Club historian, David Bull, remembers Frank Dudley, who died last Friday, aged 87.
Southend-born Frank Dudley was travelling on the Leeds-to-London train in February 1951, when he put pen to paper to become a Southampton player. His speed, powerful shooting and eye for an opening were attributes that guarantee to make a player popular with the fans, despite questions as to whether a forward-line that already had Eric Day and Eddy Brown required a third speedster.
Dudley initially played second fiddle in the goal-stakes to Brown and then, when Eddy departed, to Wally Judd. In the middle of the 1952-53 season, however, Frank came into his own with 12 goals in 14 games, including two hat-tricks, on his way to an overall tally for the club of 32 League goals in 67 appearances. So it is ironic that two games that brought him only one goal between them had a most significant impact on the future of his opponents.
First, his goal at Griffin Park on Christmas Day 1951 caused a rumpus in the home dressing room that features in the memoirs of two Brentford
defenders, Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill, each of whom consequently demanded a transfer. Both soon left. Next, Frank helped to make possible the legendary ‘Matthews Final’ of 1953. It is amply documented that the Saints missed an abundance of chances in the first half of their Fifth Round replay v Blackpool at The Dell. Dudley was the major culprit, as Matthews reminded him when they met years later.
That 1952-53 campaign was abruptly terminated for Frank by appendicitis. His next season had hardly got off the ground before he moved to Cardiff, even though his knees were dodgy and he ‘begged them’ not to sign him. By Christmas, Cardiff had conceded his point and had transferred him to Brentford, where a director who was an orthopaedic surgeon removed his cartilages and set him up for an extended career. After Brentford, his homeward road took him via Folkestone back to Southend. He became a local government officer and also coached United’s youth team for a while, having been inspired by George Curtis, while at The Dell, to attend courses at Lilleshall.
Although he gave up coaching at 40, he continued, until he was 65, to play at amateur level. One of his Youth team, John Russell, married Frank’s daughter, Sue. John not only chauffeured me on my last visit to Frank and his wife, Audrey – for a pre-match lunch before the Saints’ 2-1 defeat by Southend in December 2006 – but generously shipped copies of Terry Paine’s biography to South Africa.
That was a very special example, consistent with Frank’s exceptional hospitality, of how ex-Saints have collaborated with the club’s Official Historians to keep telling the Southampton story.
* Frank Dudley's funeral will be held at 11.00 a.m on Tuesday 2nd October at St Mary's Church, Prittlewell (opposite Southend United's ground).