Legend On The Line: Alfie Hale
by Tom Flynn
(first published in the May 2010 Cork City FORAS Co-op programme)
In 1990 Alfie Hale was honoured by his beloved city as “Waterford Person of the Year”, for his services to business and sport. It was greatly deserved. The name has been synonymous with Waterford football for more years than anyone might care to remember!
It was in 1949 at the age of 10 (though playing under-15) that Alfie’s football career began, at local club St Joseph’s. Joseph’s and Hibernians dominated the local scene at the time. One of the great football families in Waterford, the “Tom’s”, were an influence on his career at schoolboy level. And soon after, at 15, Alfie became one of the youngest managers to take charge of a local youth team, doing so for the next three seasons.
In the 1956/57 season Alfie first joined Waterford, coming under the influence of the then manager Alex Stevenson. The following season, as we know, the Blues were beaten by St Patrick’s Athletic in the FAI Cup final. Alfie, the leading goalscorer and penalty taker, was injured at the time and could not make the team, but his first International honour was to be bestowed on him that year, a call up for the Irish Olympic team against Holland. Ireland won 4-1 with Alfie scorning a hat-trick (Noel Griffin and Shamie Coad were also on the team), and a week later the League of Ireland played the Hessian League of Germany and also won 4-1, Alfie again scoring three goals. His team mates on that day included Liam Touhy, Dermot Curtis and Ronnie Nolan. Because Alfie was an amateur player he could not receive any payment, so shortly afterwards the League presented him with a Gold Medal of which he is very proud, and still has.
It was Easter Sunday 1960 that Alfie made his professional début for the Blues, winning 3-1 at home to Bohemians, and scoring twice, and the following day, Easter Monday, a 5-3 win over Cork Hibs saw Alfie netting another hat-trick. He finished the season with 34 appearances and 21 goals. The next season Alfie began a six-year spell across the water, initially with Aston Villa, making five appearances and scoring one goal. The legendary Joe Mercer would have liked him to stay a little longer and give it more time but he felt a little unsettled and moved on to Doncaster Rovers where he made 119 appearances, scoring 42 goals, in a three year spell. His final season abroad was at Newport County, where he again appeared 34 times and scored 21 goals. He really enjoyed his time there, recalling Billy Lucas as a good inside forward, and both worked well together.
Ahead of the 1966/67 season Alfie got a call from the then club secretary at Waterford, Michael Bolger, who had earlier given him his word that he would call when they were putting a new team together and Alfie was to play a big part in the new set-up when he returned home. Even without his 64 league goals in England and Wales, Alfie remains one of the top goal-getters in the League of Ireland (scoring 156 times), and if he had remained in the League it’s arguable that he could have topped the goalscoring list. In the pre-season of ‘66/67 a game was arranged in memory of one of the Busby Babes, Liam Whelan. A Drumcondra XI would take on Manchester United, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw with Alfie scoring the home side’s goal.
It is impossible to record everything about one of Waterford’s favourite sons/ambassadors, but he gave me a brief summary the “Flower Lodge game” – ten minutes to go and 2-0 down with only 10 players on the field (in those days there was only one sub which had been used, another had to go off) and still managed to win the game 3-2! Other highlights he recalled were the Manchester games, home and away; the trip to Bordeaux, and travelling to the game: players , management and supporters together; his first full International game (v Austria) of a career in which he made 14 appearances, scoring two goals; his 20 appearances for the League of Ireland, including captaining the selection against the Scottish League, and an Australian National Selection. His best pals on the opposition sides were Noel O’Mahony of Cork Hibs, and Johnny Fullam of Shamrock Rovers. His roll of honours as a player include six League titles (five with Waterford & one with Cork Celtic), two Shield and five Top Four Cup medals, and two runners-up FAI Cup medals.
When the request came from the board to manage the club he felt a little uneasy but had the added support of all the players and said he would do it for one season. A year and a league title later, and the club doctor at the time (who was also the Irish International team doctor) passed on the news that if Shay Brennan of Manchester United was approached he would take the job, Alfie was of course consulted and said “take him with open arms”. Shay did duly arrive, but on one condition, that Alfie would be his captain. The other league sides managed by Alfie over the years were Cork Celtic 1974-75, Thurles Town 1981-82, Waterford United 1982-88, Cobh Ramblers.1988-89, United again 1991-93, and Kilkenny City 1995-99. He managed a League Cup win with the Blues in 1985, and a First Division title with Kilkenny in 1997.
As to the future, well in typical Alfie style he’s just looking forward to his next game. St Saviours qualified for the local Premier Cup final last Sunday and he will no doubt be doing all in his power to make sure that the club will lift that trophy.