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Alan Ball

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James Alan Ball, MBE (12 May 1945 – 25 April 2007) was an English professional footballer and football club manager. He was the youngest member of England's 1966 World Cup winning team and scored more than 180 league goals in a career spanning 22 years.

Club Career

Born in Farnworth, Lancashire, the son of Alan Ball, Sr., a footballer and manager, Ball was a tireless, marauding midfield player who could operate centrally or on the right flank. He came to prominence at Blackpool after falling foul of his headmaster over missing games for his school team due to a youth contract he had acquired with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

After he left school, Wolves decided not to take Ball on, and he started training with Bolton Wanderers but they too decided not to give him a professional deal, saying he was too small.

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Blackpool

Blackpool signed him after Ball's father called in a favour with the coach, an old friend with whom he used to play. Ball was given a trial in September 1961 and was immediately signed up as an apprentice. He turned professional in May 1962, making his league debut on 18 August 1962 against Liverpool at Anfield in a 2-1 victory.

Everton

Ball's performances in the 1966 World Cup winning England team attracted the attention of a number of clubs bigger than Blackpool, Ball eventually being sold to Everton for a then record fee of £110,000 in August 1966. At Everton, Ball settled into what became regarded as his generation's best midfield trio alongside Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall (still affectionately referred to as "The Holy Trinity"). Everton reached the 1968 FA Cup Final, but lost to West Bromwich Albion and were knocked out by Manchester City in the semi-finals the following year. Ball was instrumental in the team which won his first and only major domestic honour in the game as Everton took the 1969-70 Football League Championship title, seeing off a late challenge from Leeds United.

Back at club level, Everton again capitulated in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1971, with Ball's opening goal overhauled by two strikes from Merseyside rivals Liverpool, who went on to lose the final to "double"-chasing Arsenal. Ball later picked up his 50th England cap in a match against Northern Ireland and on December 22 1971, Arsenal paid a record fee of £220,000 to take Ball to Highbury.

Arsenal

Ball was 26 years of age and at his peak for both form and fitness when he joined Arsenal; he made his debut against Nottingham Forest on December 27, 1971. However, Arsenal could not defend their League title in 1971-72 and also lost their grasp on the FA Cup when Leeds United beat them 1-0 in the centenary final at Wembley.

Ball had continued to play for Arsenal through all this time, as a near-constant member of the first team at first, including 50 appearances in 1972-73. However, Arsenal's Double-winning side was soon broken up and their replacements proved inadequate; Ball remained one of the few quality players in the Arsenal side, and was made club captain in 1974. However with Ball out for part of the season, Arsenal only finished 16th in 1974-75, and then 17th in 1975-76. Bertie Mee resigned as Arsenal manager in the summer of 1976 and it was clear new manager Terry Neill wanted to take the club in a new direction. Now aged 31, Ball continued to play for Arsenal until December 1976, when he was sold to Southampton for a fee of £60,000. In total he made 217 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 52 goals.

Southampton and North America

Ball's move to Southampton completed a coincidental symmetry to the three transfers in Ball's career - he had arrived at each club - Everton, Arsenal and Southampton - at the end of the calendar years of 1966, 1971 and 1976 respectively, when each were holders of the FA Cup. Yet Ball never won the Cup himself. He helped Southampton back to the First Division in 1978 and picked up a League Cup runners-up medal in 1979 after they were beaten 3-2 by Nottingham Forest.

Ball then went to play in the fledgling North American Soccer League, joining Philadelphia Fury as player-coach in May 1978 and joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in June 1979.

Return to Blackpool

He returned to England in February 1980, as player-manager of his first club, Blackpool. However, the return lasted until only February the following year. Ball's appointment was well received by the Blackpool supporters, and he returned with enthusiasm, a desire to bring back the good times to the club, and still had enough energy to take the field occasionally.

The year that followed saw Blackpool's recent ill-fortune slump even further. The club slid towards relegation, and only some determined performances (including four wins out of their final six games) ensured an 18th-placed finish and survival. During the close season, Ball brought in several new faces and was also prepared to gamble on youngsters. One of his most unpopular moves amongst the fans was the sale of Tony Kellow, a huge favourite at Bloomfield Road.[1] The 1980-81 season began in similar fashion, with Blackpool struggling near the foot of the table. The optimism that had been in place during pre-season turned to anger as the team's performances failed to match up to Ball's promises.[1]

After an FA Cup first-round win over Fylde Coast neighbours Fleetwood Town on November 22, Ball publicly criticised the fans for allegedly not wanting the team to succeed as much as he did.[1] Eventually it all became too much for manager and club, and not long after a defeat at Brentford on February 28, 1981, Ball's contract was terminated with immediate effect and the mutual love affair had ended in ruins.[1]

Return to Southampton

In March 1981, Ball was tempted back to Southampton to play alongside fellow veterans and former England team-mates Mick Channon and Kevin Keegan.

He left Southampton in October 1982 to play for Hong Kong side Eastern Athletic, before joining Bristol Rovers in January 1983, where he ended his playing days. He played 975 competitive matches in his 21-year career.

Personal information
Full name James Alan Ball, Jr.
Date of birth 12 May 1945
Place of birth    Farnworth, England
Date of death    25 April 2007 (aged 61)
Place of death    Warsash, England
Height 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Playing position Midfield
Youth clubs
1960-1961
1961-1962
Bolton Wanderers
Blackpool
Senior clubs1
Years Club App (Gls)*
1962-1966
1966-1971
1971-1976
1976-1978
1978-1979
1979-1980
1980-1981
1981-1982
1982-1983
1983-1984
Blackpool
Everton
Arsenal
Southampton
Philadelphia Fury
Vancouver Whitecaps
Blackpool
Southampton
Eastern AA
Bristol Rovers
116 (40)
208 (66)
177 (45)
132 0(9)
033 0(5)
031 (10)
030 0(5)
063 0(2)
00? 0(?)
017 0(2)   
National team
1965-1975 England 072 0(8)
Teams managed
1980-1981
1984-1989
1989-1991
1991-1994
1994-1995
1995-1996
1998-1999
Blackpool
Portsmouth
Stoke City
Exeter City
Southampton
Manchester City
Portsmouth
1 Senior club appearances and goals
counted for the domestic league only.
* Appearances (Goals)

International Career

1966 World Cup

Despite being in a struggling Blackpool team, Ball's industry, stamina and distribution were noticed by England manager Alf Ramsey, who gave him his international debut on May 9, 1965 in a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia in Belgrade, three days before his twentieth birthday. Ramsey was preparing for the World Cup a year later, which England was to host, and was developing a system whereby England could deploy midfielders with a defensive and industrious bent, something which was not wholly guaranteed from conventional wide men. As a result, Ball became a useful tool for Ramsey to use - able to play conventionally wide or in the centre but still in possession of the energy to help out his defence when required.

Ball was the youngest member of the squad of 22 selected by Ramsey for the tournament, aged only 21. Though England as a team emerged collectively heroic from the tournament, Ball was one of many players regarded as an individual success, especially as he was one of the more inexperienced charges with no proven record at the very highest level. Indeed, he, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters emerged with enormous credit and eternal acclaim from the competition - and all of them were still only in single figures for caps won by the time they were named in the team for the final against West Germany.

The 100,000 crowd at Wembley witnessed a magnificent personal performance from Ball. Full of running, he continued to work and sprint and track back while team-mates and opponents alike were out on their feet. With fewer than 15 minutes to go, he won a corner on the right which he promptly took. Hurst hit a shot from the edge of the area which deflected into the air and down on to the instep of Peters, who rifled England 2-1 ahead. The Germans equalised with seconds to go, meaning that the game went into extra time. Somehow, this instilled extra bounce into Ball's play and the image of his continuous running round the Wembley pitch, socks round his ankles, is one of the most enduring of the occasion. It was his chase and low cross which set up Hurst's massively controversial second goal, and England's third; he was also sprinting upfield, unmarked and screaming for a pass, as Hurst took the ball forward to smash his historic hat-trick goal with the last kick of the game.

1970 World Cup

By now, Ball was one of the first names on Ramsey's England teamsheet and he was in the squad which travelled as defending champions to the altitude of Mexico for the 1970 World Cup. Ball famously hit the crossbar with a shot as England lost one of their group games 1-0 to Brazil, one of six strikingly prominent incidents from a fabulous game (the others being Jairzinho's goal; Jeff Astle's miss; Gordon Banks' save from Pelé; Bobby Moore's impeccable tackle on Jairzinho; and the sight of Pelé and Moore's mutual smiles of respect at the end as they exchanged shirts). England won their other group games and progressed to another showdown with West Germany in the quarter finals, but the heat sapped Ball's natural industry. England lost a 2-0 lead and their reign as world champions ended with a 3-2 reverse.

1974 World Cup

In 1973, Ball became only the second England player to be sent off in a full international, reacting with fury to violent tactics by Poland in a qualifier for the 1974 World Cup in Czorzow. As a result, he missed the return game at Wembley Stadium which became one of the most notorious in English football history - a 1-1 draw in which England were kept out largely thanks to Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski. England failed to qualify for the World Cup as a result.

Captaincy and the End

Ramsey was sacked and Joe Mercer took over at a caretaker level, for whom Ball never appeared due to injury. However, Ball's relationship with his national side was enhanced and then soured beyond repair when Don Revie was appointed as Ramsey's permanent replacement. Ball was given the captaincy after the dropping of Emlyn Hughes and held it for six consecutive games, none of which England lost, and included a 5-1 defeat of Scotland in May 1975.

Then suddenly, Ball was not called up at all, let alone retained as captain, when Revie announced his squad for a game against Switzerland three months later. Ball only found out when his wife took a call from a journalist asking for her reaction. Aged 30, Ball's international career had ended suddenly and acrimoniously after 72 appearances and eight goals.

Coaching and Managerial Career

Portsmouth

Ball resumed his managerial career in May 1984 with Portsmouth and was a huge success, after two seasons of finishing in 4th spot in Division Two, he guided them to the top flight in 1987. However, they were relegated after just one season back among the elite, and Ball was sacked in January 1989 with Pompey struggling in Division Two.

Colchester and Stoke City

The following month he joined Colchester United as assistant to Jock Wallace and in October 1989 took up a similar post under Mick Mills at Stoke City. However, Mills was sacked two weeks later and after a spell as caretaker Ball was given the managers' job. Despite spending a lot of money on new players, Stoke were relegated to Division Three at the end of the season. He was sacked in February 1991 with Stoke on their way to recording their lowest ever final league position.

Exeter City

In July 1991 he was appointed as manager of Third Division Exeter City. Although Exeter struggled, Ball managed to keep them in the Third Division. Between February and August 1992 he also worked as a coach of the England team under Graham Taylor.

Southampton

In January 1994, Ball left Exeter to take over the reins at Southampton replacing the unpopular Ian Branfoot.

At the time of his appointment, Southampton seemed doomed to relegation, having spent virtually the whole season to that point in the drop zone. Ball's first task as manager was to re-establish Matthew Le Tissier's role in the team and to ensure that the other players recognised that he was the Saints' greatest asset. Le Tissier responded by scoring 6 goals in Ball's first 4 games in charge, including a hat-trick on 14 February 1994 in a 4-2 victory over Liverpool. In the second half of the 1994-95 season, Le Tissier played 16 games under Ball's management scoring 15 times.

After 3 defeats at Easter time, Saints remained in the relegation zone. In the final 6 games Saints scored 15 goals (8 from Le Tissier) and garnered 10 points which were sufficient to enable Saints to avoid relegation by 1 point on the final day of the season.

At the start of the following season, 1994-95, Ball signed goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and centre-back Kevin Moore, but more significantly signed Le Tissier on a new 3 year deal. Despite not winning any of their first 4 games (including a 5-1 defeat at Newcastle), Saints, assisted by 3 goals from loanee signing Ronnie Ekelund, then won 4 out of 5 games in September lifting them to 7th in the table. After this, Saints drifted away and only won 2 more games until mid-March, dropping into the relegation zone. On 22 March 1995, Saints were at home to Newcastle and were trailing 1-0 with 4 minutes left. Suddenly, Ball managed to inspire the team to score 3 goals, including 2 in injury time, to snatch an amazing and priceless victory.

This result inspired the Saints, who won 5 of their remaining 10 games, to finish the season on a high in 10th place.

Manchester City

Despite this success, Ball was tempted away in July 1995 to become Manchester City's manager under the ownership of former England team-mate Francis Lee. His departure from The Dell was rather acrimonious and for some years afterwards, Ball's return visits to The Dell were greeted by abuse from large sections of the Saints' fans.

Ball's tenure at Maine Road was controversial, in that many observers and supporters felt he was appointed for his name and friendship with the chairman rather than for any credentials as a coach (and pointed out that previous manager Brian Horton, whom Lee had inherited from the previous regime, had done no wrong). City were relegated from the Premiership on the last day of Ball's first full campaign. He quit three games into the following season.

Back to Portsmouth

In February 1998 Ball returned to Portsmouth as manager but his contract was terminated on 9 December 1999 after the club endured a near-fatal financial crisis and came close to relegation from Division One. When he was appointed Pompey were several points adrift at the bottom of the table. In 1998 he masterminded a miraculous escape that saw two of his former sides (Stoke City and Manchester City) relegated after Pompey won 3-1 at Bradford City on the final day of the season. On his retirement, 54-year-old Ball was the last remaining England World Cup winner in management.

Honours

In 2000, he and four other members of the World Cup winning team were awarded the MBE for their services to football. Ball, along with Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilson and George Cohen, had to wait more than three decades for official recognition of their achievements.

In 2003 Ball was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his talents.

Personal life

Alan went to school at Oswestry Boys High School in Shropshire. Significantly, he was not at the time the best player on the soccer pitch. Thanks to his ambition, work ethic and the help of his father, he rose to the top of the game. Always a distinctive figure thanks to his diminutive stature, his high-pitched voice and flame-red hair, Ball released his autobiography, Playing Extra Time, in 2004 and received much critical acclaim. Aside from his highs and lows in football, it also candidly detailed his private struggle as a family man after his wife and daughter were both diagnosed with cancer. His wife died on 16 May 2004, aged 57, after a three-year battle against ovarian cancer.

In May 2005, Ball, who had three grandchildren, put his World Cup winners' medal and commemorative tournament cap up for auction to raise money for his family. They were sold for £140,000.

Ball's father, who was also called Alan, died in a car crash in Cyprus in January 1982.

Death

Alan Ball died on the morning of April 25, 2007 of a heart attack, at his home in Warsash, Hampshire. He was 61. [2]

He suffered the fatal heart attack while attempting to put out a blaze in his garden that had started when a bonfire on which he had earlier been burning garden waste became rekindled and spread to a nearby fence. [3]

Sporting positions
Blackpool F.C. manager
1980-1981
Portsmouth F.C. manager
1984-1989
Stoke City F.C. manager
1989-1991
Exeter City F.C. manager
1991-1994
Southampton F.C. manager
1994-1995
Manchester City F.C. manager
1995-1996
Portsmouth F.C. manager
1998-1999

References and Notes

Wiki Source

Comments

Alan Ball played in Vancouver Whitecaps colours for only two seasons, but we instantly loved his energy, high work rate, creativity, and obvious love of the game. Off the pitch, he was a wonderful interview for TV/radio/newspapers. We were lucky to have so many wonderful English players on the Whitecaps----Ball, Kevin Hector, Roger Kenyon, John Craven, Peter Beardsley, and South African goalie Bruce Grobbelaar. We had our own team songs, one being 'White Is the Colour," recorded by the players (a hit single on local radio) that we sang in unison in the stands. We loved the rough-and-tumble style of the English lads, Canadians used to rough sports like ice hockey and lacrosse played in indoor hockey arenas in the summer. 1979 will always be a magical year in my life, when our lads defeated the mighty New York Cosmos, then the Tampa Bay Rowdies, to win our Soccer Bowl. I know it may not even register on the English consciousness, but we were awfully glad to give A.B. a loving home, if only for the 38 games he played for us. Some can play for years in anonymity, while some, like Alan, give you notice, the first touch of the ball, that here was something special, and you'd better watch, before it slips away, all too soon...RIP little red lad...

Larry Chadwick - larrychad @ yahoo.ca

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