Today, Alan Ball would have been 75 years old. This is very hard to imagine as my memories of him would always be of a bundle of energy, a young man of supreme fitness and stamina, allied to an unquenchable desire to win, and much-underrated skills.
I first noticed him around 1964 when he quickly became the star of Blackpool, was coveted by Leeds United (what a midfield that would have been: Bremner, Ball and Giles!) and then that incredible performance in the 1966 World Cup Final when he tore the magnificent Karl Heinz Schnellinger to shreds.
When we bought him, it gave me hope after the awful Charity Shield defeat to Liverpool at Goodison Park, marked by the injury to Fred Pickering, which ruined his career. From the start, Ball dominated our team. He dictated play, drove on his teammates, scored plenty of goals and generally inspired those around him. I was a teenager back then with a season ticket in the old Main Stand and I still recall walking up to the ground from the bus stop expecting us to play well and win provided he was playing – he really was that good.
Everyone remembers his energy and passion but he was also one of the most skilful players in the game. His passing was excellent and no-one had a short, one-touch ability like him. He could beat a man and, even though he was not fast he had enough pace to go past a man and stay ahead of him. He was afraid of no-one apart from his dad and from 1966 to 1970 he was untouchable. It was only after the Mexico World Cup in 1970 that his game declined but, even then, he reinvented himself as the best one-touch player in the game well into his 30s – despite a broken leg or two(?).
I realised my ambition to meet him a few years before his death. He was speaking at a dinner in Torquay and one of my business partners was on the committee which was organising the function. There was a reception before the dinner and Peter got me into it. A few of us lined up to greet Alan and the bloke next to me whispered “Who is this chap, Ball?”
I nearly choked on my champagne! Within 10 minutes, Alan was stood in a corner on his own as the rest of the guys in the room seemed oblivious to the status of their guest. I took my chance, introduced myself, and we had 40 minutes to chat about our beloved blues.
I had a magazine with me which I had kept in pristine condition. It was published around 1970 as a souvenir by the Echo on the life of Alan Ball. I asked him to autograph it and he was fascinated to look through it at the old houses and cars he had at that time. His love for the club was so clear and he was great company – I really couldn’t believe my luck!
His after-dinner speech was as good as any I have seen – funnier than most comedians and his passion showed throughout for the game in general and Everton and England in particular. He brought the house down at the very start when he stood on his chair for the speech so everyone could see him – marvellous touch.
There are, as we all know, a number of stories about how he upset teammates and was sometimes less than perfect but I am not addressing those issues here. This article is to celebrate the life of the greatest Everton player I have ever seen. Rooney was nowhere near to his ability at his peak, he really wasn’t. And as for kopite claims about Gerrard’s perceived greatness, do me a favour... he would not have got within 5 yards of Alan whose feet and brain were just so quick.
There is an interview on the Official Site with his son Jimmy which is worth a listen, and the voice is so similar to that of his dad.
Thank you, Alan, for the best football memories of my 64 years – you truly were and always will be the greatest player I ever saw in a blue shirt. RIP.
Reader Comments (29)
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1 Posted 12/05/2020 at 10:58:26
Brian used to write to the Everton website GrandOldTeam under the name of 'letterkenny', which was where he came from. He was 53 years of age. Andy Crooks might know a bit about him.
2 Posted 12/05/2020 at 00:00:03
If only we had someone today who hated losing as much as he did.
3 Posted 12/05/2020 at 00:01:45
4 Posted 13/05/2020 at 00:42:00
5 Posted 13/05/2020 at 02:28:36
I will also never forget the yellow Ford Anglia that he drove.
6 Posted 13/05/2020 at 02:33:14
Pick your Alternate Holy Trinity from these 6. They were all kicking a ball somewhere in 1964... different stages of their careers it's true...I mean Bobby Collins was Footballer of the Year in 1965, when it still meant something.
But jeez, so near and yet so far. What a selection dilemma that would've have been.
Ball, Collins, Gabriel, Harvey, Kay, Kendall.
7 Posted 13/05/2020 at 03:05:22
8 Posted 13/05/2020 at 10:37:46
9 Posted 13/05/2020 at 13:11:51
It would take a very brave man!
10 Posted 13/05/2020 at 14:52:30
Today, the game would be abandoned as we wouldn't have enough men on the pitch.
I reckon the 4 would be off within the first 10 minutes – if that!
11 Posted 13/05/2020 at 15:27:31
Mogsy was crafty enough to do it when the ref wasn't looking.
12 Posted 13/05/2020 at 15:45:37
One the first games I ever saw involved 5ft-3in Bobby Collins squaring up to some monster WBA player in the classic Fat Harold 'do you want to see me?' Mode... the player, quite wisely declined.
Collins was of the era and he wouldn't have looked out of place in that magnificent Hungarian team of the 50s.
Kay may well have been a world cup winner, not Stiles... fine margins
But skill, they all had skill in abundance, yet never gave into the darkside unlike those gobshites Giles and Bremner.
13 Posted 13/05/2020 at 16:14:23
An eloquent testimony to the great man. Like yourself, I was a teenage season ticket holder in the '60s and following his transfer from Blackpool in 1966 the team was transformed. We all enjoyed the four best seasons of that enthusiastic Ball of energy.
Following the Championship win in 1970, Ball and three others from the team played in the Mexico World Cup Finals. They all returned drained. Ball had also picked up a niggling and long-term injury. For some time, he sought to make light of the situation, a reflection perhaps of his stoic determination to succeed.
The burden of captaincy was another problem he preferred not to address or acknowledge. Sadly it all caught up with him; energy gone, mobility not quite so good, and frustration with his form and that of others. The apparent lack of a working relationship with former captain Brian Labone may also have contributed.
I don't think his situation and indeed that of other team members was helped by Catterick's failure to anticipate the need to reinforce the Championship squad with some younger talented players during the summer of 1970. A quiet word with Ball his new captain and the three other players would have helped sort out the emerging problems. But that was not his style.
I was completely gutted when it was announced that Alan Ball had been sold to Arsenal. Having researched my article, Decline and Fall, it made me realise that here was a player who should have been treasured and given some careful guidance to help him through his difficulties, for the sake of the team and the club. Instead, he almost became the scapegoat for Catterick's failings, notwithstanding his poor health.
Despite all that, I retain many wonderful memories of stellar performances from Alan Ball and indeed the rest of the team. If only the present bunch of overpaid players throughout the Premier League had his enthusiasm, determination, skills and will to win.
Thanks once again for an excellent piece.
14 Posted 13/05/2020 at 17:15:01
Alan wasn't having a good season himself and his will to win was getting to him and affecting his game alongside his volatile temperament. In one game versus Newcastle, can't be sure it was the same season to be honest, Howard Kendall pulled him away from arguing with the referee, twice, before the referee had taken enough and sent him off. Howard later secured the win with a 20-yard effort.
I loved Alan Ball as much as any Evertonian, how could you not applaud and take delight in his brilliant football ability? But he wasn't perfect and had his faults, just like most people, and the season he was sold showed those faults quite a lot.
I didn't agree with Alan being sold. Goodison Road, on the Saturday after he was sold, was a scene of vast mourning... nobody could believe it. Later on, it became apparent that he was never properly replaced, his loss was magnified and he was very much missed. I don't think he helped the situation at the time, even though the transfer shocked and upset Alan Ball himself.
15 Posted 13/05/2020 at 18:36:15
16 Posted 13/05/2020 at 20:46:27
I saw Wayne put in one of the best one-man performances I have seen at home against Bolton when he was untouchable and the great Campo was torn apart by him – how Wayne failed to score at least one that day was a mystery.
I beg to differ on which was the best but can you imagine how they would have played together at their peak?
17 Posted 13/05/2020 at 21:04:48
Anyway, Bally's place in the pantheon is absolutely assured. I love it that his family come back regularly and are (I think?) serious Blues.
Thanks again for the article mate, proper old Blues stuff.
18 Posted 14/05/2020 at 04:00:03
19 Posted 14/05/2020 at 06:31:27
As to a comparative player, surely Best from the same era, and same part of the field, and my favourite non-Everton player.
20 Posted 14/05/2020 at 06:43:08
Was that Newcastle game the one when tubes of "Score" hair oil were handed out free before the game and Jim Isley was kicking chunks out of Ball (and almost anything else that moved) but allowed by the ref to get away with it. Ironically, the bald-headed Isley was showered with them as he made his way off at half-time.
21 Posted 14/05/2020 at 08:00:22
22 Posted 14/05/2020 at 12:02:00
23 Posted 14/05/2020 at 20:22:02
When I met him I asked what was his best ever goal, expecting it to be that one you describe against Newcastle but he shook his head- he went for the winner against RS in the cup game which was beamed to Anfield.
24 Posted 15/05/2020 at 10:15:54
25 Posted 15/05/2020 at 11:02:22
He needed them for the West Brom clincher so I got out of school at 4 pm, got changed and travelled across to Goodison from Bromborough and joined a big queue for Gladwys St at around 5.30. We were worried about being locked out but it was fine and I even managed to get on the pitch at the end and dug up a handful of turf as a souvenir. My mum was not best pleased to find a load of soil in my pocket when she came to do the washing!
26 Posted 16/05/2020 at 00:26:53
It was made even more miserable when this red-haired kid in an Orange shirt who the locals called The Little General totally dominated a lacklustre Everton.
To cap off the whole sodden affair, Harry Catterick slipped on a wet pavement, resulting in the disgusting sensationalist media labelling our supporters as thugs for tripping him up.
I wished that red-haired kid with a squeaky voice was in our side.
27 Posted 16/05/2020 at 14:34:49
Some interesting points above. Whilst I can't comment too much on Ball the player, some of the traits discussed seemed to have come out later on in Ball the Manager. Frustration with players not being able to follow his instructions. Temper coming to the fore and even claims from players that he used to threaten to show them his World Cup winners medal if they didn't think he knew what he was talking about.
That's not being critical of Ball, it's to draw out a point I was leading into. Great players often struggle if players around them can't meet their standards. They struggle even more in management or with the burden of responsibility; they just want to be able to do their thing. I think Gullit was similar. They often can't explain or demonstrate to players what they want them to do as it is natural to them. Not every case, but generally, the greatest players do not make the greatest managers or leaders on the pitch or in the dugout.
28 Posted 16/05/2020 at 19:21:07
29 Posted 19/05/2020 at 03:31:06
Bally was my big brother's hero growing up. Saw him play at Goodison when he was playing for Southampton and his one and two touch passing was different class. Wish I could have seen him play in a Blue shirt from 1966-1970.
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