Hall or nothing: why Stuart's still such a knockout

Legendary radio commentator on his love for the beautiful game, Rooney's neck 'as thick as my waist' and his place in history at 1977 European Cup final
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The Independent Football

With his erudite evocations of Shakespeare, Shelley and Keats in the Queen's English (or is it that the Queen speaks Hall's English?) it comes as something of a surprise to hear Stuart Hall, broadcaster extraordinare, describe himself in those familiar 5 Live dulcets as "half-Irish, with a bit of German and this, that and the other, a real mongrel".

His maternal grandmother, it transpires, "was a Hennessy, and her father was the bastard son of the Marquis of Waterford. He was encouraged to marry the upstairs maid and shipped off to Manchester".

But fear not, from his green and pleasant Cheshire pastures (apologies, the language is catching) he will be cheering for England over the next few weeks, while hoping for something out of the ordinary from anybody: "I want to see the beautiful game. It's still the biggest entertainment in the world, football, and I want to see it exemplified in the World Cup."

England's hopes, he believe, rest on the broad shoulders of Wayne Rooney, the sort of figure who appeals to Hall; a character, as he demonstrated from day one. "I think Rooney is the only world-class player we've got. I saw his first game for Everton, against Middlesbrough. I thought 'who is this pugilist with the shaven head and his neck thicker than my waist?'

"The first thing he did was kick the Middlesbrough keeper straight up the arse, then score a fantastic goal and have his name taken. I thought this guy has got something, but he's rough yet. Then of course Sir Alex [Ferguson] gets hold of him and moulds him into the world-class player that he is."

While relishing the sound of Fabio Capello's name rolling round his mouth – "Cap-ELL-o, Cap-ELL-o" – he is so far less convinced than some. "I think the jury's out. We've got to win a major championship." But the Italian, you feel, is Stuart's sort of man, another character, unlike the anaemic Sven Goran Eriksson, who was briefly in charge of his favourites, Manchester City. Sven used to visit his next-door neighbour, but Hall, rather like Bill Shankly closing the curtains if Everton were playing in his back garden, declined to pop outside. "At City it was all Thai money and big business and skulduggery and dark clouds and I thought, 'I don't want to be part of that'."

Indeed, after the Maine Road years (and there were many of them – Hall was 80 last Christmas) he is warming only slowly to Eastlands and Roberto Mancini. "I still prefer the Theatre of Base Comedy, a commune banded together in failure, knowing full well at the start of the season you were going to win nowt. It's getting more communal, people are starting to feel that it's our home and that's what a football club should be. But now we've raised aspirations to such a level it becomes very difficult to find that fulfilling. We had to beat Man United and Mancini went out and picked a team for a 0-0. I think if you're going out to convince all those sceptics you're going to win something, you've got to go for the jugular."

Such longevity – his first game for steam radio was in 1958 – might tend to lead to tiresome laments for the better old days. He accepts, however, that, like broadcasting, the game has changed. There will surely never be an opportunity for any thrusting young tyro, for instance, to have an experience such as Hall did when filming Liverpool at the 1977 European Cup final in Rome. "I'd committed the BBC to about 400,000 quid and then our passes were just ripped up. So Bob Paisley had every member of the team, Kevin Keegan, Phil Neal and the rest, carry a piece of our equipment into the dressing-room. As I still didn't have a pass, he told me to put the No 14 shirt on, and I walked out with the team. We filmed in the dressing-room before and after the game and at half-time – the film won an award – and I've still got the dressing-room key."

What chance of another English triumph in six weeks' time? "It's all right going out and playing friendlies and qualifying against second-rate teams. When you come up against the likes of Brazil and Argentina, Spain and Holland, that's the litmus test. If you can beat those teams then you're in." After all, by that stage, it's a knockout.

Stuart Hall stars in the Walkers Flavour Cup advert. Log on to www.walkers.co.uk for information