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Alan Ball, Jr.

Alan James Ball Jr., 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 was made Man of the Match in the final following his performance. He played for various clubs, scoring more than 180 league goals in a career spanning 22 years.

Club career

Alan Ball started his footballing career whilst still a schoolboy, playing for Ashton United, the team his father managed, amongst the hurly burly of the Lancashire Combination. He eventually came to prominence at Blackpool after falling foul of his headmaster over missing games for his school team (Farnworth Grammar) 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, as manager Bill Ridding said he was too small.

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.

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 fee of £112,000 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 22 December 1971, Arsenal paid a record fee of £220,000 to take Ball to Highbury.

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 27 December 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. In April 1974 Ball broke his leg, resulting in him missing the start of the 1974-75 season, in which Arsenal only finished 16th.Ball also missed the start of the 1975-76 season after an injury in the pre-season friendly at Crewe Alex, Arsenal subsequently finished in 17th place that season. 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.

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. He made a huge impact with the Whitecaps and helped lead them to the NASL Championship.

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. 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.

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

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 remained until his retirement the following season. When Ball finally retired from playing, he had played 975 competitive games in 21 years.

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 9 May 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. Ball returned to a civic reception in Walkden, Lancashire following the World Cup success, where he lived with his parents and sister.

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 a qualifier for the 1974 World Cup against Poland in Chorzów on 6 June 1973, Ball became only the second England player to be sent off in a full international, after grabbing Lesław Ćmikiewicz by the throat and kneeing him in the groin after a player scuffle. 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.

After sustaining an injury in a pre-season friendly for Arsenal at Crewe Alexandra, Ball was not called up at all for England, let alone retained as captain, when Revie announced his squad for a game against Switzerland . 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. He was, however, the last of the 1966 team (though not the squad as Liverpool F.C.'s Ian Callaghan was unexpectedly called up by Ron Greenwood in 1977) to leave the international stage.

Coaching and Managerial Career

Portsmouth

Ball resumed his managerial career in May 1984 with Portsmouth and was a huge success. They just missed out on promotion to the First Division in his first two seasons as manager, and he finally 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 for failing to mount a serious promotion challenge after having a serious personality clash with Portmsouth's then chairman Jim Gregory.

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 Ball was promoted to the manager's seat. Despite spending a lot of money on new players, Stoke were relegated to the Third Division 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 of 15th in the league's third tier.

Exeter City and England

In July 1991 he was appointed as manager of Third Division Exeter City. Although Exeter struggled (their form hardly helped by a tight budget), Ball managed to keep them in the Third Division (the new Division Two from the creation of the Premier League in 1992) in 1993, though by the time he moved on they were on their way to relegation to the bottom tier. 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 club's 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 1993-94 season, Le Tissier played 16 games under Ball's management, scoring 15 times.

After 3 defeats over the Easter period, the Saints remained in the relegation zone. In the final 6 games Saints scored 15 goals (8 from Le Tissier) and gained 10 points which were sufficient to confirm safety 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), the 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, they drifted away and only won 2 more games until mid-March, dropping into the relegation zone. On 22 March 1995, the 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 some 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, appointed by Lee's predecessor Peter Swales, had done no wrong). This opinion was rather questionable, as City had finished 16th and 17th under Horton, after finishing fifth, fifth and then ninth under Horton's predecessor Peter Reid.

Ball gave Paul Walsh, who had scored 15 league and cup goals for City in 1994-95, and cash, to Portsmouth F.C. in exchange for Gerry Creaney, who scored 4 goals for City in 1995-96. But a terrible start to the 1995-96 season saw City endure eight defeats and not win a single game from their opening 10 games. City drew 2-2 with Liverpool on the final day of the season, but the other relegation-threatened teams fared better, and City were relegated after seven successive seasons of top flight football. The board kept faith with Ball, but he resigned three games into the Division One campaign.

His time at Manchester City was a frustrating time for both him and the fans as the club was in a dire financial state, although the chairman Francie Lee didn't make this matter public, so to the outside it looked as if Alan Ball had his own agenda whilst selling all the clubs best players for knock-down prices, players such as Garry Flitcroft, Uwe Rosler, Niall Quinn, Peter Beagrie, Keith Curle, Tony Coton and Terry Phelan all left due to financial constraints put upon Ball from Lee.

Back to Portsmouth

In January 1998, Ball was contacted by Brian Howe, who informed him he was to make a take-over bid for the club and that he would like Alan to manage the club, this lead to Ball taking charge of the club, however the take-over never came about with Milan Mandaric eventually buying the club. Then in February 1998 he 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. His departure came 6 months after the club was rescued from financial oblivion by new owner Milan Mandaric.

Honours

As a player

England

Everton

Arsenal

Southampton

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.

As a manager

Portsmouth

Personal life

Ball was educated at Farnworth Grammar School. Ball's father, Alan Sr, died in a car crash in Cyprus in January 1982.

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. He had remained in the family home in Warsash, and from mid-2005, Ball had had an ongoing relationship with childhood friend Valerie Beech, ex-wife of former Bolton player Harry Beech.

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.

Death

Alan Ball died in the early hours of 25 April 2007 at his home in Warsash, Hampshire, following a heart attack. He was 61 years old. 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 — re-ignited and spread to a nearby fence. His funeral was held in Winchester Cathedral on 3 May 2007. Ball is the second of the 1966 World Cup winning team to die, the first being captain Bobby Moore in 1993.

The Alan Ball Memorial Cup, a match between two squads of former international players, in the shape of "England vs The World", was played at in Milton Keynes on 29 July, with proceeds going towards the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK and the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance Service..

Notes

References

External links

{{Navboxes |title= Alan Ball, Jr. Navigation boxes and awards |list1=

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{{Persondata |NAME= Ball, James Alan, Jr. |ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Ball, Alan |SHORT DESCRIPTION=footballer and football club manager |DATE OF BIRTH= 12 May 1945 |PLACE OF BIRTH= Farnworth, England |DATE OF DEATH= {25 April 2007} |PLACE OF DEATH= Warsash, England }}

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