by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
16 November 1938: Willie Hall takes under four minutes to score England’s fastest ever international hat-trick
George William Hall was known to everyone as Willie and was born in 1912 in Newark, Nottinghamshire. He had played as a schoolboy international for England and had begun his professional career with Notts County, then in the Third Division (South) in 1930. After 35 games and 8 goals in just over two years with the club, in which they won promotion to the Second Division, he had done enough to bring himself to the attention of bigger clubs. He was signed by Tottenham Hotspur, who were pushing for promotion from the Second Division, in December 1932 for a fee of £2600 plus another £500 if he won an England cap. Signed as a replacement for George Greenfield who had broken a leg, the 20 year-old Hall was immediately picked for the first team, making his debut ironically away to Notts County. Spurs lost that game 3-0 but would finish runners-up at the end of the season to win promotion.
Spurs returned to the top flight in style and were lying second when Hall was selected to make his debut for England in a 4-1 win against France at White Hart Lane in 6 December 1933. Although he played well enough he wasn’t selected again until 1937, although he did appear for an FA XI against an Anglo-Scot XI in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V. Hindering his call up for further caps was an injury received in 1934 at Maine Road when, after a heavy tackle, he required surgery on his knee. This left him sidelined for a number of months, and when he returned to the first team towards the end of the 1934/35 season Spurs had struggled and were bottom of the table and were to be relegated back to the second tier. Out of the top division the selectors overlooked him, but his form was such that even though he was still playing in the Second Division he was called up to win his second cap in a 5-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast on 23 October 1937. He scored one of the goals in this game and was picked for the next international against Wales on 17 November in which he scored the second goal in a 2-1 victory at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park.
On 6 November 1938 he was selected for his seventh England cap for the game in which he was going to write his name in the record books by scoring five times in a magical thirty-minute period either side of the half-time break. Tommy Lawton had opened the scoring in the eighth minute but it was nearly half an hour before the team scored again and Willie Hall started on his rampage. The first of his goals came in the 36th minute followed by two more in the 38th and 40th minutes which gave Hall the record of the fastest international hat-trick by an England player, a feat timed officially at 3 minutes 30 seconds and yet to be bettered. It took him 10 minutes of the second half for him to get his fourth, quickly followed by the fifth another 10 minutes later. Stanley Matthews rounded off the afternoon with England’s seventh in the 75th minute.
Willie Hall was a skilful dribbler of the ball but not renowned as a goalscorer and the five he scored for England was more than half the total he got for Spurs all that season, but he had not only scored the fastest hat-trick for England that day but also equalled Steve Bloomer’s 1896 record for the most goals in an international game by an English player. It was a game that was to leave Hall immensely proud and Stanley Matthews, who himself had a rewarding afternoon having been credited with assists for all of Willie Hall’s goals, later wrote in his autobiography The Way It Was, “Willie was full of emotion back in the dressing room and cried unashamedly as each of his team-mates in turn congratulated him on his outstanding performance and his England goalscoring match record.”
Hall was to win a total of 10 caps, scoring a highly creditable nine goals and was a regular selection up until the intervention of the Second World War in 1939, with his final game being against Yugoslavia on 18 May 1939. During the war he was rejected by the army on health grounds caused by injuries suffered from playing football, and he served in the London Police reserve. He continued to turn out for Spurs in war-time games and was made captain of the team, playing 136 times and scoring 10 goals. He also appeared in three war-time internationals. In 1944 he retired from playing after a serious ankle injury and took over the management of Clapton Orient, as Leyton Orient were then called.
His tenure was to be short-lived though due to complications suffered after a thrombosis had affected his legs and by the time football had resumed in 1946 Hall sadly had had both his legs amputated. Tommy Lawton mirrored the public’s mood in his book My Twenty Years of Soccer, when he wrote, “What a tragedy it was that Willie should lose both his precious legs, the legs that had thrilled us all in football for many a year.” Notts County and Spurs both held testimonials for him, with over 30,000 turning out to White Hart Lane on 7 May 1946 to see a Spurs XI take on an FA XI.
After a period coaching and managing in the non-league with Chelmsford and Chingford he left the game and became a publican. A measure of his fame and the regard that he was held in for how he had dealt with his disability was that in 1959, some 13 year after the end of his career, he was the subject of the This Is Your Life TV programme and presented with the famous red book by Eamonn Andrews. Inscribed inside were the words “Willie Hall – football genius and true gentleman, your brand of unique courage has inspired all who have known you. Your kindness and humour have brought solace into the lives of all you have met. This book is intended as our tribute and token of appreciation.”
Willie Hall passed away on 22 May 1967 aged 55 and a trophy, the Willie Hall Memorial Trophy, was inaugurated for teams in Newark to compete for, and is still played for today, and a plaque was unveiled earlier this year at the primary school in Lovers’ Lane, Newark where Hall began his tentative steps towards football immortality. When looking back at his career perhaps there are no more fitting words than those written by Stanley Matthews when he wrote, “He was the most unassuming of men, modest to a fault. His unselfish play and great contribution to a game was never truly appreciated by the sports writers of the day.”