Rest In Peace Bally
I woke this morning to the very sad news that football had lost one of its all time greats with the news Alan Ball had died at the age of 61, after suffering a fatal heart attack on Tuesday night.
In a day and age when some only have to have a good game or two to be classed as a 'legend', Ball was just that - a true legend and I defy anyone to question this. Along with a select band Ball achieved what only a few Englishmen have ever achieved - and are likely to achieve for that matter, he picked up a World Cup Winners medal after playing a major part in helping England win the 1966 World Cup. This alone was enough for his legend status, but he was more than just a World Cup winner, this just gave him extra credence for such a title.
Ball's connections to the club down the road were always likely to prove hard for some to overcome, and so this proved after his arrival in 1984. After two seasons of knocking on the promotion door back to Division One, the days when this was the modern day equivalent of the Premiership, Ball took us back to the top flight in 1987. We suffered an instant return to Division Two but he had taken us there! After our relegation, as the financial difficulties kicked in we struggled in the Second Division - as we did for the majority of the years before our promotion to the Premiership - and Ball was sacked in 1989.
If it was hard for the fans to accept Ball the first time round after his playing connection to Southampton, a 16 month spell in charge of them as a manager, saving them from relegation from the Premiership in the mid 1990's meant some took to him even less when he returned for a second spell at Fratton Park early in 1998. He returned with us cut adrift at the foot of the old Division One but again made himself a hero to the Fratton faithful when he saved us from relegation with a dramatic final day win over Bradford. With the club in financial crisis Ball was relieved of his duties at the end of 1999 and didn't manage again.
My feelings on Ball arriving at Fratton Park after his relationships with our rivals is no different to any other, these are things that are in the past and as far as I'm concerned they are just another team, as soon as they cross that border to the Blue side they are one of us and as such I get behind them as I would any other with Pompey connections. My feelings are it takes nerve and courage to do this once let alone twice as Bally did.
On a personal note my sister and I, along with a small group of Pompey fans had the honour of meeting Mr Ball and Milan Mandaric at a hotel in Swindon shortly after Milan's arrival. In this short time spent in the company of Ball it is easy to see why he was so popular. I'm glad to say I had the privilege of shaking the hand of the squeaky viewed pint sized dynamo.
Alan Ball, not only an English legend but a Pompey legend as well. Without Ball we wouldn't have enjoyed a brief return to the top flight in the mid 1980's and without him it is highly likely that we wouldn't have remained in the second level of English football for as long as we had before finally returning to the top flight, to be on the verge of taking our place in Europe for the first time in our history - be that this season or in seasons in the not too distant future.
Ball's induction into the English Football Hall of Fame was the least he deserved; his MBE awarded in 2000 was long overdue but not enough! I still find it hard to understand why some members of that World Cup winning team were knighted Sirs but not all of them including Ball? Other than scoring a hat trick in the final - I know this is not something that happens every day, but did Sir Geoff Hurst really do much more for England than Ball, or did he achieve more in football than Ball to deserve this?
This is a sad time for English football, all of those that knew Ball and had a connection with him. My thoughts are with his family and I'm sure we will show our feelings towards him on Saturday when we return to Fratton Park.
Rest in Peace SIR Alan Ball.