This week, HCST speak to former Hull City striker Lawrie Dudfield about record transfer fees, that partnership with Gary Alexander, and ‘stalking’ West Ham legend Tony Cottee.
After starting his football career at Kettering Town, Dudfield signed for Premier League Leicester City as an 17-year-old in 1998. Dudfield made two first team appearances for the Foxes before signing as Hull City’s record transfer in 2001, for £250,000. During his two years on Humberside he scored 17 goals in 59 appearances, memorably enjoying a fruitful strike partnership with Gary Alexander during the 2001/02 season. Unfortunately, despite a strong start, City finished the season in a disappointing 11th place in Division Three. Despite an ultimately frustrating year, many City fans hold fond memories of the 01/02 season, associating it with a definite sea-change in the club’s fortunes. This is feeling shared by Dudfield.
“The 2001/2002 season is without doubt my best and most enjoyable experience in football, personally. However, it is also tinged with great sadness that we never got promoted that year. The truth is we were good enough to go up but we failed to reach our objectives and that was highly frustrating.”
“I can’t really put my finger on it to be honest. I do feel like we maybe had a lot of young lads (like myself) who came from Premier League Reserve teams and were used to playing every 2/3 weeks and that maybe the rigors of Saturday/Tuesday each week in League 2 took its toll in the New Year but the truth is that would be an excuse. We simply weren’t good enough after Christmas and the real disappointment for me is that we ultimately failed to get promotion and even worse, we let Brian [Little] down culminating in him getting the sack” he recalls.
“The positive from that season was that after a few tough years on and off the pitch, that 01/02 team has been kind of associated with the beginning of the new Hull City era. I think people began to see that Hull City were a club that were going paces.”
It was manager Brian Little who made the decision to splash out on Dudfield in the summer of 2001. Little, who had previously managed Premier League sides Leicester City and Aston Villa, was a high-profile name in the fourth-tier of English football at this time, and this played a key role in bringing Dudfield to Boothferry Park. During his time at Leicester, Dudfield had been managed by Martin O’Neil, a manager whose style could not have been much different from that of Little. Interestingly, these vastly contrasting experiences helped to develop Dudfield as a player.
As the striker explains, “I’d never been to Hull before, but signing for Brian was a massive factor for me and it’s an honour for me that I’ve stayed in touch with him and speak to him three or four times a year. Brian is a proper gentleman and a real players’ manager.”
“[In contrast], Martin’s style was very much based on his own mentor Brian Clough – He had the Scare Factor, and I’m not just talking about me. We had big characters at Leicester – Stan Collymore, Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage, Steve Walsh, Matty Elliott, the list goes on, but they were all fully aware of who the boss was. He was a thinker and a real disciplinarian, but ultimately a huge inspiration to me personally. He gave me my Premier League debut at Leicester City and I’ll always be thankful to him for that.”
Despite becoming City’s record transfer, at a reported £250,000, Dudfield never appeared to let the price-tag weigh too heavily on his shoulders, scoring 14 goals in 39 appearances for the Tigers during his first season, as well as forging a formidable partnership with fellow striker, Gary Alexander.
Dudfield reflects, “The truth is that becoming Hull City’s Record Signing in 2001 never bothered me in the slightest. The only thing that it filled me with was immense pride, which still sits with me today. I was, and am, extremely honoured to have had that privilege of that mantle bestowed upon me. It never weighed me down at all. I was a 21-year-old playing first team football week-in, week-out for the first time and it was just a really good time in my life.”
“Without doubt the partnership with Gary Alexander was the best of my career and I think Gary would probably say the same. I always played as that second striker running the channels etc, whereas Gaz was an out and out goal-scorer, and we clicked from the first minute both on and off the field. We never worked on it – it just came naturally. Football is strange like that and I thoroughly enjoyed our period together.”
He adds, “we socialized off the pitch and became good friends and have stayed in touch and met up over the years. We still talk regularly and Gary has now taken his first steps into management at Greenwich Borough and I’m sure he’ll be a huge success. I plan to visit one of his games next season and catch up over a beer or two!”
Dudfield’s second season at Boothferry Park was admittedly less successful. Little was replaced by Jan Mølby towards the end of the 01/02 season, but despite making a number of inspired signings, Mølby was sacked within a year.
“I’d like to say it was an honour to have Jan appointed as manager as I’d obviously grown up watching him. He straight away called myself and Gary in and said that we were pretty much the only two he was looking to keep and I must say he made probably the most important signings that the club has ever made. Players like Ian Ashbee and Stuart Elliott were signed by Jan and they have obviously written themselves into the history books for their fantastic and well-deserved achievements.”
Dudfield explains, “The reality was that Jan wasn’t really a likeable guy to the players (almost the polar opposite of Brian). He was quite an arrogant individual and many players, including those either signed by him or who had even played for him before, weren’t bowled over by him stopping training on numerous occasions to let us know we “were sh*t” and he was still the best player in training! Don’t get me wrong he couldn’t move and was loud and brash but he was definitely right about being the best player still!”
“Nobody was overly happy and Jan didn’t care. It was a shame actually as I personally quite liked Jan, however, he made a lot of changes when probably only a few were needed. He deserves credit though for those signings and how good they became for Hull City.”
Dudfield fell out of favour with Mølby’s successor, Peter Taylor, and was subsequently sent out on loan to Northampton in 2003. Somewhat ironically, Taylor had also been the manager who sold the striker to City as Leicester manager just two years earlier.
“You know what, it’s funny actually. The truth is that Peter and I have and always have had a very good relationship! I liked him as a person and I’m sure he would say the same, he just didn’t, for whatever reason, take to me as a player! It started after I had made my Premier League debut for Martin O’Neill. Martin left to become Celtic manager and we all heard all the rumours but I was delighted when they appointed Peter as manager to replace him, as Peter had a history of working with young players. I really thought that would be my time. I remember he signed Ade Akinbye for £5 million and also Stan Collymore was still there. We played the first pre-season game away at Wycombe and we won 3-0 with Ade, Stan and myself scoring. I was on Cloud 9 but I never played a single minute of pre-season after that and was left off the clubs pre-season tour.”
The former striker recalls, “It was all very disappointing and despite making the bench a few times in the Premier League after that I knew that I needed to get out and have a fresh start. I went to Chesterfield and really hit the ground running and that’s where things started to take off for me. I was never happy to just sit there and take the money, so when Peter decided to accept an offer of £250,000 from Hull City my mind was made up to go and enjoy a fresh start.”
“As regards when Peter took over from Jan at Hull City, I knew straight away that my time was up despite being record signing. I towed the party line and said all the right things but the reality is Peter just never fancied me as a player and as a player you need a manager who believes in you. I must give Peter credit though, in 2007 I was at Notts County and we knocked a full strength Crystal Palace side out of the second round and I scored which was obviously bitter sweet for me. As I walked off at Half Time after scoring Peter made his way up to me, put his arm round me and said “Why do you always play well against me Lawrie” and I just smiled and laughed it off. At the end of the game having knocked them out he invited me into his Manager’s Office at Selhurst Park and gave me the match ball as a memento. It was a very nice touch and its things like that which always made me respect him even if we didn’t always see eye to eye with football.”
Dudfield is a self-confessed ‘football geek’, and in a recent interview with Amber Nectar, he admitted writing to hundreds of footballers as a child, asking for autographs and advice. Incredibly, many wrote back providing advice for the young Lawrie Dudfield.
He explains, “I was a ‘football geek’ of the highest order. I began writing letters to players around 12 years old. I had literally hundreds and then I started to write to foreign players as well and would be buzzing when I would see foreign envelopes come through the post form great players like Pagliuca, Lombardo, Michel Pruedhomme and Tomas Brolin! In fact, when I go into schools in Hull with my City Stars Company, I always use this as an example – When I was 14 I wrote a letter to Tony Cottee who was my hero. I would always write for a signed photo but also ask them some really silly questions that I wanted to know the answer to, just to get into the mind set of being a footballer. I would ask them what their favourite game was, best goal, who their roommate on away trips was etc.”
“Anyway, 12 months ago I moved house and my mum gave me a big bag and said that she’d had them for years and I needed to decide what I wanted to do with them. I obviously wasn’t going to chuck them away so began to read through them. One of the first letters that I found was this…”
“And the reason that I bring this up is because Tony Cottee was my hero as a footballer growing up. 6 years after writing that letter this happened – I made my Premier League Debut against Everton coming on for Tony Cottee!”
Since retiring Dudfield has worked as a Community Manager for Nottingham Forest, as well as running two football-based companies, operating both in the UK and abroad. However, it did not come easily for the former goal-scorer, and like many former pros, Dudfield struggled immediately after retiring from professional football.
“Since my retirement I spent 5 years working as the Community Manager for Nottingham Forest. Community was always a passion of mine as I very much saw this as an opportunity to give something back.”
“Don’t get me wrong there were tough and dark days leading up to this as I had to start in a part time voluntary position for 2 months leading to part time work (Maybe 2/3 hours a week) and then finally managed to get a full time position 9 months later. Those hours spent on £6 an hour were a real learning curve for me and put a real value on life after football for me. Around this time, probably the best decision I made was when I decided to undertake further education. Having not been “at school” for 17 years I decided to enroll on a BA Sports Management Course which ran through FIFPro, (World Players Union) and was basically a pilot project for 30 current and former players across Europe. After 3 and a half years of hard work I was delighted to be the only person from the UK to finish the course and obtain my Degree. This subsequently led me to where I am today”
“I have two companies, which I run on a day-to-day basis. Firstly Iconz Experience where I run UK Soccer Tours from Australia, the US and the Middle East. Predominantly this is aimed at children’s teams, however, in March this year I ran the Tampa Bay Rowdies Pre-Season Tour. On top of this, I set up City Stars in Hull which is a Community Organisation who send coaches into schools to run a series of projects based on Obesity, Languages, Mentoring, Anti-Racism and much more. My favourite project is our RESPECT campaign where I send current Football League Referee Carl Boyeson into Primary Schools to tackle lots of very current issues that our youngsters face. Community will always be close to my heart and the charity continues to go from strength to strength.”
Despite only spending two years with Hull City, and making just over 50 appearances, Dudfield remains a firm fans favourite at the club. As Dudfield alludes to, for many the 2001/02 season represents the start of the so-called golden generation for City fans, and Dudfield as an individual represents this special season.
“I’ve watched a club and a city grow over the last 15 years into something amazing. From a pipe dream to reality. My eldest daughter lives in Hull so I’ve never really left. Even though I’m based in Nottingham, I’m up in Hull 2 or 3 days a week and I love it. I’ve watched this city flourish into a vibrant place that is very soon to be the City of Culture and deservedly so. In fact probably the best day of my career was when I actually wasn’t even playing! I went as a fan to watch City v Arsenal in the FA Cup Final and as I walked up Wembley Way a number of City fans started singing my song and it was just so surreal. A truly amazing moment for me personally.”
He adds, “For whatever reason Hull City fans have always seemed to have taken to me and it’s something I can’t really explain, but something that makes me feel immensely proud. I took my daughter to the recent Play-Off final like I promised her I would, and it makes me proud but also smile and laugh inside when we see the occasional Dudfield shirt now even after all this time. My daughter pokes me and chuckles proudly and asks me all about what’s it like to play for Hull City. I always tell her the same thing. An absolute privilege and something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Greg Whitaker (@Greg_Whitaker)