Last Updated: 11:21am BST 25/04/2007
World Cup winner Ball dies aged 61
Alan Ball, who died last night aged 61, was the youngest member of the England team which won the World Cup in 1966.
Like the majority of the midfield and forward players in the side, Ball came relatively late into Alf Ramsey’s thinking, winning his first cap little more than a year before the tournament (and three days shy of his 20th birthday).
He would prove, however, to be the epitome of the type of player Ramsey favoured, one who fashioned victory more through hard work and resilience of spirit than by languid acts of brilliance.
Yet it was not until half way through the competition that Ball came into his own, when Ramsey finally yielded to his head rather than to his heart, and decided to dispense with wingers in favour of a more tightly organised, essentially defensive unit.
Ball, who had been replaced after England’s opening game against Uruguay by a succession of ineffectual wide players, was thus recalled for the quarter-final against Argentina and instructed to work the full length of the left flank.
It was now that Ball’s formidable stamina became one of the side’s great assets, most notably in the Final itself against West Germany, in which he gave perhaps the best performance of any player.
Matched against the experienced but ponderous Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, Ball first exhausted his opponent as an attacking threat by pulling him all over the pitch and then, as the second half wore on, increasingly started to beat him for pace down the line.
With the score level at 2-2 after 90 minutes, extra time was needed.
One consequence was that Ball’s father, watching in the stands, could wait no longer and had to leave Wembley to catch a flight, so missing his son’s finest moment in the match.
With 10 more minutes played, Nobby Stiles hit a long pass for Ball to chase along the wing. Ball’s first reaction was that he lacked the energy to gather it, but seeing Schnellinger running after it revivified his competitive edge.
He reached the ball first, and sent over a cross which Geoff Hurst, on the turn, hammered against the underside of the bar. It bounced down on the line, but was given as a goal, and England were ahead.
Little more than 15 minutes later they had won the World Cup 4-2. Ball was prominent in the joyous celebrations although, as he wistfully recalled in later years, he wished he had savoured them more as, at 21, he assumed that England won the World Cup every time it was held.
Alan James Ball was born at Farnworth, near Bolton, Lancashire, on May 12 1945, and educated at the town’s grammar school.
His father, who worked as a joiner and publican, had been a professional footballer and later managed Preston North End. It was he who guided his son’s early career and who persuaded Blackpool (then a First Division side) to sign him after he had been rejected by Wolves and Bolton as being, at 5ft 6ins, too short to be a footballer.
He made his debut for the Seasiders at 17, and quickly demonstrated his qualities as a player, notably remarkable fitness, aggression and, above all, a desire to win.
This last attribute, combined with a shortness of temper, often led him, when frustrated, into quarrels with teammates and referees alike, and in 1973 he became only the second England player to be sent off after he berated an official in a match against Poland.
He won his first international cap against Yugoslavia in 1965.
Following his success in the World Cup, Ball was transferred from Blackpool to Everton for £110,000, then a record between English clubs.
His arrival galvanised Harry Catterick’s already promising young side. Running tirelessly from midfield, Ball was the team’s top scorer in his first two seasons at Goodison, and netted nearly 60 goals in his first three years there.
In 1968 the team lost the FA Cup Final to West Bromwich Albion, but two years later they claimed the League Championship.
Catterick put a putative value on Ball of £1 million, but in 1971 Everton agreed to sell him to the Double winners, Arsenal, for £220,000, another transfer record. He had played 249 matches for the club and scored 78 goals.
He was, however, beginning to wane as an attacking force, and in his five years at Highbury he largely failed to recapture the goal-scoring touch he had had on Merseyside.
Nonetheless, he remained a dynamic tackler and a volubly inspirational presence in the dressing room (he was the young Liam Brady’s principal mentor), although he lost the only final that he contested with Arsenal, against Leeds in the FA Cup in 1972.
It was also while at Arsenal that his international career came to an end. He had played in all four of England’s matches in the 1970 World Cup and had been one of the side’s few successes in the tournament.
Characteristically, following their defeat by West Germany in the quarter-final, Ball hurled his tournament medal from his hotel window in disappointment.
He was subsequently appointed captain of the side by Ramsey’s successor Don Revie, but after falling out with the manager over discipline he was dropped from the team in 1975, having won 72 caps and scored eight goals.
In 1976, after 177 games and 45 goals for Arsenal, he moved to Southampton, then in the Second Division.
As captain, he pushed them to promotion in 1978, and a year later took them to a League Cup final against Nottingham Forest, although he again finished on the losing side.
Ball then embarked on a somewhat peripatetic progress between clubs that signalled his playing days were drawing to a close.
He spent part of 1978 in America as player-manager of Philadelphia Fury; then, in 1980, took on the same role with Vancouver Whitecaps.
From there he returned to Blackpool as player-coach, only for the side to be relegated, the first of all too many such failures for him as a manager.
He then had another season as a player with Southampton before, after a spell in Hong Kong, he finally retired in 1984 when on the books of Bristol Rovers.
He had made 745 league appearances in total, scoring 168 goals. Ball was the last of the World Cup-winning side to hang up his boots, and, with Jack Charlton, the only one to have had a lengthy career as a manager.
That he was able to work as a coach for some 15 years was, however, something of a mystery since, almost without exception, every club of which he took charge was subsequently relegated.
Following his first taste of this at Blackpool, his next appointment, at Portsmouth in 1984, started well enough.
After twice narrowly missing promotion to the First Division, the club did go up in 1987, only to come straight back down the next year.
Having parted company with Pompey, Ball moved to Colchester, who were promptly relegated, as were his next team, Stoke City, although only after he had been there for two years.
Understandably disillusioned by this run of fortune, Ball renounced management in 1991 and opened a pub at Maidenhead.
Six months later he was tempted back into the game by Exeter, but after three unsuccessful years there they too were relegated, to Division Three.
Ball’s reward was to be asked by Graham Taylor to help him coach England. In fairness to Ball, many of the teams of which he had been in charge were already struggling when he arrived, and in 1994 he made a decent fist of managing a big club when appointed, with Lawrie McMenemy, joint coach of Southampton.
The side finished 10th in the Premiership, and Ball agreed a three-year contract.
Two months later he jumped ship to Manchester City, who were relegated on goal difference on the last day of the next season.
Having been sacked by them, he made another poor go of the job at Portsmouth before retiring from management in 1999. He subsequently became a popular after-dinner speaker.
Ball’s unsuccessful managerial career meant that, from his forties onwards, he tended to be characterised simply as a ginger-haired, squeaky-voiced, somewhat embattled figure of fun.
Certainly he seemed not to know when he was beaten, and perhaps mentioned too readily his triumphs of 1966.
Yet that victory had been born of his hatred of defeat, and the story of English football since might have been rather different if subsequent generations of internationals had been blessed with the spirit expressed in his customary autograph: “Alan J Ball — WIN”.
Alan Ball was appointed MBE in 2000. His wife Lesley died three years ago. They had a son and two daughters.