CARL Hall still has to pinch himself when he thinks that the boy who grew up in Auckland’s inner-city has spent the last 30 years not just living in Doncaster but utterly embracing the South Yorkshire town.
As a combative young centre, he only arrived in 1988 to play one season there but never returned home to New Zealand.
He would go on to make more than 250 appearances in the UK, most of which came during three different spells with the Dons, but also including stints at Hull KR, Bradford Northern, Leeds, Featherstone Rovers and York.
Doncaster, though, is his love; the club has suffered numerous financial issues during its history but Hall took ownership of it in 2009, soon helping them back into the Championship.
In 2013, it was sold on to Doncaster Rovers Football Club as part of Club Doncaster which now works out of Keepmoat Stadium but Hall stayed on as chief executive and one of his main aims is to eventually see them reach Super League.
On the back of his sterling work for the sport – the 50-year-old has dedicated much of his time trying to grow numbers from grassroots level, too – he was elected as the Rugby Football League’s vice-president, a role he started in the summer with Tony Adams, the former Arsenal and England captain, as president.
Everything I do for the club is for the town. I owe it. I don’t forget where it all started for me and what I have in my life is from this club.Carl Hall
“It was a shock,” Hall told The Yorkshire Post, from his office at Keepmoat Stadium.
“They put a presentation up at the RFL council meeting and (chief executive) Ralph Rimmer said ‘30 years ago’.
“I thought I’d just done three! But Ralph knew the history. He was the first development officer for Doncaster – that was his first ever role after coming down from Cumbria – and I was 19.
“I’d go pick him up and we used to go out to the schools.
“But it is an honour to represent this club and everyone back in New Zealand. I love it for Doncaster, though; this club has given me everything.”
Hall, a fatherly figure for so many Kiwis currently playing in the UK, concedes he nearly ended up out of the sport completely following retirement and it was only chance that he returned to the club.
Hall was working as an immigration detainee custody officer at Finningley airport, taking illegal immigrants to court or flying back with them to places such as Afghanistan.
He enjoyed the work but conceded he was at a “crossroads in my life” and a “bit lost.”
“Shane Miller and Craig Harrison – who owned the club (in 2007) – brought me in as director of rugby,” said Hall.
“That was a blessing. I really wasn’t interested in what I was getting paid, I was just pleased I was back in the game.
“I felt comfortable. Everything in rugby league is what I know.
“I thought just keep my head down, there’s not many administration jobs in the sport and I’m back in it so make the most of it. Then everything started taking care of itself. I’ve had approaches to go to Super League as a CEO but I haven’t finished here. It’d kill me if I went anywhere else, this club got to where I want to take it and I had to come back with another club.”
That said, Hall – who toured the UK with the 1987 Junior Kiwis including the likes of Tony Kemp and Jarrod McCracken – admits he never thought he would rise as high as he has.
“I didn’t do too well at school; people tell me I went to the University of Life,” he said.
“I couldn’t even turn a computer on when I first started here. This is a good one… let’s say someone sent me something that I’d then send to you. I used to write it all down and then type it all out again – someone showed me about four years in that you can just copy and paste it!
“But I think these are things people should hear as it gives all the other people who might be in my situation – thinking they can’t do it – hope that if you work hard, get stuck in, you can do anything.
“To become an owner, a vice-president of the RFL, sometimes I do look back and think ‘this doesn’t happen to people like me.’ But this proves it does.”
As a player, a lot of his contemporaries, such as his best mate Kevin ‘The Beast’ Iro, went on to represent the Kiwis.
“I was always in the Kiwi trials and President’s XIII but when I came here they had that rule that no-one in the UK was selected (for New Zealand),” he explained.
“They changed it a bit after but I’ve no regrets. My mum’s Fijian and I played for Fiji so it’s all right. I had a lot to do with the first-ever Fiji side that played in the Pacific Cup. A couple of us got together to sort that. We put that team together, got Dane O’Hara to coach, I got all the sponsors together and then we played in New Zealand for Fiji in the first ever game against Queensland.
“So I like to think I had to play with where they are now.”
Doncaster is thankful for his work here with the town winning the right to host three games in the 2021 World Cup.
“We didn’t get a game in 2013 and we learned a lot from that,” he said.
“We thought in ’13 we had the stadium and were probably a little bit lax but we worked a lot harder in this campaign and it’s the first initiative I’ve been involved in the town where everyone combined.
“It’s a massive honour. Everything I do for the club is for the town. I owe it. I don’t forget where it all started for me and what I have in my life is from this club. To bring three games is great. What I want to see is more kids playing rugby league.
“I’m hoping we can get a facility for Bentley rugby league club as they are growing massively and haven’t really got a place they can call home.
“That would be the dream legacy for me, if I’m honest; more kids playing and Bentley to have a facility as I just want rugby league in this town to grow.”
Ask anyone who knows him in Doncaster, though, and they will say he has already done more than enough.
Conversation, inevitably, turns to another Kiwi heading for these shores – Sonny Bill Williams.
“He was here in 2013, explained Hall, signed jerseys from New Zealand and the Cook Islands sat behind him in his office, the sides having played each other at Keepmoat Stadium as a warm-up to that World Cup.
“He’d just played in the NRL Grand Final and Stephen Kearney wasn’t playing anyone who’d played in that game.
“Me and him were stood on the sidelines here and he said ‘Man, I didn’t know the stadium was like this. I want to play now. I’m going to go ask.’
“He ran on while they were training and you could see Stephen Kearney just shaking his head. He just came back and said ‘He won’t let me play, man.’
“I said ‘when you’re ready to come to Donny, let me know!’
“He’s a great fella. Very humble. I never thought we’d see him in Super League to be honest so well done to Toronto,”
Well done, too, to Carl Hall on 30 years immense service.