‘If everyone had a Freddy in their life, the world would be a better place’
The booming, American-sounding accent was unmistakable.
It didn’t matter whether it was a low-key training game or a match in front of thousands of people.
The message would invariably be the same: “Enjoy it.”
These were the words of Freddy Hall, the Bermudian-born former Limerick goalkeeper, who tragically passed away at the age of 37 last month.
He would habitually say these two simple words as he played the ball out to team-mates.
“We would start laughing every time he did it because normally keepers are insane and they are usually giving out or screaming something,” Hall’s former Limerick team-mate Paul O’Conor said.
“We all found it hilarious and it instilled a bit of confidence in whoever he was giving the ball to.
“He had that sort of presence about him. He would put that sort of confidence in players and people.”
In many ways, “enjoy it” summed up Hall’s approach to life also.
There have been numerous cases of foreign players who have come to the League of Ireland in recent years and struggled to adapt, often not lasting long in the division as a result.
However, the opposite was true of Hall. He embraced the challenge of playing in a new country and flourished in the process.
After a disastrous start to the campaign, Limerick had looked certainties for the drop when the goalkeeper joined halfway through the 2015 season.
They had failed to win any of their first 21 matches before finally picking up a much needed victory over Sligo in August with their new signing between the posts.
The club looked much improved thereafter, securing seven more wins before the season’s climax and Hall was widely regarded as integral to this rejuvenation.
In the end, though, their unlikely bid for survival fell just short. A final tally of 29 points lifted them off the bottom of the table into eleventh, a point ahead of Drogheda but two behind Galway in tenth.
It set up an all-important promotion-relegation play-off with Finn Harps, and the Super Blues ultimately suffered an agonising 2-1 aggregate defeat against Ollie Horgan’s men.
Eddie Hickey, Limerick’s goalkeeping coach at the time who was one of the many good friends Hall made during his stint in Ireland, recalls: “We got Freddy over on trial from Telford. The club wasn’t going too well at the time in terms of results. [The manager] Martin Russell said: ‘Will you have a look at this lad and give me your opinion as soon as possible?’ So Freddy came out on the training pitch, we were training in UL [University of Limerick] at the time. I had a conversation with him walking out and straight away, I said ‘he’s a good lad’. You know just by talking to him.
“So we started doing just a general goalkeeping warm-up. I strolled by Martin and said: ‘Sign this guy.’ He said: ‘You haven’t seen him training or playing yet.’ I said: ‘Just sign him.’ I knew by his positioning, his stance, that he had everything.
“And then we went into small-sided games on the same day. And he was just explosive in the games; he was exactly what we needed at the time.
“I remember he came and took a cross and just cleared it from one end of the pitch to the next. Martin said to me straight after: ‘Yeah, I think you got that right’.”
Off the pitch, Hall’s adaptation was similarly seamless. O’Conor had also recently joined Limerick, signing from Sligo Rovers, and was initially living with the new goalkeeper.
“The club put us up in Bruff until we found our own accommodation. It would be a place where they put a lot of players on trial and stuff like that. Me and Freddy were there a good while until we could get accommodation.
“Basically, there was no wi-fi in the rooms. So every morning, we would wake up and go into a common area. And the two of us would get chatting with each other. And on the weekends I wouldn’t go back to Dublin, I would have been up there full time. So it would be himself and myself pretty much all weekend — dark days in preseason and stuff like that when things are tough, he’d be coming in. We spent the majority of our time together from the beginning. And that’s where we forged a really strong relationship and went from there.
“I think he had that effect on everybody. When he came into training, everybody started talking to him. He was just one of those people you wanted to be friends with and it made it easy to get along with him.
“Eventually, we both got our own apartments. I moved in with a few other lads — Dean Clarke, Chris Mulhall and David O’Connor. Freddy had his own place because his girlfriend was coming across [from Bermuda on a regular basis] as well.”
Hall also left a positive early impression on another recent arrival at the club, Shaun Kelly.
“He was just one of those people, you take to him straight away,” says Kelly. “It was around the time that I signed from Derry that Freddy had just signed as well. So the two of us were living together in the hotel.
“He didn’t drive, so I was taking him everywhere and carting him around the place because he used to always be giving out about Irish cars not being automatic. He could only drive an automatic.
“He was a big man but he was actually very quiet until you got to know him, and once you got to know him, you couldn’t stop him from talking.”
The 2016 campaign saw a major upturn in Limerick’s fortunes. The club won the First Division title and were promoted back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Hall proved an important figure again, as Russell’s side went on a remarkable run, winning 24 and losing just one of their 28 league matches, which meant there was ultimately a 23-point gap between themselves and runners-up Drogheda.
His individual performances even earned a spot on the PFAI’s First Division Team of the Season amid the culmination of an unforgettable campaign.
“I think that’s probably what was good about us in Limerick — we did have a tight bunch and a really good squad,” adds Kelly. “He was a part of the family. Even myself, being from Donegal, it’s still a long way from home. My wife and I had a young son at the time, but that was it; we didn’t have any [other] family down there. So Freddy became a part of the family and we did everything together.”
O’Conor, who retired from football in 2019, calls Hall “the best goalkeeper I ever played with”, while Hickey is likewise effusive in his praise, saying: “I was privileged to have coached and played against some top-class goalkeepers, the likes of Barry Ryan, David Forde, Tadhg Ryan, Brendan Clarke. These guys were exceptional.
“But Freddy probably would just shade it in terms of his explosiveness, his reactions, he was so brave on the pitch, he ticked all the boxes for me.”
Not just for his heroics on the pitch but for his extroverted nature off it, Hall quickly became a popular figure among the club’s followers.
“Limerick took to him very well,” says O’Conor. “He’s one of those people who if he’d be walking down the streets, other people would be screaming across from the other side of the road, giving big smiles and he’d have no problem screaming across the street and saying ‘hi’ to people because everybody would recognise him. He had a big accent as well. He loved screaming across to people. He was just one of those people that is very upbeat.
“He loved being in Ireland. He loved living in Ireland. And he loved playing for Limerick. I think it was because of how well he got on straight away and how much he was accepted by Limerick.”
“He made time for people — fans, kids, everyone, no matter who you were,” says Kelly. “You go walking down the street with him and he’s talking to everyone. He got to know everyone in such a short space of time — he was just one of those gentle, laid-back people that everybody loved.
“He genuinely was one of the best people I’ve ever met in football. Playing around the league and playing on different teams, you play with 20 to 30 different people and in Ireland, squads change a lot.
“It’s impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But Freddy was one of them that you always kept in touch with.”
Hall could be quite a quirky character, too, and there was consequently no shortage of memorable anecdotes during his time at the club.
“We had won a game and we had a recovery session the next day, but we’d gone for a drink after the game because we didn’t play again for another two weeks,” remembers O’Conor.
“It was the middle of summer, boiling hot. And Freddy was a little bit worse for wear the next day. And he just wasn’t up for training. And he was just like: ‘I’m not able to do this.’
“So he came in and said that he had a sore knee, and he did have a bad knee. But I think he was just trying to kind of milk it a little bit so he didn’t have to train, and then he laid down on the grass and the manager, Martin Russell, asks: ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘My right knee is killing me, Martin.’ He had a towel over his head, trying to block out the sun. And Martin says: ‘Your right knee is killing you, is it?’ Freddy goes: ‘Yeah.’ And Martin is like: ‘Your ice pack is on the left knee.’ And he was like: ‘Oh, they’re both at me.’ And then he had to pretend and get another ice pack to put it on the other knee.
“I think at that point, the game was pretty much up and he was told: ‘Listen, just go for a walk and take the morning off.”
In contrast with the exhilaration of matches, training in football can often be quite dull owing to the endless repetition of tasks necessary to perfect certain skills. It is why slagging and practical jokes tend to be so commonplace in the sport, as they are an essential means of alleviating the boredom of routine.
“I think people enjoyed being in his presence because he was just fun to be around,” explains O’Conor. “One of those people that you want to be friends with. If everyone had a Freddy in their life, the world would be a better place.
“He was probably the best type of person to have in the dressing room. He was always making jokes, slagging people and having a bit of fun. But he wasn’t able to take it as much, so when people started turning on him and ripping it out of him, he hated it because he didn’t know what to say back. So it was always entertaining to put it back on him.
“He thought that he was the only one that was able to dish it out because he’s a big guy and thought that nobody would take him on, but he found out fairly quickly that he’d have the likes of Robbie Williams and Shaun Kelly or any of them [giving abuse back].
“But even outside of that, going out for drinks or food, he was one of those people that was the life and soul of the party. There’d always be something happening when he was there.”
And while Hall may have been easy to rile up off the pitch, on it, he rarely seemed fazed by anything and was a consistently imposing presence between the sticks.
“People would be putting so much effort into shots, trying to get them into the top corner and he’s not even diving for them. He was catching them and laughing at you. You had to feel like you were pulling off a worldie to get the ball past him.
“We would be finishing with shooting and one-on-one drills and things like that. They used to say ‘next goal finishes it’, and you’d be there for 10, 15 minutes. He loved hearing that because he didn’t want anybody [scoring]. He’d be like: ‘We’re staying out here.’ And he’d be keeping you out there and laughing at you while he was doing it. He was just that good.
“But also on the pitch, what he delivered, especially to the back four, was how calm he was. We had Robbie Williams, Kells [Shaun Kelly], Trac [Shane Tracy] and Paudie O’Connor. I don’t think any one of them would have ever hesitated to pass the ball back to him. He was in complete control. He was always talking to them, always in their ear.”
Hall represented several clubs over the course of his career, including Northampton Town, Toronto FC and Chester, but rarely stayed for more than 12 months in one place. Tellingly, though, Limerick was an exception, spending just under three years there, which is certainly a long-enough time by League of Ireland standards.
“I kind of knew his time was coming to an end because when [his partner] Ashleigh got pregnant and they were expecting their first child, he was just so proud, he couldn’t wait to become a father,” recalls Kelly.
“It was inevitable, really, that he was going to move back [to Bermuda] at some stage. When the time came, I remember the day he was leaving and saying our goodbyes. I still have his foam roller and things that he gave me that he couldn’t take back with him because he couldn’t fit them in his suitcase — he had that much stuff over here.
“But he just couldn’t wait to become a dad and get back to Ashleigh.”
Hall had already made tentative steps into the world of coaching before his untimely passing.
“I brought him in as a coach in my academy, and the kids just absolutely [loved him],” says Hickey. “The academy filled up because of Freddy, to tell you the truth
“There’s a friend of mine not living far from me — a young lad who still has a picture of Freddy in his bedroom from a goalkeeping camp back in 2016 out in Bruff. And he just idolised Freddy. He took the news very badly, the morning he was told that Freddy had passed.
“I started [Freddy] on his coaching badges here and he was going to continue across in Bermuda and set up his own goalkeeping academy — Covid and everything put a stop to it at the time.
“I was also supposed to go to Bermuda but for Covid last year. We always kept in touch between e-mails and texts. From the first day I met Freddy, as I said to his mum, it was like meeting someone I knew all my life. The connection was there and we haven’t lost it since.
“For his partner, Ashleigh, his daughter, Amia, his mum, Sharry, his dad, Frederick, and his two sisters, it’s absolutely horrific news — it has shaken me and a lot of boys.
“It has brought us together more, if that makes sense, in terms of guys ringing me. Paul [O'Conor] came down from Dublin to meet me last week. Greener [Aaron Greene], Shaun Kelly, I got a call from David Forde, the ex-Irish international, about Freddy. So it’s just devastating news.”
“It was only a few weeks ago when I last spoke to him, it was just over Snapchat, Instagram, things like that,” says Kelly. “You’d be talking to him and just seeing pictures of his little girl growing up. And as much as it’s hard, and that’s the other side of the world, if we can, we’ll try to stay in touch with Ashleigh.
“I spoke briefly with her in a message just after the tragic news. And she put it perfectly and summed him up. She said to me: ‘Thanks for looking after him over there, you were all family,’ and that’s the way it was in Limerick. We were a small bunch and we looked out for each other.”
• This tribute is republished with the kind permission of The42 (www.the42.ie). Freddy Hall’s funeral will be today at St George’s Cricket Club at 10.45am. Club colours may be worn