Peter Hall – ‘A Step Too Far’
Peter Hall was billed in programme-speak of the time as a ‘forward signed from Bedford after being tracked by former manager Basil Hayward for some considerable time.’ He was a pretty regular goal-scorer at Southern League level. His first match was a 3-2 defeat at Bury in November 1967, after Gills had been 2-0 up inside ten minutes. Mel Machin scored a penalty after Hall had been brought down, then Hall himself scored. Or had he – some papers gave it as an own goal.
Very few people went to long distance away games in those days, so eye-witnesses to clear up this mystery were few, but my dad’s boss was there. He always seemed to visit his daughter in Manchester when the Gills were up that way. We were keen to get his assessment of our new goal-scorer. ‘Tony’ he said to my dad ‘he’s the worst player I’ve ever seen.’ Now like my dad, the boss had been a regular at Priestfield since the First World War and he was not one to make outrageous exaggerations, so this was worrying. ‘But he scored’ we said. ‘Well, he was clean through, and he completely miss-hit his shot and it cannoned off the full back racing in to cover and finished up in the net.’
So we knew a little of what to expect when a short slightly balding figure bursting out of the number 11 shirt trotted out for his home debut against Bournemouth the following week. Basically Peter Hall’s style was to kick the ball ahead of him and chase after it. If anyone got in his way he simply ran through them, knocking them over and treading on them. It was quite unique. He was brave though, diving head first into a sea of legs at corners and free-kicks into the goalmouth. It was a style that would bring goals in the Southern League, but at Third Division level it didn’t work so well. The crowd’s mood went from expectation to disappointment to barracking to laughing in the space of one awful 0-0 game.
Within a couple of games, Peter had been nicknamed ‘Albert’. Whether this was after the Albert Hall or ‘Albert RN’ the ‘B’ movie war film starring Richard Attenborough about the dummy that doubled for escaped prisoners of war, which was a regular on Sunday afternoon TV at the time, is unclear. What was clear was that Pete had reached special cult status, like Ed Wood and ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’.
In all he made nine appearances, the last being on Boxing Day 1967 at Brighton when he ran through future FA Technical Director and sometime England manager Howard Wilkinson and got a kick across the knee in return. It finished his Gillingham career.