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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Thousands celebrate a football legend
By Kieran Fox
BBC News, Winchester

Fans pay tribute at the funeral of football legend Alan Ball

A Hampshire city stood still to honour one of English football's favourite sons.

Alan Ball was not from Winchester, but it is the capital of the county he made his home until his death last week aged 61.

And it was the splendour of this ancient capital of England's cathedral that provided a fitting backdrop for the funeral of a man who helped to secure the most splendid and enduring legacy of England's national game.

Crowds - some adorned in the shirts of his former clubs - lined the barriers that led up to the cathedral three or four deep.

This was not a place for mourning, no black tie affair, this was a celebration of an extraordinary life.

The sunbathed crowds were not sombre, the mood was respectful but light-hearted - perhaps what "Bally" would have wanted - as friends, relations and former team-mates filed past and into the church.

It was summed up when an infant broke rank and ran out into the cathedral drive as the crowds waited for the funeral cortege - he was greeted with giggles.

Forty-one years on from that glorious summer's day of 1966, the coffin of the youngest member of that World Cup winning team arrived shortly before 1300 BST draped in the cross of St George and topped with his trademark managerial flat cap.

Angie Keith and Sandra George - Portsmouth and Southampton fans
Angie Keith (l) and Sandra George support two of Ball's old teams

Reverent applause broke out among the 2,000 or so massed ranks who were gathered outside the cathedral to hear the service relayed on speakers.

The scarves of Alan Ball's former clubs - Blackpool, Everton, Arsenal and those two rivals Southampton and Portsmouth - could be spotted held aloft as the coffin was carried in on the shoulders of his son Jimmy Ball , his best friend, nephew and sons-in-law.

Chatting to the people gathered outside it was clear that Alan Ball was more than just one of England's greatest footballers - he was a man of the people.

The Lancashire man with the piping voice who could command the respect of two rival footballing cities in Southampton and Portsmouth (his Warsash home was halfway between the two).

Friend and entertainer Mike Osman said: "He's a massive loss to his family, to football and to the Hampshire community.

"He did everything with a smile on his face, he did things his way and people would have loved him even if he hadn't been a footballer.

Former Manchester City and England striker, Francis Lee, recalled a "special player" who had a "aura" about him.

"I was always delighted to be in his company," he said.

"He had a great personality, very straightforward, a typical Lancashire guy, you very rarely saw him down for more than ten minutes."

Denis Law and Gordon Banks
Denis Law and Gordon Banks were among many former footballers

The crowds stood listening for an hour as a patriotic service played out with the strains of Abide With Me and Jerusalem rising into the cathedral square.

Former team-mate and Arsenal captain, Frank McClintock, raised a smile with his tale of how Bally taught Bob Wilson how to save penalties.

Finally, Jimmy Ball drew applause as he summed up his father in the words of Rudyard Kipling's poem If.

The cortege left to Frank Sinatra's My Way and even more clapping - gone, but for the fans never forgotten.


SEE ALSO
Alan Ball funeral photos
03 May 07 |  Football
Everton lead Alan Ball tributes
28 Apr 07 |  Football
Alan Ball remembered
25 Apr 07 |  Football
Alan Ball's life in pictures
25 Apr 07 |  Football
World Cup winner Ball dies at 61
26 Apr 07 |  Football

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