The fickle nature of a footballer’s life can be typefied by the story of former Liverpool, Sunderland, Everton and West Ham star Don Hutchison.
Hutchison was a trainee at Hartlepool United in 1990 and had caught the eye of Liverpool scouts when they paid the North East outfit £175,000 for the midfielder. The slight of build midfielder had talent but in four years at Anfield only made 45 league appearances, scoring seven goals. His form was erratic too, excellent at times and then he would disappear from games, however as Hutchison began to establish himself more at Anfield he developed a reputation as a fine attacking midfielder.
Controversy would follow Hutchison however as he was photographed on a club night out, showing the kind of tackle that would normally only be seen on late night television. Hutchison was labelled as something of a party animal at the time and Hutchison himself was the first to admit he struggled with his new found celebrity status stating in a 1999 interview;
“I couldn’t cope with it at the time. I was just a kid. I had to move away and it took that experience to realise what I could lose in football if I didn’t get my head together and knuckle down.”
Over the next seven years, Hutchison would be something of a journeyman in Premier League terms. His form had also seen him called up into the Scotland international fold. Domestically, Hutchison moved from Liverpool to West Ham in 1994 for £1.5m, then onto Sheffield United for £1.2m in 1996, Everton for £1m in 1998 and Sunderland for £2.5m in 2000. Hutchison never made more than 100 appearances for any of the clubs, but his reputation as a Premier League quality, goalscoring and creative midfielder was already established.
Hutchison is perhaps best remembered and has a permanent place in Scottish folklore, for the goal he scored for Scotland in 1999 against England at Wembley. Scotland won the game 1-0 thanks to his towering header, but lost the tie 2-1 on aggregate after having already been beaten 2-0 previously thanks to two Paul Scholes goals at Hampden Park.
Two years after this, having played some of the best football of his career, Hutchison made the move that would surely elevate him to being one of the Premier League’s finest midfielders. West Ham paid Sunderland a club record £5m for the midfielder in the hope that he would become a key part of West Ham’s new look side. However in February 2002 disaster struck, Hutchison suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury which effectively ruled him out of competitive football for a year.
The truth be told, Hutchison never fully regained the levels he showed prior to the injury. After four years at West Ham, where he made just 63 league appearances, scoring five goals, he was allowed to leave to join Millwall on a free. It didn’t work out for him at the New Den and he spent barely three months there before joining Coventry in November 2005. Initially at the Ricoh, he showed some of his old form and manager Mickey Adams rewarded him in January 2006 with a contract through until June 2007. However his injury jinx once again struck and he left Coventry when his contract expired having played just 32 league games, scoring a single goal.
Hutchison’s final stop in his playing career was with Mick Harford’s Luton, where he played in the 2007-2008 season. Upon his departure from the cash strapped club, he generously refused to take his final two wage packets, instead giving the club the money and sponsoring two youth team players for the following season.
Don Hutchison’s fall from grace wasn’t, in the end, down to his own failings, but instead simply the whims of football fate. Had he not suffered the ACL injury at the peak of his powers, who knows what he may have gone on to achieve at the highest levels of the game. Especially when you are capable of things like this…