BY EDMUND BRACK
While he boasts the tag line of the tallest outfield professional footballer in Britain – standing at 6ft 9ins – there is more to Kyle Hudlin than his height.
The 22-year-old’s route to Plough Lane hasn’t been conventional.
Hudlin didn’t come through a Premier League academy, he was playing men’s football at non-league level aged 16 with Castle Vale Town in the Midland Football League.
Climbing up the ladder but still in the lower reaches of the English football pyramid, Hudlin earned a move to Solihull United after he returned a prolific 25 goals in 22 games for Boldmere Falcons.
He swiftly moved on to join neighbours National League side Solihull Moors and reached double figures in front of goal in his first season.
And last weekend, his unorthodox journey recorded another milestone as the AFC Wimbledon forward played his first minutes in league football when he replaced Josh Davison in the 88th minute during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Gillingham.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” Hudlin told the South London Press.
“The achievement is massive – it’s what I have always dreamt about as a kid. To officially be an EFL footballer is remarkable.
“As a footballer, you don’t dwell on moments as much as you should because everything is constantly moving forward, but I definitely know that when I sit back at the end of my career, that will be a massive moment.
“It was a short period of time on the pitch, but even from the warm welcome I got from the fans, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
“It [my route from non-league] has helped me a lot. Non-league is all I know, and it has built me into the person I am today. I couldn’t have asked for a better journey.”
Birmingham-born Hudlin joined Johnnie Jackson’s side this summer on a season-long loan just two days after completing the switch to join Huddersfield Town’s B team.
He came down south after Wimbledon academy graduate Jack Rudoni moved the other way, completing his club-record move to the Terriers.
With professional games under his belt at the forefront of his mind when deciding whether to fight his way into Huddersfield’s first team or choose the Dons, Hudlin said: “I was excited to come into that first team environment and to have the pressure.
“With Wimbledon just getting relegated, I love the pressure and the challenge to get them back to where they should ultimately be.
“If I can play any part in getting them back into League One and helping them be the successful team that everybody knows they are, it would be a pleasure.
“The gaffer [Johnnie Jackson] is a really nice and humble guy – he is there to help everyone and help everyone develop.
“He always has high demands and expects the best from people, and that allows people to want to better themselves.
“He will never stop you from progressing and doing extra. He will get the best out of this team during this season.”
Hudlin comes into this campaign after reaching the National League play-off final last season with Solihull Moors under ex-Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley.
“Neal is a class manager,” said Hudlin.
“As you saw how much Solihull Moors developed over the past year, taking them to the play-off final just says everything about what he can do as a gaffer.
“He has high demands, but he always gets the best out of his players. It was the closest group of players I have ever been around, and his knowledge of the game was second to none.
“Towards the back 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 in the final at the London Stadium against Grimsby, Hudlin came off after 58 minutes through injury 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 play off final match at the London Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday June 5, 2022.
“In football, you have to take the highs and lows all together. That day cemented it for me. I was on such a high when I scored – it will always be a memorable moment.
“But coming off injured and that final whistle going, knowing that you have lost the game, it was a feeling you never want to experience again.
“Every time I step out on the pitch, I just give 120 per cent and try and do everything I can, ultimately to never feel like that again.”
While he openly admits he has been stereotyped at points in his career due to his height, Premier League champions Manchester City and Championship sides Middlesbrough and Cardiff all watched and tracked Hudlin’s progress during his time at Damson Park.
“People automatically assume I am a big target man to hold it up and to get it in the box, but there is a lot more to my game,” he explained.
“I’m looking forward to showing it on the main stage of League Two. When I first joined Solihull Moors, I said there was a platform for me to showcase my ability, and I see this [my Wimbledon loan] as a chance to do the same.
“I want to prove to people that I’m more than just my height – proving people wrong is the best part of the game.
“You are always going to get judged no matter what. You could have a world-class game, and people will still nit-pick at stuff.
“There is that hunger there to go and prove that I’m ready now and now just here because I am the UK’s tallest outfield player, I am here because I am a good player and footballer.
“My height isn’t going to make me get to where I need to get to, it will be my ability.”
Looking ahead to his first season in league football, Hudlin added: “My personal goal, as always, is to reach double figures and to showcase what I can do.
“The football will do the talking. As long as you’re enjoying it, everything will fall into place.
“I want to get Wimbledon back to where they belong in League One – I want to have a promotion under my name.
“I came so close last year, so I want to get the job done this year.”
MAIN PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
SECOND PHOTO: PA