Kyle Hudlin’s big journey from non-league to AFC Wimbledon – Reuters Sports News

BY EDMUND BRACK
yann@slpmedia.co.uk

While he claims the catchphrase of Britain’s tallest professional outfield footballer – standing 6ft 9in – Kyle Hudlin is more than his height.

The 22-year-old’s route to Plow Lane was unconventional.

Hudlin didn’t come through a Premier League academy, playing men’s football as a 16-year-old with Castle Vale Town in the Midland Football League.

Rising through the ranks but still at the lower end of the English football pyramid, Hudlin was transferred to Solihull United after scoring a prolific 25 goals in 22 games for the Boldmere Falcons.

He soon moved to neighboring National League side Solihull Moors and hit doubles in front of goal in his first season.

And last weekend his unorthodox run marked another milestone as the AFC Wimbledon striker played his first minutes of league football when he came on for Josh Davison in the 88th minute in the Saturday’s 2-0 win over Gillingham.

“It didn’t really sink,” Hudlin told the South London Press.

“The achievement is huge – it’s what I always dreamed of when I was a kid. To be officially an EFL footballer is remarkable.

“As a footballer you don’t dwell on the moments as much as you should because everything is constantly moving forward, but I really know that when I sit down at the end of my career it will be a huge moment.

“It was a short time on the pitch, but even with the warm reception I received from the fans, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.

“This [my route from non-league] helped me a lot. Non-league is all I know, and it made me the person I am today. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.

Birmingham-born Hudlin joined Johnnie Jackson’s side in the summer on a season-long loan just two days after completing the switch to join the B team from Huddersfield Town.

He moved down south after Wimbledon academy graduate Jack Rudoni moved in the other direction, completing his club-record transfer to the Terriers.

With professional games under his belt at the forefront of his mind when deciding whether to work his way into the Huddersfield first team or pick the Dons, Hudlin said: “I was delighted to come into that environment of first team and to have the pressure.

“With Wimbledon having just been relegated, I like the pressure and the challenge of getting them back to where they should eventually be.

“If I can play a part in bringing them back to Ligue 1 and helping them become the successful team that everyone knows they are, that would be a pleasure.

“The blunderer [Johnnie Jackson] is a really nice and humble guy – he’s there to help everyone and help everyone grow.

“He always has high standards and expects the best from people, which makes people want to improve.

“He will never stop you from progressing and achieving more. He will get the most out of this team in this season.

Hudlin comes into this campaign having reached the National League play-off final last season with Solihull Moors under former Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley.

“Neal is a class leader,” Hudlin said.

“As you have seen how well Solihull Moors have developed over the last year, taking them to the play-off final says it all as a gaffer he can do.

“He has high demands, but he always gets the best out of his players. They were the closest group of players I’ve ever come across, and their knowledge of the game was second to none.

“Towards the end of the season he developed areas of my game that I hadn’t really worked on before, and he ended up getting the best out of me too.”

Despite scoring the opening goal of the final at the London Stadium against Grimsby, Hudlin was out injured after 58 minutes and watched from the sidelines as the Mariners won promotion to League Two in extra time.

“It was a day of mixed emotions,” he explained.

Solihull Moors Kyle Hudlin scores the opening goal during the Vanarama National League Final match at London Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday June 5, 2022.

“In football you have to take the highs and the lows all together. That day cemented it for me. I was so high when I scored – it will always be a memorable moment.

“But coming out injured and that final whistle, knowing you lost the game, that was a feeling you never want to feel again.

“Every time I step out on the pitch, I give 120 per cent and try to do everything I can, only to end up never feeling like this again.”

Although he openly admits he has been stereotyped at times in his career due to his size, Premier League champions Manchester City and Championship sides Middlesbrough and Cardiff have all watched and tracked Hudlin’s progress during his career. staying at Damson Park.

“People automatically assume I’m a big target to hold it and put it in the box, but there’s a lot more to my game,” he explained.

“I can’t wait to show it on the main stage in League Two. When I first joined Solihull Moors I said there was a platform for me to show off my abilities, and I see that [my Wimbledon loan] as a chance to do the same.

“I want to prove to people that I’m more than just my size – proving people wrong is the best part of the game.

“You will always be judged no matter what. You could have a world-class game, and people are always going to be looking for stuff.

“There’s this urge to go and prove I’m ready now and now right here because I’m the biggest outfield player in the UK, I’m here because I’m a good player and footballer.

“My height is not going to get me where I need to go, it will be my ability.”

Looking ahead to his first season in league football, Hudlin added: “My personal goal, as always, is to hit double figures and show what I can do.

“Football will speak. As long as you enjoy it, everything will fall into place.

“I want to bring Wimbledon back to where it belongs in League One – I want to have promotion in my name.

“I came so close last year, so I want to get the job done this year.”

MAIN PHOTO: KEITH GILLARD

SECOND PHOTO: PA

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