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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Alan Ball remembered

By John May

England World Cup winner Alan Ball
Alan Ball was small of stature but was a giant in the game
Alan Ball was one of those rare men, a human tornado who made an impression on anybody whose life he breezed into.

Everyone knows the World Cup winner, the little ginger bundle of energy who really won the Jules Rimet trophy, begging Sir Geoff Hurst's pardon.

But I remember him as a man who bore no grudges.

Working on the south coast as a reporter brought me into close contact with Ballie during his time as manager at Portsmouth and Southampton.

Naturally, the differing demands of football and the media meant there were rows and spats. But Ballie would never brood and allow them to simmer and fester.

He would have his rant at you and, having finished, he would stick his arm around your shoulder and drag you off for a beer.

That was why people adored Ballie. Nobody loved football more than him - but he loved life just as much.

England World Cup winner Alan Ball
Ball always wore his England shirt with pride

Away from the football pitch, Ballie adored the gee-gees, an affliction he caught from his old Southampton mucker Mick Channon, now a highly successful trainer.

Ballie's idea of a team-building exercise was to take his Saints or Pompey squads to Newbury or Cheltenham for a day at the races, even at the risk of losing his own shirt.

Everybody has their own memory of Alan Ball, who twice commanded the record British transfer fee for a player.

Everton fans remember him as part of the dream midfield, along with Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey, which took the Toffees to the title in 1970.

For Arsenal supporters, he tried to provide the inspiration for a team in transition between the 1971 Double-winners and the dawn of the Liam Brady era.

606: COMMENT
But if football fans elsewhere in the country will pardon an indulgence, he made his biggest impression on the south coast.

Such was the stature of the little man that he is possibly the only person to be loved in equal proportions by fans of Southampton and Portsmouth.

England World Cup winner Alan Ball
Saints player, Pompey manager, Ball crossed the south coast divide

Ballie achieved cult status as a Saints player during his years at The Dell and had to overcome that perceived handicap when he moved down the coast to manage rivals Pompey, not once, but twice.

He became a hero in his first stint by guiding Pompey back to the top flight for the first time in 29 years, only for his chairman to pull the rug from under him in a move that would be a precursor to the twists of fate that dogged his managerial career.

Southampton fans welcomed back a prodigal son when he returned as manager to save Saints' bacon and when he headed back down the M27 for a second spell in the Pompey hot-seat, his passion kept the financially stricken club alive off the pitch until the cavalry arrived in the form of Milan Mandaric.

Ballie was less successful as a manager at Manchester City, then Stoke and finally Exeter. It was a source of personal annoyance that having reached the pinnacle as a player, he could not do the same as a manager.

But a thread of ironic tragedy ran through his life.

Ballie loved his father, Alan senior, like few sons do, citing him as his inspiration and mentor. Little Alan was devastated when his father died in his early 60s.

Two years ago, Ballie lost his wife Lesley to cancer. They had been sweethearts since their teens.

For all his northern roots, Ballie made his home on the south coast, in the village of Warsash, halfway between the rival cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, where he was able to stride with his head up.

England World Cup winner Alan Ball
Ball is still revered by Everton fans

The piping voice that spawned so many imitators - he once caught me doing it within his earshot at the training ground and made me repeat it in front of everyone - was his living, as he became one of the best on the dinner-speaking circuit.

His dabblings with the local media - as a newspaper columnist and radio pundit - were typically Ballie; spicy, controversial, opinionated and passionate.

An unashamed patriot, who represented his country 72 times, nobody wore an England shirt with more pride - and there was no prouder man when he received his MBE from the Queen.

He was at St Mary's stadium last Saturday to see Southampton beat Leeds. He enjoyed that as Leeds, along with one or two Scotsmen, were the only things that Ballie took a dislike to.

Ironically, he had been scheduled to play golf with old Saints boss Lawrie McMenemy at a charity event for the Wessex Heart Foundation the day after his death.



SEE ALSO
World Cup winner Ball dies at 61
25 Apr 07 |  Football
Alan Ball's life in pictures
25 Apr 07 |  Football
Swinging along route to '66
28 Jul 06 |  England
World Cup 1966 flashback
31 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Pride of three lions
28 Jul 06 |  England
Memories of 1966
05 May 06 |  World Cup 2006
Ball condemns Rooney's FA threat
22 Aug 06 |  Man Utd
World Cup medal sold for 164,800
19 May 05 |  England


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