Grant Hall Hero 2

Sussex Born & Bred: Grant Hall

The Rotherham centre-back talks the Sussex loans that shaped him, captaining QPR and more…

In the latest of our Sussex Born & Bred series we spoke with Brighton born and current Rotherham defender, Grant Hall.

For Grant Hall, 31, the goal was always to make it as a professional player, which is hardly a surprise when you grow up in such a football mad household.

“Football was everything in my house growing up,” remembers Hall fondly, “both my dad, Terry, and my brother, Craig, played at county level.

“Dad spent most of his time playing for Whitehawk and Mile Oak, while my brother played for Peacehaven and was also at Brighton as a youngster.

“Throughout my career, my dad has always been the one to tell me what I needed to do and give me the most important advice, so I’m really lucky to have had that support network.”

Yet, whilst the young Hall had dreams of making it to the top of the game, like all youngsters playing football, it was the sheer enjoyment that was the most important thing.

“My first team was AFC Jelfish, before I went onto play for Hove Rivervale,” said Hall, “at the same time I was also playing for the school team at Cardinal Newman.

“It was back during those early years that I first came on Brighton’s radar and they were looking to bring me in. But my dad felt it was too soon for me, because I was still just a kid enjoying playing football, and like all kids, I didn’t want to take it too seriously.

“Two years or so later though, Martin Hinshelwood was watching me when I was around 11 or 12-years-old and that is when I went on to sign for Brighton.”

Yet whilst most youngsters would have given anything to be in Hall's shoes, for Grant it was a tough first few years in the Centre of Excellence.

“When I joined Brighton, I was a really quiet child and definitely played within myself,” said Hall, “before I went there, I was just playing the game with my friends, and there was no kind of pressure.

“Whereas at Brighton it was all about getting a scholarship and then a pro-contract, and suddenly being faced with the question of if you wanted a career in the game.

“But for me at that age, I just wanted to enjoy playing.”

Indeed, this shyness was such that, to this day, Hall puts it down as one of the main reasons why, at the age of 16, he wasn’t offered a scholarship.

“I can remember Martin coming to my house to talk to me and my parents, and he sat us all down and told me I wasn’t going to be offered the scholarship.

“Thinking back, I knew it was on the cards, because I hadn’t been playing my best football. I was really upset when he told me, even though a part of me knew that my time there might be coming to an end.”

But this wasn’t the end of Hall’s footballing journey, merely just the end of the first chapter.

“After Brighton I went to college and started studying, with a mind to maybe becoming a PE teacher, and then along came Lewes,” said Hall.

“At that time Kevin Keehan was in charge, and it was he, alongside Jason Hopkinson and Steve Ibbitson who put their faith in me, and had me train with the first team, at just 16-years-old.

“Suddenly I was in a men’s environment, which I think forced me to come out of my shell.

“When my debut came, I was really nervous, I can’t lie! I was playing at right-back and it was against Mansfield and we did end up losing.

“I can remember having David Wheeler in-front of me and Anthony Barness at centre-back.

“But the belief in me that Keehan showed back then meant so much, and from that point I really started to enjoy my football again and helped to make me the player I’ve become, so I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Lewes.”

Indeed, Hall’s newfound enjoyment of the game was reflected in his performances, and as such, Brighton came calling once again. But with memories of the missed scholarship still fresh, Hall wasn’t exactly jumping to return to the Seagulls.

“I’d been loving my time with Lewes, so when Brighton came back in for me, I didn’t want to leave,” said Hall.

Grant Hall 5

Grant (second from the right) celebrates in Brighton & Hove Albion's Sussex Senior Challenge Cup triumph over Bognor Regis Town

“I just had a bad feeling about things because of what happened last time, so it took my dad a little bit of time to persuade me.

“He just sat me down and told me just how big an opportunity this was for me, and he knew I wanted to be a footballer, so it was something I couldn’t turn down.”

However, whilst Hall was reluctant to return to the Centre of Excellence, concerns of an emotional hangover from his last year there were short lived.

“I remember my first game for the Under-18’s, Steve Brown was the manager, and I was just able to play with that same freedom I’d had when I was at Lewes,” said Hall.

“After that game I didn’t look back and signed a two-year pro-contract with Brighton.”

Yet it wasn’t long before Hall found himself back in the non-league circuit, as loans to Bognor Regis Town, Whitehawk and back at Lewes followed.

“The club wanted me to be playing football and getting a bit more experience,” said Hall, “because youth football is a completely different world to the men’s game at that level.

“Yet again I was forced to come out of my shell and become a man.”

Loans at such a formative age do much to shape the mentality of a young player, so was this the case for Hall?

“For me, it was just about learning to go out and enjoy every game,” said Hall, “you never know what’s going to happen in football, an injury could come along or anything, you just don’t know what’s around the corner.

“So, I always go into every game to enjoy it and not looking to put any pressure on myself, because that’s when I play my best football.

“Football doesn’t last forever, and ultimately it’s a short career, so it’s important to make the most of it and just enjoy it.”

Hall continued his development with Brighton, for a number of years before eventually impressing then manager Gus Poyet.

“At that time, I felt like I was starting to outgrow that development team environment,” said Hall, “we had a great team there, with the likes of Steve Cook and Lewis Dunk, and we were beating Premier League youth sides, such as Manchester United and Tottenham on a regular basis.

“I needed to take that step-up, and when I started training with the first-team it was great to see how they worked on a daily basis, to play at that level.”

A debut for a young Hall soon followed, coming on as a substitute in Brighton’s 0-3 away win against Southampton on 2 January 2012.

“I was nervous when the moment came, don’t get me wrong,” said Hall, “but nerves are a good thing; they help keep you focused.

“I remember Southampton were down to ten men, and Poyet telling me to just give the ball to Kazenga LuaLua who was causing havoc for their full-backs!

“I was playing at left-back, but the fact we went on to win, meant I couldn’t have really asked for a better debut.”

Hall didn’t have to wait long for his full debut for Brighton, being handed a start at home against Wrexham in the Third Round of The FA Cup just five days later.

“I just went into that game full of confidence,” said Hall, “we drew 1-1 and I was awarded Man-of-the-Match, so it was a really good day for me.

“To play at the Amex was just brilliant, and the fact I went onto play in the replay, which we won, makes it even more special looking back.

However, Hall’s games against Wexham would be his last for his boyhood club.

“After those games I ended up going back and training with the Under-21s,” said Hall, “which did upset me a bit because I was really benefiting from being around the first-team and felt like I’d outgrown the youth squad.

“Then my agent mentioned to me that Tottenham had seen my games in The FA Cup and were interested in me.

“I’d been offered a three-year contract by Brighton, which was really hard to turn down because it was my hometown club, and I didn’t want to move away from my friends and family.

“But I looked at the first-team and saw the likes of Lewis Dunk, Steve Cook, Gordon Greer and Adam El-Abd all ahead of me, so it was looking increasingly difficult to force myself into the first-team.

Grant Hall 6

Grant playing at the back for Brighton & Hove Albion in the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup Final 2011 against Eastbourne Borough, the first to be played at the Amex Stadium

“So, I took the plunge with Spurs and looking back, I don’t regret that, because it put me on the path that I’m on today.”

A move to the capital followed and Hall soon found himself plunged into a Premier League environment.

“I remember walking in and seeing the likes of Gareth Bale and Luca Modric training, and Les Ferdinand walking around the place, so it was hard not to get starstruck in those early days.

“It did take me a little while to get used to it, because even the Under-21s at Spurs were playing at a different level. Suddenly, I had Harry Kane playing in front of me!

“But moving away, putting yourself in a new environment, it’s all part of growing up and becoming a man.”

However, whilst the Spurs youth team was a more than adequate proving ground, loan moves were incoming, and first up was Swindon Town.

“That was a tough season for me, and certainly an eye-opener,” said Hall. 

“League One was a tough place to play at that time, with the likes of Wolves and Brentford in the division, and the only experience I’d had of anything close to that level was the few games I’d had for Brighton.

“So, to find myself playing regularly was a good experience, but definitely a challenging one.

“In Under-21s you’re playing against the same type of players, but now I was playing against players much quicker or much more physical. At that time, I was up against the likes of Adebayo Akinfenwa and Callum Wilson.

“That season showed me what I needed to do, and where I needed to improve, if I wanted to become a better player.”

After Swindon, a loan to Championship side Birmingham City then followed, which brought with it a different kind of test.

“Lee Clark was managing Birmingham, and he’d seen me at Tottenham and wanted to bring me to the club,” said Hall.

“We started the season well, but then things started to slide. Next thing we knew, Lee was out, and Gary Rowlett came in.

“Gary, to be fair to him, was really honest with me, sitting me down and telling me that he’s going to be bringing in his own centre-back and I’m not going to be in his plans, and I respected him for doing that.

“However, I then found myself training, predominantly alone, waiting to return to Spurs in January, which was the first time I’d had to deal with the mental set-back of not being wanted by a manager, but again all these experiences just help make you stronger.”

Following a return to North London, a short spell at Blackpool followed, where Hall would make 12 appearances.

But Hall’s time at Tottenham would soon be coming to end; but as one door closes another one opens, in this case, in the form of Queens Park Rangers.

“Chris Ramsey had taken over at the club, who I’d already worked with before at Spurs, so he knew my game and asked me to come in a train with them during pre-season and play in a couple of friendlies,” said Hall.

“That was enough to impress him, and I got the contract and didn’t look back.”

As first seasons at a club go, Hall’s first with QPR was a remarkable one.

Playing week-in-week-out and putting in performances at centre-back of a calibre that saw him recognised with the 2015/16 Supporters Player of the Year.

“That was when I was playing my best football,” remembers Hall, “I was getting more and more confidence with each game, and it really felt like the first club where I could settle down, after having spent the last few years moving around quite a lot.

“I was able to move back to Brighton and be close again to my family, which meant a lot. It was just the perfect club for me at that time.”

However, whilst Hall was all set to continue this great run into his next few seasons with the club, fate had other ideas.

Hall had been diagnosed with chronic tendinitis in his knee, which would eventually see him side-lined for a total of 18 months.

“At first it was something that we thought could just be managed with rehab,” said Hall, “but it was soon getting to a point where I was having injections for the pain.

“I went to see a specialist, which was where the question around an operation came up. 

Grant Hall Credit BHAFC Paul Hazlewood

Now playing for QRR, Grant faces off against Brighton in 2015 in a dramatic 2-2 draw

Credit: BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood

“I really wasn’t keen on going under the knife, because I’d looked into it, and read about cases, such as Owen Hargreaves, who’d had several operations and was forced to retire at just 30.

“But soon the doctor was spelling it out for me; either I have the operation or retire from the game.

“And I was contemplating retirement, because I knew that, if this doesn’t work, that’s my career done.”

Hall went ahead and had the operation, and would go on to make a full recovery, but the physical battle was just one side of the coin.

Inwardly, the impact the injury was having on Hall’s mental health cannot be understated.

“I can remember speaking with Mickey Bennett from the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) who described my problems building up like a bath that’s filling up with water, and eventually it will overflow unless you pull the pulg,” said Hall.

“For me that moment came when I was sitting in Les Ferdinand’s office with him and Steven McClaren, the manager at the time.

“I’d just got fit again but I still didn’t feel myself, so I started talking to them and I just broke down crying. That’s when we all knew I needed help.

“That was also what triggered me to come out and speak about my problems at the time, which was such a massive weight off my shoulders.”

Hall’s struggles at QPR, both physically and mentally, over 18 months, made his return to regular football with the London side all the more remarkable.

Indeed, in what would prove to be his final season with the club, Hall took on the captaincy.

“I remember at first the armband was given to Àngel Rangel, but he said no, and thought I was better off having it, as I’d been at the club for a few years by this point.

“So, I took it in pre-season not thinking I’d get it for the rest of the campaign, but that turned out to be the case, and it was an honour.”

Yet come the end of the season contract renewal discussions had broken down with QPR, and Hall was looking for a fresh start, with Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough the destination.

“It was such a tough decision to leave QPR, but for me, I wanted a fresh challenge in my career,” said Hall.

“When Warnock took over at Middlesbrough, I knew it was perfect for me, especially after speaking with him and hearing how much he wanted me.

“I loved every minute of training under him; what you see is what you get with Neil!

“For me his player management is the best I’ve ever come across.”

However, Warnock’s time in the North East would be short lived, with Chris Wilder replacing him.

“It was disappointing for me when Warnock got the sack,” said Hall, “because he was the one who pushed to get me in.

“It was clear that I wasn’t in Wilders' plans, but he never had that conversation with me, like Rowlett did back at Birmingham.

“I’d been training well, then I picked up a knock that kept me out for a couple of weeks, and during that time the boys were playing well, so unfortunately I never got my opportunity.”

27 appearances for Middlesbrough over those two seasons however would be enough to impress fellow Championship side Rotherham United, who in the summer of 2022 brought him in on loan.  

“For me it was an easy decision to go to Rotherham,” said Hall, “I needed to play, and I remember getting the call from Paul Warne, and for me to feel wanted again, meant everything.

“It’s been a positive season so far, I’ve been out recently with a small injury, but I’m looking forward to getting back out there soon and playing as many games as possible for the club!”

Hall’s footballing journey can hardly be called straightforward, so what advice would he give the next generation of players in Sussex?

“Just believe in yourself,” said Hall, “if you believe in yourself, you’re halfway there.”

“Talent isn’t enough to make it in this game, you need to be prepared to put in the work and it’s going to be tough.

“1% of young players will make it in the professional game, but if you believe in your own talent and are willing to work hard, the skies the limit!”

To find out more about playing opportunities in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 766855

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