Alfie Hale was brought up in a hurling area in Waterford City in the shadow of Walsh Park but he was part of a football family. Six days a week along with his brothers he hopped over the fence and made the most of the empty field right on their doo
Alfie Hale was brought up in a hurling area in Waterford City in the shadow of Walsh Park but he was part of a football family.
Six days a week along with his brothers he hopped over the fence and made the most of the empty field right on their door step, kicking ball to their hearts content.
Football is quite simply ingrained in Hale’s blood. His father and three uncles played for Waterford in the 1930s and his three brothers paved the way before him.
He started off playing in the local club St Joseph’s. Back then the youngest grade was under 15 but Hale started at ten. Those five years toughened him up and helped his skills develop in a competitive environment.
By the time he was a teenager he’d realised his dream of playing with Waterford. He scored a brace on his home debut for them against Bohemians on Easter Sunday in 1958 and 24 hours later scored a hat-trick against Cork Hibernian in the Munster Cup final. Of course his talent attracted interest from several English clubs. Many attempts were made to sign him but Hale wanted to keep his feet firmly on Irish soil.
In the 1959/60 season he was picked for the Irish amateur League of Ireland team and was also selected for the professionals. He scored three goals in each game impressing more than just the crowd. Joe Mercer was watching with growing interest. Mercer was the new Aston Villa manager and was determined to sign the young player. He brought Hale to the FA Cup final in Wembley, presented him with a contract and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The problem, though, was that Hale's head wasn't turned by the thoughts of a life away from home. “Nineteen sixty one," he exclaims now. "I scored on my debut for Aston Villa in the League and I also scored in my FA Cup debut but I didn’t get any kick out of it. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, I wanted to play at home.”
He somehow persisted with his career in England, moving to Doncaster and then Newport in a journey that kept him six years away from the sunny south east.
“When Waterford won the League I came back and as soon as I put my feet down I took off. When I was away I was always dreaming about home, looking for things I was used to like Mass on a Sunday. I only gave it socks when I got back.”
Hale, who was capped 14 times for Ireland, flourished on his home patch as Waterford dominated the League, winning six titles in eight seasons. He was player/manager for the fifth title victory and finished joint top scorer in the League on two occasions. And he has the unique honour of scoring in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
Although he moved around in the twilight of his career, Waterford were always his greatest love. And as they face a new season with a new owner in Lee Power, the Swindon Town chairman, Hale feels the future looks bright.
“Everyone welcomes it and there is a great excitement around. It looks like they are on the way and every aspect looks in place. The man coming in is a former soccer player, a former international; he’s a businessman and is chairman of Swindon Town. He knows what to expect from footballers and their demands.
“But they need to be in the Premier Division. The Waterford people will stay with them for two-three years but if it doesn’t happen questions will be asked. I’m very enthusiastic and I’m looking forward to seeing the games now.”