As was the case with Manuel Almunia, it is hard to know how exactly to approach Fitz Hall. I think most Watford fans will have been turned against him by his touchline fight with Aidy Boothroyd in Watford’s professional dispatching of Hall’s Crystal Palace in the second leg playoff semi final in 2006. It may have been a small moment of petulance, at a time when an entire season’s efforts were rapidly becoming futile, but to start a scrap with the (at-the-time) hugely popular Boothroyd was something that Watford fans could not abide, and has made a lasting impression. Fair enough. What should resonate further with supporters regarding the incoming Hall, however, is that he really isn’t very good, especially compared to messrs Taylor and Nosworthy, and the fact that he has only once stayed at a club for over two seasons, with even his ‘record-breaking’ three and a half year stint at QPR punctuated by an unremarkable half a season on loan at Newcastle.
Hall’s superior, Nyron Nosworthy, has seen to it that we should be wary about letting ourselves be prejudiced about incoming journeyman defenders: when he arrived I, as I’m sure many of my fellow fans were, was not so much underwhelmed, rather more embarrassed that a player so universally derided was considered an improvement to what we had. Of course, I ended his loan spell struggling to maintain my enforced diet of words, hat and a large chunk of humble pie, and was delighted when we managed to sign him permanently, such was his elegance, power and near flawlessness in impeccably filling Martin Taylor’s injured shoes. But ‘One Size’ will have to undergo just as severe a transformation from the image in our heads to be a similar success, but the fact that two crowd favourites, as of yet uninjured, stand in his way makes that all the more hard for him.
Hall, born in Walthamstow, started down the road at Barnet, after playing for Senrab in East London, the Sunday league team that has produced dozens of professionals (Jermaine Defoe, Ledley King and internet boo boy Leon Knight among them), but failed to break through into the first team. He was taken to Chesham United by St Albans City legend Bob Dowie, where he played for a year, making 21 appearances. Clearly taken by his brother’s young prodigy, Iain Dowie spent £30,000 taking him to Oldham, where he made his – pretty amusing – name, in the new/old Division Two. After a single season, again, he went south to Southampton, but after only 7 league starts in a year he was sold to Crystal Palace for £1.5 million. The constant increase of his price seems at odds with his stalling contribution at this level – that Southampton made over a million pounds in profit after a season’s bench-warming is pretty impressive, but move he did, and at Palace he stayed for two whole seasons, playing in the Premier League for the first one, but not the second. Indeed, in August of 2005, when the club had dropped back into the Championship, he was appointed club captain. After a slew of poor performances, the honour was stripped as Michael Hughes was reappointed. Wigan, for their sophomore year in the top flight, spent a reported £3 million on Hall, who made 21 league starts, before losing his place the following year, making one solitary start before being shipped out to QPR for a greatly diminished £700,000. He made 52 appearances before his loan spell to Newcastle, though never over 24 in one season, and was allowed to move with little fuss. In six months in the North-East he played in 7 games as Newcastle cemented their return to the Premier League. 36 games in the two years since show that Hall has never quite managed to hold down a first team place, as he hasn’t at any of his clubs.
He’s a big man – 6ft 4in worth of big. But we’ve got two of those – two who I trust more. If we were to sign an experienced defender, and with Mariappa gone we probably did need to, surely it would have made more sense to have gone after one more akin to Mariappa himself – less of an imposing presence, but a quicker defender capable of retrieving situations, a man like Jay DeMerit. A lack of pace at the back could very well be our downfall this year, and Fitz Hall will be contributing greatly to it. Moreover, of course, a man who has played – occasionally – in the Premier League in recent years is bound to be demanding fairly high wages, and for such wages, I’m not so sure we couldn’t have got a better player, and one more suited to our needs.
But what do I know? Maybe he’ll pull a Nosworthy? And if not, we’ve only given him a one year deal, which seems to be his shelf life at a club anyway.