Tom Huddlestone on rejoining Hull City: ‘For my mental wellbeing, I knew I needed to play on’
In an exclusive interview with Brainnewspaper, the Hull City midfielder recounts his battle to find a new club and the journey he has been on through lockdown to keep himself fit
Tom Huddlestone fizzes it against the post from 25 yards. It’s almost a month since one of his trademark strikes rustled the net against Manchester United’s U23s, one of the pre-season displays which convinced Hull City to take a punt on their former captain four years after he left for Derby.
This time, it’s Millwall’s youngsters. A curious set of opponents, Huddlestone admits, for a 34-year-old with over 300 Premier League appearances. At the same time, it is all part of the process as he returns on the back of a year without a club.
“It’s been a long 12 months,” Huddlestone tells brainnewspaper. “With the pandemic coinciding with the first time since leaving school that I’ve been without a club, the two coexisting together wasn’t ideal.
“If it was a normal year and you’re without a club, you’re able to go on holiday, refresh yourself, see family and friends more regularly – but the two combined together has made it a bit of a nightmare, to be honest.”
Still, it is hard not to notice how the mood has changed in East Yorkshire. The Tigers are back in the Championship with renewed energy after winning League One by two points.
A transfer embargo – the result of a loan from the English Football League and Premier League bodies – means, naturally, that optimism is tinged with a note of caution.
For Huddlestone, at least, it has opened the door to a surprise reunion for which he is even more grateful after a year of training alone.
“At the start of pre-season, my agent was speaking to clubs and no one was overly fussed about even having a look at me for a couple of weeks, with no obligation to do anything – no one seemed that interested,” he says.
“Having trained for so long, I’ve almost ticked that box off in terms of proving to myself I can still cut it at the Championship level after not being around it for a season. But I’ve just got to get in the team and then re-prove it on the pitch and hopefully make a few clubs and managers think that they could have taken a calculated risk on me last season.”
What do players actually do in that awkward state of limbo? They are not yet retired, nor do they have a team to train with, or a manager whose orders they can follow. When Huddlestone first left Derby in the summer of 2020, even public gyms were closed. He says he went a year without kicking a football.
“The beginning of the [2020-21] season, I was really on top of my fitness regime and sticking to a programme. And then the longer nothing was happening club-wise, I lost a bit of enthusiasm for it just after Christmas.
Huddlestone joins a Tigers side back in the Championship after winning League One (Photo: Getty)
“Towards the back end of the season, in my mind it was a case of getting in somewhere for this pre-season, regardless of whatever level it was. I knew mentally, and for my long-term mental wellbeing, I needed to play for another year or two, just to enjoy it.
“My general fitness when I joined Hull was fine, but running around a field or around the streets by yourself is completely different to twisting, turning, stopping and starting, kicking balls in training.”
It hasn’t taken long for the former England international to adjust. Curtis Davies recently described him as “a magician”, and the midfielder is quickly winning over sceptics who have questioned how he will fit into Grant McCann’s high-tempo system.
There is already demand from Hull supporters for Huddlestone to be named in the squad to face Bournemouth, led by his former Tottenham teammate Scott Parker.
The Cherries come off the back of a 6-0 humbling against Norwich City in the EFL Cup, but it hasn’t been an easy start to life in the second tier for Hull. A comfortable win over Preston was followed by defeats to QPR, Derby and Fulham.
Fortunately, in a 19-year career,Huddlestone has been involved in almost every situation available to a professional footballer. He’s won trophies at Wembley, played in an FA Cup final, but he’s also tasted relegation. And in a squad where he is just one of three players over 30, that means he sees his role partly as a pastoral one.
“A lot of the lads, [League One] was their first season. It’s a good first season to have where you’re winning the majority of the games, but in the Championship even the teams that are going to win the league go through a sticky spell where they might lose two or three on the bounce – scenarios like we’re in at the moment.
“My experience, in almost keeping everyone calm and not too down in the dumps, but not getting overly excited if you win a couple of games on the bounce. That’ll come in handy over the season.”