The Monday Profile: John Halls
Of course John Halls isn’t the only prodigy in the history of the game to be left scrapping for attention in less exalted climes – give it a year or two and Fernando Torres could be gracing Griffin Park. Still, he’s a player that has always fascinated me for his textbook personification of the “what might have been” scenario.
Along with Steve Sidwell, Jerome Thomas and Jay Bothroyd, he was an FA Youth Cup Winner at the Arsenal eleven years ago; the Gunners defeating Coventry City in the Final. None of those players went on to create first team waves at Highbury so it was perhaps no disgrace that he was forced to look elsewhere on reaching his majority.
A loan spell at feeder club Beveren was followed by a stint in the Potteries; an arrangement that was made permanent in 2003. I saw Halls play on a number of occasions during this period for Stoke and, newly headbanded, he was one of the second tier’s most impressive right siders; nominally a full back but equally adept in midfield. Tenacious when entrusted with the ball, he could also assist in threatening the opposition’s goal.
His Reading side already homing in on promotion, Steve Coppell was next to swoop, with Halls part of a January booster package to add ballast to an over achieving squad. Finding a place in such an imperious team would always be tricky, but his few FA cup appearances indicated a deeper malaise. Maybe it was the vim of those around him that cast Halls in a bad light, but he looked sullen and uninterested on his few outings in blue and white, despite a goal against his previous club in an April 2006 win.
Having signed a lengthy contract, he was to remain a Royals player throughout their two year Premier League sojourn, standing little chance of any extended first team opportunities – three loan spells at Preston, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United did nothing to enhance his reputation. Unsubstantiated rumours flew around the message boards but Halls seemed simply to have lost the fire in his belly.
The ignominy of unsuccessful trials at Blackpool and Sheffield Wednesday followed his departure from the Mad Stad, before a 23 game streak at Brentford ended with him being released once more.
So, to Aldershot Town, on whose books he currently resides. He has turned out 21 times for the Hampshire club this season and seems to have achieved a modest turnaround in fortunes, although a groin injury has hampered his progress in his two years at the club. Now 29, his current deal is up in the Summer and such are the realities of life in League 2, I wouldn’t bet on his remaining at Aldershot beyond June. Basingstoke Town anyone?