Recommended listening – ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt.2)’ and ‘ATLiens’ by Outkast.
You won’t know this unless you have seen him play live but Alan Hutton is quick. And not quick for a right-back from Glasgow, but genuinely, electrifyingly, fast. It is hard to believe, and sometimes I don’t believe it myself, even as I see him make up half the pitch on the opposition winger like he’s a greyhound chasing a motorised rabbit, muzzled and irrepressible, ready to tear Aiden McGeady or Michael Kightly or fat Matt Jarvis into a million pieces.
Hutton, alone, does not look like he runs particularly quickly. It is the context of the situation that gives him his speed. He has a peculiar gait, completely and immovably upright, a human right angle, which is exaggerated whenever he bursts, always belatedly, into a sprint. This is of course another factor. Hutton positions himself, exclusively, in the exact position he shouldn’t be in. He is only ever 20 yards too far forward or 10 yards too deep, as though he knows precisely the spot he should actually be covering, after 15 years of playing professionally as a right-back, and then uses that knowledge to unequivocally and unashamedly just not stand there. He does this, I know, because he requires last-ditch-man-and-ball-slide-tackles-into-the-advertising-boards like a normal person needs oxygen. I am forever grateful, because seeing Alan Hutton watch a diagonal ball fly over his head into the path of an onrushing attacker, only to defy time, space, and Caucasian stereotypes to make up the ground and clear him out like his life depended on it, is art in its purest form.
Typically, when a defender makes a challenge they tend to slow down slightly to time it and ensure they get the ball rather than, say, the ankles of the opposition player. Alan Hutton does not do this. He is literally the only football player I have ever seen who accelerates into tackles. It is physically impossible. Imagine sprinting, reaching your top speed, pushing your body to its absolute limit, then suddenly moving two gears higher and then using every sinew of muscle and ounce of that momentum to hurl your entire body mass into a pair of galloping legs with no regard for the outcome.
I have seen him make more last-man challenges than I have completed passes. Sometimes it looks as though he is playing a different sport.
Across a pitch of twenty-two football players, Hutton almost always stands out because of this, but also due to his proclivity for only the most fluorescent Nike Vapours, his two, bulging, tattooed arms that drag either side of his jersey, by now more ink than skin, and his gigantic, gleaming, bald head. Seeing the sunlight bounce off Alan Hutton’s head as he overlaps, only ever as a distraction (he neither actually wants nor needs the ball), is one of football’s most beautiful sights. When given the ball, usually mistakenly, in an attacking position, Alan Hutton will do one of three, and only three, things.
A) Continue running with the ball in a perfectly straight line because he PHYSICALLY CANNOT SLOW DOWN unless it is with the aid of another human body as an airbag, until he goes straight out of play and crashes into the stands.
B) Hit a deep, early cross that 90% of the time, will go straight out for a goal-kick, and the other 10% of the time, go straight out for a goal-kick.
C) Cut inside on his left foot.
C is my favourite, for a number of reasons. Whenever Alan Hutton cuts inside on his left-foot, he takes everyone, and I mean everyone, in the entire ground and within a 5 mile radius, by surprise. He makes the bloke in an ice-cream van outside the North Stand drop a 99 on his shoe. Every single time he will beat his first man. If you are shadowing Alan Hutton isolated on the wing, and he catches you out by cutting inside on his left foot, you can probably still just tackle him but you have to just kinda let it happen like you would let a young child beat you in an arm wrestle. After he’s started this impossible journey, a couple of yards free from any immediate marker, Hutton begins to defy expectation in the way only he can; expression perpetually bewildered, head perpetually bald.
Alan Hutton doesn’t dribble a football. He just tackles it forwards. If you squint your eyes, it almost looks like a Trainspotting-Arjen Robben let loose on the Villa Park turf, seemingly dazed and confused, two days cold-turkey, not knowing where or who or what he is.
At this exact moment, as soon as that big, bald head is lowered, to watch in amazement at his own feet, resembling both a child learning to walk and an anthropomorphic billiard-ball, Hutton will invariably collapse into his own reckless dynamism, as though his footballing brain cannot complete the different calculations of touching the ball frequently and changing direction and avoiding objects and spatial awareness and balance and deftness and his pilot CPU will just bursts into flames as though a supernova in the cosmos of his own mind.
He will either fall over or run directly and remorselessly into the nearest defender’s gut, head-first, and then fall over. He will pick himself up, dust himself off, and jog back into his natural habitat at right-back. And then take either twenty paces forward or ten paces back, depending on his mood. All to rapturous applause.
In philosophical terms, ‘the Absurd’ is the continued human desire to seek an inherent meaning and value in life, without being able to find it. For the last few years, I have continued to watch Aston Villa Football Club, with those two quantifiers ‘football’ and ‘club’ being used in the very loosest sense, with this same conflict. What the fuck am I doing? I used to think. And then, one day, away on international duty, Alan Hutton did this:
And I knew. I realised that I had known all along. This man is reason enough and reason alone.
Alan Hutton against Gibraltar, kicking the floor, hurting everyone, physically and emotionally and himself most of all. Careering into the earth face-first like he’s mining for ore and his nose is a pneumatic drill.
He is both the dog and the tennis ball. The arm that throws it. The park itself. The known universe.
He is not the Scottish Cafu.
Cafu is the Brazilian Alan Hutton.