February 6, 1975
Reading soccer logic
Lunch with Brian Hall, B.Sc., the thinking man’s footballer, “Little Bamber” to his Liverpool team mates, is as satisfying as the meal. He feeds you on a diet of provocative thoughts, flowing smoothly and logically, as you would expect from a mathematician’s mind, coming over in a quiet Preston accent and the only trouble is you are left with an overflowing notebook which as to be cut by half.
Still, let’s start with Brian’s thoughts on football to-day: “I don’t agree with people who say the game is not as good as it used to be. It’s changed a lot over the last 20 years, especially as there is now more emphasis on money than ever before.
“That means that to win is far more important than it has ever been before. To win simply means not making mistakes. Older spectators might not like the way the game is much more professional.
“But as a comparison, when I first watched Cliff Richard I thought he was out of this world, but now I think he’s dreadful. But at the time I appreciated what he was talking about, and it was relevant then.
“If you can reverse that process, now I think a lot of critics are looking for things in professional football that were there 25 years ago, and they are never going to find them.”
Brian doesn’t think the game has suffered through progress. “No way,” he argued. “It’s more of a spectacle to-day, in that it’s faster, quicker and incidents happen far more often.”
Does he ever feel his size is a drawback?
“Okay, I’m only five feet nothing and the smallest in the team,” he grinned, “but that’s where your survival instinct comes in. I have adapted my game so that I make up for lack of height with speed and control.
“If a great hulking centre half comes bearing down on me, I get out of the way – fast!
“I think playing rugby at Preston Grammar School helped. I remember my third game at 15, the opposition decided they were going to ‘do’ me. It put me off so much I left the ball alone and had a nightmare game.
“Playing Leeds at Anfield for the first time in the second team, this fellow gave me a kick at the start. I lost my temper and had another nightmare game.
“When I got home I thought and analysed it all. That fellow was going to kick me and frighten me, and he won. So I decided what you have to do is to get up, keep on going, forget him. In the end he will get fed up and leave you alone. You learn the hard way.”
Brian Hall spends a lot of time thinking about the game; not always, he admits, for his own good.
“One of the problems I have had to overcome is accepting the fact that football is a very simple game, and if you think too much about it – and after spending 21 years of my life using my brain, it’s hard to get out of the habit – there are times you think and think and go around in circles and miss the obvious.
“This is where Shanks came into his own. His concept was implicitly itself. This is one of the big factors of his success.
“Shankly dominated everything and ran the show, and because of his own personality and the way he lived his life, football 24 hours a day, every day, it became a little oppressive at times. There was a tremendous strain on everyone at times, but it worked. If you win, that is it. It doesn’t matter how you achieve it.
“Now with the present set up things are a little bit more relaxed. Bob Paisley is more approachable, it’s easier to come to work in the morning. There is still a very string family atmosphere in the club and still a healthy desire to win, but whether in actual fact at the end of the day we will win anything remains to be seen.”
So what’s going wrong with the team now?
“We’ve got the same players, the same attitude, we know what is required of us,” Brian agreed. “But you make your own luck in this game, and I’m wondering if Liverpool are beginning to make a bit of bad luck for themselves. But if we knew the answer we’d be able to solve it. It sounds trite, but all we can do is keep battling on. It must come right in the end.”
He’s got firm ideas on what makes a good team. “Eleven good players, and an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so you play to their strengths,” he said. “And you need a balance of these strengths and weaknesses. As for the secret to a successful side, that is what the top managers get paid to find out.
“You have to be motivated. Shankly said all you need is to go out and look at the grass and the ball. In some ways he’s right. You must have a desire, a will to win. Financial gain might be a stimulus during training in the week, but on Saturday you must have the same desire to win as you has a as a schoolboy. It’s something you’re born with.”
He’s got respect for football crowds, in that he think they are entitled to their frustrations. “They are paying my wages and if a guy paying £1 for a stand ticket wants to call me all the names under the sun, and he doesn’t go home and kick his wife, it’s okay by me. He doesn’t pick the team, anyway.”
He thinks there is room for improvement. “For instance, I hope this professionalism on the field and in training will eventually enter the highest spheres of football administration. I think at the moment we are only really touching the tip of the money that is working its way round football, and if far more professional business management was applied to the running of the game at all levels, then perhaps football would not have some of its financial problems that it’s reported to have.
“One of the things that does amaze me about professional football is simply that millions and millions of pounds are poured into football pools every week and football takes very little from it. I think it’s about time that was re-organised. Why can’t the Football League run their own pools?”
If Brian Hall hadn’t become a professional football he would probably now be in computers. “I played for Liverpool as an amateur while studying at Liverpool University – Peter Thompson helped me get a trial – and they asked me if I’d like to sign professional in my last term. I say I would if I graduated. Luckily I did, and I was down there like a shot! It was a golden opportunity.”
He finds his greatest relaxation at home in Aughton Green with his wife Mary and daughters Jane (4) and one-year-old Elizabeth, and in hosting his own weekly show for a local radio station.
He’s undecided yet about his future when his playing days are finished. “Journalism attracts me, because I love people,” he said, “but so does football management. It can be lucrative if you’re a success, but it’s a long, hard and hazardous road.”
(Source: Liverpool Echo, by Ann Cumming: February 6, 1975)