I don’t care for the comedy of Ray Ramano. It’s just not my thing. I’m more of a David Cross/Patton Oswalt kind of guy. I can watch the same Seinfeld episode a thousand times, but new episodes of The Simpsons can’t hold my attention.
Comedy might be the most subjective medium of all the creative arts. Because looking at the award tally, not to mention the pop culture award du jour that is a Simpsons guest appearance, it appears everybody indeed loves Raymond. I’m just not one of them.
Sports broadcasting isn’t that much different. He’s got one of the plum jobs in broadcasting for FOX, but I can’t stand Tim McCarver (re: thanks Deion Sanders). I love the measured intelligence of Joe Simpson. I really don’t care for Dick Vitale. Lots of people seem to love him (and he’s got a pretty good gig himself) but I’m just not one of them. And I don’t like the comparisons between him and GolTV’s Ray Hudson. Sure, they are both, um, individuals to say the least, and share a radical emotion for the sport they love, but Vitale paints the most mundane statistics not with a brush, but with a paint grenade of hyperbolic emotion. It can be a source of comedy, but you won’t find yourself laughing with (or at) him.
Hudson’s commentary, unlike his opinion, is harder to pin down, though he’s not afraid of pulling the pin on a grenade or two . You of course have the metaphor bombs, but watching an entire game with GolTV’s team delivers the give-and-take that finds moments of brotherly bickering in an Abbott and Cosetello frame that sets it apart like the best local baseball broadcasts over the course of that lengthy season. You’re not just waiting for the next explosion, you’re smiling, getting argumentative, and yes laughing, sometimes all at once, as if you’re watching the games with your crazy uncles. At its worst GolTV’s broadcasts with Ray Hudson are silly, over the top nonsense. At their best, it’s a soccer sitcom as the team captures the essence of the beautiful game in the broadcast booth.
Love him or hate him, you can’t say Ray Hudson is stale; Vitale on the other hand repeats the same nonsense over and over again. Points for mixing it up. You wonder what Hudson will come up with next, even if only to then roll your eyes. With Vitale, you know exactly what is coming and cant find the mute button fast enough.
Ray Hudson is a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. It is not surprising then that there is a website dedicated to his color-soaked commentary or that he’s been interviewed a few times throughout his career – from his playing days at Newcastle Untied, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Union Solingen, and Edmonton Brickmen; to his coaching days with the Miami Fusion and DC United; and his broadcast career with GolTV and others. Hudson gives good copy. In a sports world rife with colorless athletes closeted behind cold cliches, the honesty of the peripatetic voice of Hudson is more than a breath of fresh air. He’s an open-air porch during a tropical storm (you can use that one Ray if you want).
Reading the interviews that are out there you learn of Hudson’s path to American soccer, his falling in love with the United States, and what he thinks soccer should be (joga bonito), but there is precious little about what he feels he has learned and could share with a country and it’s players. That’s what I wanted from Hudson. That, and to determine once and for all if he keeps a list of phrases by his side.
The Book of Ray, part 1
Much of your biography has been covered, so I’m not going to go there too much, but I wanted to take a few of those biographic points and see how they have built your outlook on some issues that I think are worthwhile, and then see if we can find some advice for American soccer. You’ve kind of run the gamut with your soccer careers. And they all relate to how soccer in this country has, can, and could be done. The first and most obvious to me is the fact that you came over from Newcastle United on loan to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at a young age. So many people think of the NASL and now MLS as a place where aging international stars come to retire. But for you it was the opposite. Were you alone in that venture? Take me through that thought process of a young player from England coming to play soccer in the U.S. in the seventies.
The main reason was two-fold. I was getting very frustrated at Newcastle United having limited opportunities. I’d get into maybe a dozen games every year or so. The team was full of internationals. It was very difficult to break into the team. Now every time I did get opportunities I played extremely well. So I was developing, and they tried to keep me content. They wanted to keep me at Newcastle, but I was a pretty brash young kid even then, thinking I wanted a little bit more opportunity. And this one coach asked if I would like to go play in the States in the off-season; make a little money, much more money actually than what I was at Newcastle. And also get the experience of playing a regular, full committed season. And the excitement of America. It was everything. It was absolutely a no-brainer. I asked if there was a team involved, and he said there was a team that has been in contact with us that would really like to take ya. I say where is it. he says Fort Lauderdale. I say where is that? I had never heard of it. I’m thinking its an Indian outpost. Somewhere in Kansas perhaps. He said no, its right outside of Miami. So I took that straight away.
At that time there were several players in the NASL that were in similar situations as me self: Stevie Hunt at the New York Cosmos for example. Every team seemed to have these types of young talented English players. A lot of West Ham guys were here. Even later on in the years. Peter Beardsley came over to Vancouver before he was a big star in England. He said himself that it was when he came to the States that he really found his expressive football. And it was the same for me. I did go back for one more season after my loan was up that first season, but it was already done, the dye was cast. I didn’t want anything to do with England or Newcastle anymore. Fort Lauderdale as a 22-year-old kid, are you kidding me?
The sunshine, the ladies…
Of course! I mean honestly, I was 22. You know, I’m sitting here now looking back when I’m 50 thinking I should have stayed, played a few seasons more, but when your red blood is pumping through your veins at 22 Fort Lauderdale Spring Break. My head got turned and there was no going back. I was real happy in the end. It was a great move for me financially. I became a much better player. I played with the world’s greatest players and against them. And I did have the opportunity to back to England some years later, but I just didn’t take it.
I was barely conscious and indeed barely alive when NASL was around, and now considering your story in the context of the present marketplace, the global industry of soccer, and what leagues have a particular draw to players for one reason or another, it is interesting that your path was the polar opposite to what you see now and is an example of what many would hope MLS could be. You came to the US, earned more money here, developed your game, and made a name for yourself. You turned down offers to go back to Europe. You don’t hear too much in the NASL memories about the young foreigners who came here. And now it seems to flow almost completely in the opposite direction.
It’s a different world all together. The world was a lot bigger back then. There wasn’t the contact you have now. It was all basically messages through the jungle drums and you heard things through the grapevine, but the line of communication wasn’t established, especially when you come over to the States. It was such an eye opener, playing with the South American players and the Latin players, and the Mexican football. I remember tuning in to one of the Latin channels here in Miami and seeing the Mexican football and thinking, my god this is brilliant! Look at the way these players are playing! It was a different world. It was the greatest time of my life, there is no question about that on a professional basis. But it was being an American that was as much of a thrill as playing the game and being a part of developing the game in this country with the gods of the game. It was being an American in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. It is such a wonderful country and to be a part of it, to grow up in your adult life in America, I was very blessed. I really took to this country and I have obviously never left.
Is that feeling still a good draw for foreign players maybe looking at MLS? Or is it just the money, which for you was also a benefit, at least initially?
I remember in a MLS meeting telling the commissioner and Ivan Gazidis very specifically that you people don’t know the value of your country let alone your league. You don’t understand what the lour of the United States of America is for people. This was confirmed every waking hour of my life. I remember being the coach with the Miami Fusion and Jeff Cassar came across Paolo Maldini down in South Beach. And Maldini couldn’t believe that there was a team in Miami. He said to Jeff, “I’ve got to get over here. I would love to be here, play in America.” It was always the same. Going back to the NASL days, to be a part of this sacred country—I’m not being schmaltzy. That’s the way it was, especially back then, especially back them. It may have changed a little bit now, it may have, I don’t know, but it hasn’t lost any of its lure. So I made that case, that you better start realizing that its as much the American lifestyle that people are going to attracted to if you get other things in place as well.
Is money the biggest of the “other things”?
Of course. That will always be an attractive proposition. Especially for those who are not at the absolute top of the seeding. But look back and see who was still willing to come to the U.S. They were making more money here than they were in Europe. George Best, Pele, Beckenbauer. They weren’t just coming for Fifth Avenue and Miami Beach. They had to be well compensated, but that’s never been a problem in America. I would honestly say its as much of an attraction through the culture of the United States as the allure of money. People know that they can have a wonderful happy life here. And also for the big stars, the other thing was anonymity. Being able to basically a human being again and not a caged bird.
Maybe not the money just yet, but the anonymity is still on the table.
Absolutely. I think all the stars that come over here now, the Blancos and Beckhams they still enjoy a much greater degree of natural living compared to what they have been used to in the past. That’s a valuable thing.
All that being absorbed, what would be your advice to players looking at MLS?
Well I think it’s a great opportunity if all the pieces around that particular player are right. I’m not saying to just turn your back and run over here, but there is so much to be learned as well within the U.S. and MLS. You can enjoy your life and enjoy the game. The seriousness, the stadia, the fan-following—its not so different compared to what it was when I came over. It really isn’t. There have been massive steps made, I’m not denying that, but there is still that cult following aspect of soccer in this country. Its still pretty much the same, although it was grown. The mainstream acceptance is still a little curious. But the challenge of coming over here and improving your game, projecting yourself higher amongst other players is certainly there. I’m surprised a lot more younger players don’t take those opportunities especially with the establishment and growth that MLS is projecting. It’s a question that curiously hasn’t been answered: why isn’t more young vibrant talent coming to America. We know we have the American players who are pretty much as good anyhow. That wasn’t the case when I was playing. Back then, the American players were the ones you put at the fullback position that you tried to hide. That was pretty much the case with very few exceptions. But it started to slowly change and basically it is now equilibrium with many of the kids coming out of the college system as young kids back home in England. There is not a whole hell of a lot of difference. But I would encourage anybody around the world to look at MLS as a wonderful table unto which you are going to be able to express yourself and develop as a player as good as anywhere else in the world. And yet still be able to – I think – have the intense pressure of a lot of the domestic leagues around the world. You can express yourself even better. That’s what happened to me and a lot of others, but whether kids are the same, I just don’t know. I do know though that I would not have developed into the player I became in England. It was the NASL.
Going the other way, one of the common criticisms of American players going overseas is that they just don’t get the playing time. They make more money riding the bench, but are they getting enough out of practice or would they be better to be at a place where they play? So many players choose the money and flashy name of an EPL over the playing time. You did the opposite. The most popular example right now is Benny Feilhaber at Derby, which is now out of the Premier League anymore. Is that a disaster for him, a wasted year?
It is something to pay attention to. And I think Benny is the perfect example. He is certainly not wasting himself but is he really getting the full potential milked out of him through the battleground of the playing field for 90 minutes? I think a lot of the times money becomes to be such an important swing factor, but certainly I would more than encourage him and other players to look to their domestic league and at least give it the chance of establishing yourself as a local household name and then as a potentially international player. Everything is so good here now, and yet we go on losing the young American talent overseas. That part has got to be reigned in. I know everybody is aware of it, but it’s strange that with the advances MLS has made that more players aren’t staying around.
Even not having a finger on the pulse of players, both American and international, there does still seem to be an argument for the perception of MLS not being the reality.
Big time. Maybe it takes an experience of having your eyes opened overseas that the grass isn’t certainly as green on that side as it is here. And maybe they will come back. But you never want to be able to stop them. The bright lights will always beckon as it did for me in the NASL days and the same thing is now happening across the sea for these new American players. But I’m not sure they have it all together in the right perspective. Especially the way the quality of play in MLS is improving continually. So what are you looking for? Wouldn’t you want to establish yourself to then get the highest price? Jozy Altidore is a great example of a kid who stuck with it, made himself his name, honed his skills, got the playing time, and his snowball just ran away down a snowy hill. He probably wouldn’t have got that sort of nurturing, patience, understanding, consideration, acceptance, blah, blah, blah, if he had left this country. So there is a big lesson to be learned from that in itself.
You obviously love Florida. Can MLS succeed there?
Everybody will be greeting it with wide-open arms. It certainly needs to be in Florida. Its been widely stated that all the components are here. The demographics, the weather, the South America connection, the huge Latin population. All the pieces seemed to be lined up. I’m a firm believer that had MLS not pulled the plug on that fabulous Fusion team, which increased its gates 30-40 percent within one year, which had the best footballing team, won the supporters shield… Everything was right. The media was on our side. If we had one more year, I’m a firm believer that we would have continued the success of the Miami Fusion and it may still be around. It should never have went away, but they got so many things quantifiably wrong on so many fronts that it could never succeed. That wasn’t Doug Hamilton’s fault or my fault, it was just the powers that be. And for a multitude of reasons the league needs to have a team in Florida and hopefully they will get it right the next time around.
That’s obviously close to your home and heart, but I’m curious to know how much you follow the MLS in general? You’re watching and working in lots of other leagues and GolTV doesn’t carry any MLS games so I’m wondering if you are able to fit MLS in.
Not as much as I did a couple years ago to be quite honest with you. Simply because my weekends are so full and involved with the German league and the Spanish league and my commitments with GolTV. But I do catch the games occasionally. The mid-week games I will tune in and see how it is. And its like I say, going in the right direction. It’s undeniably going in the right direction and it is not going to stop. The people in New York are pulling a lot of the right strings a lot of the time. Massive harsh lessons have been learned, but at least they’re learning. The type of players they are starting to get into the league as well is fun to watch. The type of football being played is improving. The stadiums are fanning the flames. What’s not to like and admire? I just wish we had been a part of that continually growth. I think about when I watch the MLS to be honest.
But you reach your saturation point. You get soccer-ed out you know? I’m looking forward to going back to England and watching some stupid cricket or pathetic rugby. More over getting me self to the race track and watching the horses go by, just turning off for six weeks.
If MLS returned to Miami would you be interested in being a part of that franchise in some way?
I’m not too sure I would be pursuing it. I don’t say this in a conceded way, I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but I’ve never had to pursue that cause. I’ve never applied for a job within the game. It seems to find me. If they knocked at the door in this specific area of South Florida, absolutely I would be interested, because I would want to help the game again in any shape way or form. But I would certainly not be canvassing because it is not my nature. If they need me or want me, they know where I am.
The same I guess could be said about your broadcasting career, which began quite serendipitously. You didn’t apply for that job either if I have my facts right.
Yeah, everything. Through my life I’ve had some, I don’t know, divine provenance or what you like. It was the same on the coaching level; it was the same on the player level. You know playing in the park and a talent scout just seeing you and plucking you away. It is the same as the TV broadcasting thing. It was never engineered. I never went to a broadcast school, which is plaintively obvious. I would never get away with too much professional pride to do and say half of the things that I get away with if I was schooled properly. I just got a few small opportunities and I guess more people than not liked what they heard and it seemed to be an element that people were attracted to, people outside and inside of football. People that were tuning in purely by accident might be a little more attentive and take notice. It just mushroomed from there. Year by year the opportunities got a little better, I was a little bit more appreciated I guess, but nothing really changed. There is certainly no sea change in anything I have ever done. As long as it is helping one or two people to enjoy what they are watching than so be it.
So you’re not chasing jobs, but people obviously have come to you. One of the biggest topics that comes up with you is that so many people don’t get to see you work because you are on GolTV which isn’t available in a lot of outlets (like mine in Manhattan). You did some work for ESPN in the past, any chance of future national broadcasts?
There are people who come calling, but I’ve never been driven to pursue something of greater magnitude. It’s just not me. If something happens, if a line leads me in that direction than so be it, but I’m deliriously happy at GolTV. The people are the absolute world’s best. All soccer people. I’m as happy as a dog with two tails right now in the middle of this chapter, so where it leads from here I don’t know. And I’ve learned some lessons over the years from my time in MLS as well as in this game over the last few years. You’ve got to work with the right people. If you don’t have the right footballing people in bed with you it will drive you crazy. It really would. My life is too good right now in Fort Lauderdale to want any disruptions of having to go through the ringers and suffer the hammers and tongs of people who are just totally removed from the real game. So you have to be careful on which path you do pursue because you have the right people with you as well.
You’ve been noted as being a supporter of the U.S. Mens National Team over England. We’ve spoken here about why you love this country so much, so that being said, how do we get your favorite team on par with your former continent? Is it youth development or more generally working soccer into American culture?
The one aspect I would really like to see more prevalence of, that I think would be a wonderful stimulus to the growth we are already seeing, would be the influx of more Latin expressive cultures throughout the game. Not just the professional level, but right throughout the whole grassroots level. I’ve known a lot of people like that that have unfortunately been forced away from the game. And these are exactly the type of people we cannot afford to lose. But they were being shunned away from parents and club-structured people that were demanding better results, better advances in tournaments, and ignoring the real alphabet of expressive football in the Latin tradition. That is a huge part of the game in this country that we need to follow. That’s my own personal belief. I’m not one for the English manner or European manner of playing because the teams I played with and the type of player I was were expressive. That will advance the game. We can get more structured and more methodical and produce a winning team but I don’t think we should ever get away from the soul of the proper way of playing, and that is the South American way. That’s just my belief and I will walk with it to my grave. And it’s not going to come by accident, and it’s not going to come through the cold corridors of the academies. It has to be stimulated throughout the youth levels and continued up. I’ve seen first hand so many of the times these wonderful instructors allowing the kids to express themselves and have fun with the ball be basically hit on the head and told that that is not what is required. “We want more athletic football” has turned too many people off in this country.
How we get there is the big question. Sunil Gulati is a shrewd man and I think he will try to engineer passages to address the situation, but it’s generational. It’s not going to happen in a wink of the eye. I just don’t want to see the beautiful game go away. I want to see more of the likes of Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. Pizazz. It may not come through in gushes all the time but I will take those sorts of players that have expression and vision.
I think some people would say that you’re that type of broadcaster. Expressive might be an understatement.
I wonder sometimes myself how I got as passionate and off kilter about the game verbally. I think it was the type of player I was and the type of players I played with. Playing with Best and Figueroa, and all the others - they were all very expressive players that played out of the box. They weren’t confined by coaches or by the blackboard. It’s not just hyperbolic; these players need that. What I do on TV is a similar reflection to the type of spontaneity that I want players to play with. Take the road less traveled, try something, you know? And within that, always within that, is the team concept. But without that individualism it is my belief that you have a much-diluted game. The more personality within the profession, no matter what the profession is—you look at it in basketball, and baseball, in the broadcast booth, down on the field, front office. You need certain personalities people either love or hate, and there is no problem with hating it, it’s just what I like, it’s who I am. And you’re never going to please every body; nobody can do that. You just have to find your place in the game and enjoy it, as a player or a commentator, a coach. That’s what you have to do. The day I stop enjoying it and stop being as volatile as I am, I’ll know its over. I knew as a player when that happens. You just know there is nothing left. You have to nail the boots to the wall and just walk away. Thankfully in TV commentary you have a lot longer road to run with it.
So we are all suppose to believe you just come up with all this insanity off the top of your head? No cheat sheet?
I’m not saying I don’t have mental notes and a mental lexicon of the type of expressions that I want to bring to a moment. The biggest misconception of all is that you’re just waiting to use a sentence or an expression for a particular thing. Its much more difficult than that because within those few seconds of emotion you have to not just pick the right selections of words—adjectives, verbs—but you have also got to marry that with gushing emotion or discerning opinion. There are a host of different ingredients involved. What I always attempt to do throughout the season and throughout my work is try to keep in mind a number of instances to call upon for a particular moment. And they are just from a life’s experience of going to school, playing on the field, talking with your friends in the pub, hearing somebody in the supermarket make an expression, talking to people at the gas station, whatever. That’s always going to be in you. If you are lucky enough to call on that and pluck just the right one out at that beautiful pinnacle of footballing expression the two make a wonderful marriage and they can make wonderful television. It’s a big turn on! It’s the most fun I’ve ever had other than playing. Easily! Coaching was a nightmare. Coaching was death by a thousand cuts. I never enjoyed coaching. I appreciated it and quite loved it. I loved the challenges and the day to day involvement with players, but it’s bloody hard. TV is more like playing. It brings me back to the days when I would play in the park back in Newcastle, when I was playing on the field with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, when there was a real confident carefree expressionism that just came naturally. Commentary allows you to connect back with the game that you have always been in love with. There is nothing manufactured about that. You cant do that. its got to be in you to come out of you. And thankfully I’ve always been blessed with that part of the game. The fact that it comes out a lot of the time in Disney color, barbs and all, and it shocks people sometimes, well, that’s just par for the course. The way it is.
EPL Talk visited Ray Hudson at the GolTV studios in South Florida:
banner photo of Ray Ramano and Homer Simpson from all over the internet.