QUEENS Park Rangers captain Grant Hall is the latest feature in our Isolation Interview series as the Rangers centre half delves into what has been a rollercoaster of emotions since arriving at QPR in 2015.
This week, 18th-22nd May 2020, is an important week for mental health up and down the country. The 28-year-old knows more than anyone the importance of finding a voice when things start to get tough. After eighteen months of set back after set back, Hall finally found himself at breaking point at the end of last season before turning his career around.
Born in Brighton in the early 90s, Hall was completely unaware of the issues mental health can bring and it wasn’t until a meeting with then manager Steve McClaren and Director of Football Les Ferdinand that he became truly aware of what he was dealing with.
Imagine the scenario, a standard meeting between club captain, Grant Hall, the Director of Football and the first-team manager is arranged to talk about his latest injury, which swiftly turned into a career defining moment for the troubled defender.
Hall arrived in west London in 2015 with the aim of kick-starting his career and he got off to the perfect start after being named ‘Supporters' Player of the Year’ in his debut season for the blue and white hoops. “That year everything seemed to click into place,” he reminisced. “I was on cloud nine, everything was going well and I had no issues outside of football. Looking back now I kind of took it for granted because I felt like nothing could go wrong.”
Another positive season was to follow, but a knee injury at the back end of the 2016/17 campaign was the start of a downward spiral for the versatile centre half. Hall explained to www.qpr.co.uk. “I had a fairly decent second season and, when the injury first hit at the end of that year, I just thought I will come back in pre-season, everything will be fine and I will go from where I left off. That wasn’t to be the case.”
Eighteen months later a stop-start career had started to develop, with the aforementioned setbacks starting to threaten the longevity of his ten-year profession as a footballer.
“The period that I was away took a huge amount out of me," Hall divulged. “I went from a place where life was perfect, I had a great relationship with the QPR supporters and everything was going right on and off the pitch. Then all of a sudden everything seemed to come crashing down. It was a huge reality check for me and I now realise that you can never anticipate what is around the corner in life.
“During that time, I tried to return to full fitness on numerous occasions, but I could never quite do it without breaking down again.
“I remember playing in a reserve game and my body just couldn’t do the things that my mind could see was happening. I could see something a player was about to do two seconds before they did it but in spite of that my body just couldn’t adjust to deal with it. I simply couldn’t push off my knee and as a result the player went past me and scored. That goal is so vivid in my mind because I know at that moment I was in trouble and that I needed to try and get this resolved, otherwise I was never going to be the same player and it was very close to costing me my career.
“Throughout this time, I stopped looking after myself, I was struggling, I’ve previously spoken about the nights I spent drinking to try and cope with the injury, I used it as a coping mechanism with the aim to forget about football because at the time I thought if my knee doesn’t heal I may have to retire here and that was my outlook on it.
“As a consequence, I stopped looking after myself physically too, I stopped caring to be honest, not by choice, but it just happened that way. I wasn’t in control of the situation, myself and my thought process.”
Hall knew something was wrong, but despite this he didn’t know which way to turn and it wasn’t until he broke down in front of manager at the time McClaren and Director of Football Ferdinand that life began to change and the rebuilding of his career began.
According to the centre half, the meeting was meant to be just a standard conversation about which road he should take to aid his latest recovery, “Steve and Les called me into the office for a routine chat about my injury," the 28-year-old recalled: “We were reflecting on where I saw myself and how I could return to action, but at this point I broke down and my emotions then all came out.
I wasn’t playing regularly and to the standard I demand of myself, I didn’t feel the same player and this took so much out of me, I knew I needed help.”
A conversation with the Professional Football Association (PFA) was the turning point for QPR’s much-missed defender, as he started on his long road to recovery, Hall explained: “It’s well documented that Les put me in touch with someone at the PFA.
“I had a really good conversation with them and they helped me understand that it’s okay to speak about your mental health. No-one is going to judge you for it and opening up about your mental well-being is a strength and not a weakness.
“It was exactly what I needed. It felt like a huge release, a weight off of my shoulders and it allowed me to re-focus and start to look after myself again.”
During the close season, QPR’s club captain spent the majority of his time completing warm weather training in Dubai to ensure he was raring to go, as he looked to turn the page on a new chapter in his life.
Hall reflects on the summer that laid the foundations for an impressive 2019/20 campaign, by stating: “I worked really hard during this period, so I could come back in pre-season and hit the ground running.
“I set myself a target of thirty appearances this season and obviously as a result of that hard work I have been able to accomplish that and produce some good performances as well, which have pleased me massively. Deep down it’s just a relief for me to be playing football again.
“I’m playing with a smile on my face and enjoying every moment, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I wanted to just let my game take care of itself, I know what I am capable of, people have seen it and I know the player I can be. I feel myself again this season and I’m happy with how it has gone. Nevertheless I’m not looking too far ahead.”
Jump ahead to the present day and the R’s captain has seen things flourish in both his professional and his personal life, with the welcoming of a baby daughter into the world, which has given Hall a new outlook on life and has helped him remain positive in these unprecedented times.
“My partner and I have seen the birth of our little baby girl,” the new father proudly enthused: “It’s been great, everything has gone back to a place where I’m happy and I can just focus completely on football, as life off the pitch is perfect.
“Since the minute she was born you feel an overwhelming love and you realise you have a responsibility to that child now. So, it’s just been nice to have these couple of unscheduled weeks with her.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen families all over the world spending unexpected time with each other and Hall is no different.
“Obviously, if things were normal I may have missed these special moments, he explained. “Like everyone I’m counting down the days until football returns but spending precious time with her during this period has been amazing.”
For now, Hall who has climbed many hurdles in life will use this period to rest and recuperate, with the aim of coming back exactly where he left off and help lead the R’s to their highest league finish in recent years.