over here to Brentford and we can talk. So I said what’s going on? He said well we want to transfer you and I said gosh this will be the third club I have had in about three months. Anyhow I met him and we went a hotel and I signed on and I was there for five years, which was to my astonishment because I wasn’t getting any younger.
You scored well over a hundred goals in your career do any stick in your mind as being extra special or important?
Well I actually scored 120 goals and I can remember some but I think the most amazing one of the lot was this one. I will never forget I was playing at Leeds and I got the ball out near the corner flag and there was a very well known goalkeeper, a German prisoner of War, named Bert Trautmann, he played in a Cup Final, you may remember, well he was in goal. When I got the ball by the corner flag, I started to weave my way in and before I knew where I was virtually on my own just out from the goal and I was able to slip the ball in past the goalkeeper. It seemed as though this went on for minutes but really it was probably about ten seconds. One of the press cuttings I have got said it was “a goal fit for filming”. I can remember it so well you know. Later when Bert Trautmann became even more famous as an ex prisoner of War, he became in my view became one of the best keepers that ever played. He had a terrible accident while playing for ManchesterCity you know, he broke his neck.
You wound down your playing career with Folkestone, how did you find the transition from playing League football?
Well I think I was averaging about five goals a game! It was walking football it was marvellous! The manager of Folkestone was a chap named Jack Pritchard, who had played here at Southend. When he knew that I would probably not be staying with Brentford after five years, he came down to Southend and knocked on my door unannounced and said I want to sign you on for Folkestone. Well I was quite flattered because I was 33 then, but I had two years there and I scored about fifty goals I think. It was what I called walking football, dead easy for anyone that had played League football.
You returned to Southend as Youth team manager under Ted Fenton, did you enjoy that role?
It was a lovely time for a few years, and he was one of the nicest men I ever met. I went to his funeral some years later up at Brentwood. He moved house down here a few hundred yards from where we were living, just on the estate here and he died some years ago I don’t know whether his wife is still alive, Renee.
When you were youth team manager at Southend, did any of the players under your guidance make the grade?
Yeah they did and funnily enough I was only thinking this morning. There weren’t a lot because it wasn’t easy to do but yes there was about four or five. They not only made the grade at football but made it at other clubs as well. One lad, Chris Barnard, he played for I think it was Portsmouth. But they didn’t play for long, it’s a difficult game football you might be a well known locally placed player and your transferred somewhere else from youth football in Southend to Portsmouth or wherever it might be, he played for two or three other clubs. Sometimes you find its too much for you, the pace of it is too much. Usually they’d finish up playing non-league football.
Tell me about your career after football?
Well it was very interesting, I was conducting a football coach’s course for Bank Holiday sessions down by the Albany laundry, there was a playing field there. I remember that somebody came upto me and said what are you doing nowadays, I remember now he gave me a lift on his Lambretta. This chap worked for Southend council at the Civic Centre and he had this Lambretta and he picked me up and he was one of my pupils and I was the chap running it you see. He said to what are you doing nowadays and I said not a lot although I have still got a month or two to run on my contract with Brentford, I haven’t got anything else going. So he said would you fancy working in local government, so I said yes I think I probably would, that sounds quite attractive. He said well why don’t you go down to the Civic Centre, actually it was while they were building that and they were spread out all over the town. The Borough offices was in Alexandra Street and the Parks Department were near The Kursaal and the Cemeteries department were in Victoria Avenue round about were Barclays Bank eventually became, over the road from the Civic Centre. He said why don’t you go down there because I know there is a job going, so I telephoned through and asked whether it was possible to come down and see the recruitment officer and he said yes. So I made an appointment to see him and he said I can only tell you this that a lot of people have applied for this job, and I can only put you down as one of the number. My heart sank. He did that and in those days even if you were on about £500 a year they used to have to go in front of the committee, today the managers can take on people wherever the vacancy is, but in those days forty years ago, they were almost telling you that you were very privileged to be applying for this job and when the time came to be interviewed I had to go in front of this committee and the chairman said something like “I understand you were a professional footballer”, so I said yes. He said we don’t really want footballers you know we want local government officers. So I said yes I do understand that, so he said I think we will have to leave it for a month, they still do meet once a month, so you had to wait a whole month, it seemed like a year. Eventually at the end of that time they wrote to me and said come in a see us, I don’t know whether it was an excuse or what, but the establishment officer said how do we know that this chap can read or write? But the councillor who recommended me said he can read and write, and on my application form it stated that I had been a navigator on Lancasters during the War. So they agreed I must be able to read and write. Anyway they took me on and I was there for twenty years and for the last eight or nine I was the Chief Officer so I hope I could read and write satisfactorily!
As a player with a lengthy professional career, what did you think were your strongest qualities?
I could run like the wind, I was an even timer over a hundred yards. I could jump many feet into the air and head and I remember one manager saying to me when you can’t run and you can’t jump, you’ll me no good to me! What he was saying in effect was that I wasn’t a great skilful player, but none the less I was effective and I could score goals and make goals for other people.
Returning to your early career at Southend what were you earning as a newly signed professional player?
I was looking at it yesterday, I have got all of my contracts here, I think it was seven pounds a week, and another pound or two pounds if I played in the first team. There was a flat rate of about seven pounds. Its crazy today when you think about that, when even at a club like Southend today, I don’t suppose anybody gets less than £500 a week. And the better players no doubt get a couple of thousand.
What were the training sessions like in those days?
Mainly just running around the track. Boring you know where as today they have scientific aids to get you fit.
What was the funniest story you can recollect from your days at Southend?
It was nearly sixty years ago, incredible isn’t it! We had a player then who came from Leigh named Cyril Thompson, he was a centre forward. He and I used to vie with each other, if one was playing well he would be centre forward and if they were playing poorly they would be on the wing or something like that. He and I were great friends, but at the same time we were having to vie with each other, sometimes one would be in the team and the other wouldn’t. He died at a young age by the way, very sad. I remember we the team was playing very poorly and we had an emergency meeting with the manager. How did he put it old Cyril, he was a very naïve chap, things had got a bit heated in the dressing room with the management and players. I remember Cyril saying something like “we’re not just playing here for our wages, we playing for dear life”. The poor chap had been a prisoner of War for five years and I think something had happened that upset him and he got it of his chest by saying that. He was a lovely fellow and I only looked up his biography the other day he died in his thirties. He played for Folkestone as well, we used to alternate there as well!
Who was the toughest opponent you encountered during your career?
Well there used to be a few, you came up against very prolific goalscorers. Then there were players then that had played before the War, they were still playing aged about 38 or something, and they knew they couldn’t compete with young players who could run like blazes, so they used to make sure you got crippled. I remember I broke my leg at Swindon, I had my back to the goal, and the ball bounced and I turned to kick it and this chap put his boot across my shin and broke my leg. This was on a Saturday and the next day they bought me all the way from Swindon to Southend at Rochford hospital. So I was off for quite some time, several weeks you know. What I am trying to say is that there were two or three players, who were notorious and the only way they could stop you really was by giving you a good wallop and hoped you couldn’t carry on, as you had no substitutes in those days. A chap of 38 just couldn’t compete with a lad of 21 at running you know.
Who stands out at the greatest player you played either with or against in your career?
Stanley Matthews. He came down here to Southend some years ago, and I will tell you something about him. He died when he was about 80 and he had a good career as you know. Wonderful player, we queued up down at Clifftown Road for about two or three hundred yards to get in to this place where he was signing autographs. When it came to my turn, we went in and I said to him do you remember the year 1953 when you were playing for Blackpool and won your Cup winners medal having tried twice before and finished as a runner up. He said I should never forget it we were drawn against Southampton in the Cup at Blackpool and we drew 1-1 I think it was, and then we had to replay on the Wednesday down at Southampton. I said to him well there you are and that’s me! And he looked at me and stepped backwards and said you missed an open goal. I said I have never been able to live it down since, when it was 0-0 I missed an open goal which I would have thought meant that we would have one 1-0 and Stan Matthews might never had got his medal. When I showed him this Blackpool programme, I said would you sign just under your name there and he did and we had a wonderful old chat. It was very interesting, in football as they used to say, you’re never finished, I still get now today having finished with top class football for about 55 years, I still get people write to me and ask for my autograph, which amazes me. They are so keen and enthusiastic still.
You remain a fervent Southend United supporter?
Well all I can say, incidentally they are very good to me, I have a permanent seat at Roots Hall which they allocate to me each year.
In your years as a player and a supporter, which players stick in your mind as being excellent players?
There were some, a great friend of mine was Jack French, we both moved onto higher status. Jimmy McAlinden was a very good player, he won a Cup winners medal before the War for Portsmouth. When you think of it literally hundreds of players have come and gone. Many of them I knew personally, when you play against somebody and they are marking you closely, you get a kind of a bond with them almost.
Were there any players you ever thought how on earth did you get a contract?
Yes I suppose there was, I tell you what I have done, I often wonder what happened to that chap that played for Watford or that chap that played for Leeds. I then look him up in one of my books only to find that he played two games and then died or something like that!
Who do you rate as the best manager you worked under?
Its very difficult because the word best, you might be talking about the most successful or the most tolerant or nice guy sort of thing. I felt very easy with the five years I had at Brentford, with Bill Dodgin. His son played for Arsenal for many years by the way. But he was the manager there and I always got on very well him but he died some years ago. Unfortunately I remember other managers that perhaps only stayed for a year and then they were on their way you know.
What is your view of today’s game?
Well its far more skilful than it was in my day. A lot of that is due to the composition of the ball. You see when I played they were leather balls, if it was raining they doubled their weight. The laces that they did up the ball with were long and stuck out. And if you headed one of those you were in trouble. Now I haven’t told you this but I suffer from Alzheimer’s as do hundreds of other ex players, I sometimes cant remember my own name. I think things have improved because today the ball has a little tiny valve, its also made out of a composition material and you could head it all day long and it wont hurt you. But I probably scored a third of my goals with my head and there is a price to pay for that because many years later you realise you can’t remember things as you would like to. Jeff Astle was a highly publicised case of this. He was a great player, his wife wants some sort of a scheme that could be maintained for players that are ill through playing football. But the reply of the FA and the Football League is always the same, you have no proof. It is very difficult to prove that somebody like Jeff Astle who has given a lot to football, who dies quite young, is due to what happened thirty years earlier. I always maintain that if you take a young lad of 18 or 20 and said we would like you to play for Arsenal but you won’t get any wages you will have to have another job. But at that age you are football mad and simply you love football and to play as I have done in front of 65,000 people, only one in a thousand gets to do that you know.