Injuries put the brake on Dudley

Reporter: Tony Carss
Date published: 22 July 2008

Whatever happened to . . . TONY CARSS continues his series on former Latics players

IT doesn’t seem two minutes since Craig Dudley was terrorising opposing defences at Boundary Park with his electrifying pace, roared on by the Latics faithful.

Now, thanks to his new career, it’s Dudley who is terrified - often on a daily basis.

Having hung up his boots almost two years ago in pursuit of financial stability for his young family, the former Athletic star now earns his living working as a fully qualified driving instructor.

Knocking people over, running red lights and nearly crashing is all in a days work for Dudley, but one particular moment stands out for the 28-year-old.

“We were driving down the road at 30mph when suddenly the driver turned left and mounted the pavement for no apparent reason and nearly knocked someone over. It was quite scary.

“My stress levels can be quite high. People say my job is easy, but I always have to be aware of potential danger and by the end of a 10- hour shift I’m shattered.”

Ten-hour shifts are something footballers hear tales about, yet most find impossible to comprehend.

“Take me back to football and three hours a day followed by a game of snooker, says Craig. “This is the real world I’m living in now and it’s not easy.

“Players don’t realise what a privileged position they are in until, for most of them, it’s too late. It’s the best job in the world. I now appreciate how lucky I was to have had the career I’ve had.”

He began that career as a promising youngster at Notts County under then manager Sam Allardyce. He played for England at youth level and made the under-20 national team. Great things were expected of the young striker.

But things became stale after three years at County and both Dudley and Allardyce knew it was time for a change of scenery.

The move to Boundary Park came out of the blue, but at the perfect time.

“Things were quite strange at that time. I was supposed to have been shipped out to Ireland to play for Sligo four weeks before transfer deadline but I refused the move. I ended up having a big bust-up with Sam Allardyce because of it.

“The next day Andy Hughes told me that Oldham had been asking about me. I was then pulled in the office and told to go for talks with Andy Ritchie.

“I had talks with Oldham and they offered me a two-year deal which I accepted. The next day, with the ink still drying on my contract, I flew to Nigeria with the England under-20 squad so things were happening quickly and all at once.

“I returned four weeks later to meet my team-mates for the first time and the club just avoided relegation that season.”

Under Andy Ritchie, Dudley played his best football for the club. But for injuries at crucial times he believes things might have been more fruitful.

“When I was doing well I always seemed to get injured. Just as things were getting interesting, I’d be out for weeks - and then it takes time to get back into it. I believe that I missed some great opportunities due to my injuries.

“Making my debut for the club was a highlight, as was the successful period the team enjoyed just before Ritchie got the sack. We were flying in the league and I was playing really well myself. I was told that several clubs were looking at me and I actually signed a new deal with the club during that time.”

Dudley enjoyed his time at Athletic, but under the new management team of Mick Wadsworth and Iain Dowie things never quite got going for him.

Having not enjoyed a great relationship with Dowie when he was number two, once he became manager Dudley felt his days at the club were numbered.

“I injured my ankle just as he became manager and when I got fit he said Burton were interested in me and would I like to talk to them. He had said it was a clean slate for me at the club, but I felt things hadn’t really changed and it was best for me to move on.

“I didn’t want to drop out of the league but I spoke to Burton and they offered me a good deal which, along with my compensation from Oldham, meant that the move was good for me.

“Financially it was a great move, but career-wise it was a bad one.

And my second season with Burton was particularly tough as my dad died and I also had a bad car crash. I got going again in my third year and finished as runner up in the player of the year awards which was nice.”

It was during his time at Burton that Dudley began looking at different career paths for life after football - and it came sooner that he expected.

Released by Burton, he rejected the chance to sign for Crawley Town because his youngest child was only a few months old and he didn’t want to move to London.

“I’d already begun a career as a driving instructor as Burton was only part time. It took me four months training before I began teaching and became fully qualified.

“I ended up doing it full time because the lower down the leagues you fall obviously the less money you earn but you still have to pay the bills. I had a young family and needed the security that the job gave me.”

After a brief spell at Hyde United and a season at Ashton United, Dudley decided to hang up his boots and concentrate on his new career.

“I’ve been out of the game now for almost two years now. I’ve turned out a few times on a Sunday morning for a local side, but now I have my kids on a Sunday morning and they mean the world to me, so football is on the back burner.

“You never know what’s round the corner, but I don’t have much spare time to bother with football coaching badges or getting fit again. I’m sat in the car all day now so I could do with losing a few pounds.”

Dudley has missed a couple of opportunities to return to Boundary Park socially, but if another comes along he’ll be sure to take it.

“I’ve never had the chance to go back to Boundary Park. The club has asked me a couple of times but because of work I’ve been unable to make it, which I regret.

“I’ve got nothing but fond memories of my time there.”