A short essay about one of our greatest ever OW sportsmen - Norman MacLeod (Nim) Hall (Prep and Shirley 1936-1943).
Norman MacLeod (Nim) Hall was until relatively recently the only Old Worksopian to have captained his country - I will spare you the bus analogy, but Joe Root and Adam Dixon certainly prove the rule!
Born in Huddersfield in 1925, he came to Worksop Prep in 1936 and by the time he left in 1943 was one of the best schoolboy rugby players in the country and one of the best kickers of the ball of all English players at the time. He was selected as captain of the North of Thames Public Schools XV in 1943 and aged 17 was already playing senior rugby for the Huddersfield Old Boys XV.
Hall was a key player in the famous 1941/1942 unbeaten Worksop rugby XV who cut down some of the best rugby teams in the country, including a 30-0 win over Sedbergh (6 tries and 4 Hall conversions) – it is believed this is their worst ever defeat and 76-0 over Trent (19 tries, 7 Hall conversion and a Hall penalty goal – it was by all accounts a windy day). In 1943 he captained another unbeaten Worksop XV and was given the following write up in the Worksopian:
“A good captain and a fine stand-off half with a flair for place kicking. Always plays particularly well under pressure, and gives a fine example to the rest”.
After Worksop and a short time in the army, he played for the famous St Mary's Hospital, Paddington and later Richmond. He took part in an England trial at Sunderland in 1946 (playing in the same team as Ian Pinkney of Hartlepool Rovers who left Worksop in 1938 – whether they were aware of this connection remains unknown) and gained his first official cap thereafter (caps were not awarded during or shortly after the end of the War). National team selection at the time was purely (and notoriously) based on performance at trials games rather than past performances. Time and again Nim would re-gain selection based on his outstanding skill under extreme pressure. More than once he was selected based on the fact his team “The Possibles” beat the England XV – “The Probables”. He played officially and unofficially for England between 1945 -1955 and was captain 13 times, a then record shared with the famous Wavell Wakefield (of Sedbergh fame). Although this record was matched by a number of subsequent captains, it was not beaten until 1981 by Bill Beaumont.
His skills as a kicker were unrivaled in the post post-war era. Huw Richards of ESPN captures just how good he was:
“It was that skill that came to the fore then, as England were awarded a penalty just inside their own half. Hall was England's usual kicker, employing what journalists called a 'soccer-style' approach of kicking with the instep rather than the toe end, better for accuracy than distance with the heavy balls of the era. On this occasion he invoked the option, which still existed in 1952, of dropping for goal and stunned the entire crowd by nailing a vast kick to level the scores. His second penalty, to clinch England's 6-3 win, was from closer range and converted by more conventional means”.
Nim also features in some rather niche historical rugby trivia: he was the first international player to score a drop goal worth 3 points – prior to 1948 it was worth 4. This is quite a fitting tribute to a man of such kicking talent.
Hall's medical career appears to have been significantly impacted by his rugby and he was subsequently expelled from St Mary's Hospital for repeatedly failing his medical exams. Roger Bannister was also studying at St Mary's at the same time and recalls in his biography how the College Vice Chancellor was pelted with bread rolls at lunch by students who were extremely unhappy that Hall had been expelled – he was at the time the “Jonny Wilkinson of his day” and an immensely popular character it seems!
He sadly died aged 46 at Paddington in 1972. His son Ian and granddaughter Janey are both Old Worksopians. His portrait hung for many years in the Shirley common room; anyone who has aspirations in sport could do far worse than looking to Nim for some inspiration.
Finally, some British Pathe footage of Nim playing for England - https://youtu.be/WTuPWt0VF4E
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