by Daisy Cutter

A few weeks ago, in the reception at Goodison Park, Stuart Hall walked past me and two thoughts occurred. The first was an acknowledgement of how old he is looking these days. This should not really have been a surprise considering the veteran broadcaster is 83 this month. The second was a rumination on the modern-day casual bequeathal of the term ‘legend’ to those undeserving of it; fly-by-night pop acts, actors who have appeared in a couple of half-decent films and the like. Meanwhile here is a true great of his profession, a colossus of the microphone who has bestrode broadcasting seemingly since its inception with a uniquely raconteur style that is always endearing, entertaining and educating. Yet frustratingly most people still know him best for laughing like a drain at over-sized bobbly heads from Belgium slipping and sliding on It’s A Knockout.

Us football folk know better; we know that, although Hall revelled in base comedy (he is after all a lifetime supporter of Manchester City) he also spent a career elevating his calling into an artform with erudite match summaries that sometimes strayed into surreal pomposity, all delivered in dulcet tones that was half baker’s son from Ashton-Under-Lyne, half old-school thespian. A sixty second round-up of Burnley v Colchester on a drab February afternoon could include comparing the Clarets’ front pairing to Tristan and Isolde, a turn-of-phrase to describe the thin mist that would make Wordsworth swoon, and such dramatic imagery that you found yourself desperately wishing you’d witnessed for yourself the incident-free 0-0 draw where the diminutive ‘gladiatorial figurine’ striker blasted over the solitary chance amidst the ‘muddy coliseum’ of Turf Moor. Instead of course you were in the car, heaters on full blast to ease the post-match chilblains, roaring with glee with your mates or your dad at the glorious use of language emitting from the radio in that oh-so-familiar voice. Other reporters offered cliché. Hall gave a Kenneth Tynan critique condensed.

As the old man was greeted by some old friends in the Goodison Park reception I resolved to write a glowing article about the outstanding and wonderful contribution to football he has made.

So here it is. Except now of course my hand has been forced on what the nature of this piece will be as the 83 year old was arrested and charged on Wednesday with three counts of indecent assault namely that he is alleged to have abused three girls aged between eight and 17 years between 1974 and 1984. It is important to state at this point that Stuart Hall strenuously denies these charges and has been bailed to appear before Preston magistrates next month.

Perhaps through naivety or perhaps this is a perfectly reasonable response but the shock of this transpiring was made all the more acute by the fact that this was not a Jimmy Savile panto villain – a strange f***er who always gave me the creeps and notably carried an aura of ‘otherness’ around him – but rather someone who I greatly admired and felt warmth and affection for. So the news jolted me but once absorbed it brought to mind this pertinent question – should Hall be found guilty of these abhorrent actions how much of his life’s work should be devalued as a result?

I recall some seasons back listening to 5Live on a Saturday afternoon where they went around the grounds at half-time. The game that Hall was covering had been a complete bore-fest with absolutely nothing of interest to report upon. Yet in his short allotted time he gave a masterclass of such poetic majesty – all coupled with his trademark mellifluous voice – that when they returned to the studio the cardinal sin of radio was committed: dead air. The presenter that day was stunned until he finally recovered enough to say that he hoped we, the listeners, realised what a true privilege it was to hear that. And he was right: it was indeed a privilege. So is that no longer the case? Will my memory of that moment be forever tainted should a trial find Stuart Hall guilty of what he is accused of?

How possible is it to detach a man’s genius from the man himself?

In other similar circumstances the evidence depressingly points towards the negative.

Although hardly a genius Paul Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter, wrote some fantastic pop songs. But you’ll struggle to find them on any pub jukeboxes and nor would you particularly wish to see them there. So would Hall’s incredible oeuvre also be wiped from the public domain?

I hope not, because no matter his possible personal wrongdoings the man breathed life and culture into our game recognising as he did that football is the ballet of the working class. Where today we have a media who presume ignorance of its audience Hall would describe Ray Wilkins as ‘wandering around the midfield like a Parisian boulevardier looking for a courtesan’. He described George Best as ‘having a mind like a vexed sea’. He was, in short, football’s poet laureate and he was wonderful at what he did and it was wonderful what he gave us.

No matter what happens in the months to come that at least should never be forgotten.