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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
Football unites in tribute to Ball
By John May in Winchester

Crowds gather outside Winchester Cathedral for Alan Ball's funeral
Fans turned out to pay tribute to man of the people Alan Ball
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and England coach Steve McClaren led mourners as football said goodbye to World Cup winner Alan Ball.

The funeral for Ball, who died of a heart attack last week aged 61, was held at Winchester cathedral.

Thousands lined the streets and applauded the hearse containing Ball's coffin, draped in a St George's flag.

Ball's son Jimmy led the tributes to his father, saying: "He was the best man I ever met."

It was an exit Ballie would have loved and the venerable cathedral would never had witnessed anything like it in its 1,000-year history.

No other funeral would have seen the packed congregation rise to its feet and applaud and cheer the coffin as the little maestro left the field for the last time - and the 20 or so Anglo-Saxon kings buried in the cathedral would have nodded their heads in appreciation.

There were as many football shirts worn as sober suits, with the red-and-white of Southampton sat cheek by jowl with the blue-and-white of Portsmouth, as well as that of Everton, and the red that England wore on that triumphant July day in 1966.

He was a bloke who loved life and had a bloody good crack at it

Mick Channon

Certainly, the football royalty and aristocracy of 40 years of English football was out in force to pay homage to the babe of the Boys of 66.

And perhaps it was because Ballie was the youngest player that the lines appeared to be etched that much deeper on the faces of his older team-mates from that day.

George Cohen spoke of "How empty and hollow the toast to absent friends would be at our reunion, which is coming up." Sir Bobby Charlton, who has known plenty of tragedy in his life, looked ashen.

His brother Jack, while still an imposingly tall figure, looked frail.

The tick-list of football's great and good was impressive. United boss Ferguson, so magnanimous in defeat the previous evening, showed that he is not all abrasion and hairdryer by hastening back from Milan to attend the funeral.

Brian Barwick and Sir Trevor Brooking represented the Football Association, McClaren and Kevin Keegan bridged the years of England managers.

But more than the big names, it would have been the smaller personnel that Ballie would appreciated.

Team-mates from his playing days at Everton, Arsenal and Southampton, included Mike Channon, who Ball was preparing to move house to be next too when his heart attack struck him down.

Channon's personal tribute to his one-time sidekick was typically robust and earthy: "He was a bloke who loved life and had a bloody good crack at it!"

There were players who Ball managed - guys like Alan Knight, Billy Gilbert and Mark Chamberlain at Pompey. Jason Dodd, Francis Benali and Matt le Tissier at Southampton.

Then there was Theo Walcott, a young man who was not even born when Ball hung up his boots.

Theo Walcott
Arsenal youngster Theo Walcott turned out to pay his respects

Ballie was not shy to voice his criticism of former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson's decision to take Walcott to the World Cup, although he never placed any blame on the player, and his admiration of the young man no doubt came as he could see a little of himself in the teenager, proudly pulling on an England shirt.

Such was the pull of Alan Ball, that Walcott felt compelled to attend.

The service had few tears. Those would be reserved for the family funeral. Both Nobby Stiles - Ball's England room-mate - and former Arsenal colleague Frank McLintock were renowned as teak-tough hardmen in their days but their voices cracked and faltered as they rolled out the anecdotes.

Ballie's coffin was draped unashamedly in an England flag, while on top was placed his favourite tweed 'ratting cap', always worn when he managed his teams and no worse for the abuse it took when constantly thrown to the ground in frustration.

606: COMMENT

In his address, the Reverend Canon Michael St John-Channell said he was grateful that he was old enough to witness Ball's part in giving the nation "One of the finest days" it has had.

He added: "I remember my mum falling off the settee screaming with delight - and she couldn't stand football."

As you would expect, the hymns were stirring - Jerusalem and, fittingly, football's FA Cup final anthem Abide With Me.

Son Jimmy spoke of his pride at having Ball for a dad, and recited Rudyard Kipling's poem If, rounding off the final line "Which is more, you'll be a man, my son" with "He was the best man I ever knew".

But it was also a day for the people. The queue for the precious public seats for the service snaked theme park-like round the cathedral precincts and those unable to get in listened with rapt attention outside.

There was a sharp and necessary reminder from the Reverend Canon that Ball was a footballer from another time and dimension, someone who played for the love of the game first and a wage-packet as an adjunct.

"Those who have huge wealth," said Reverend Canon Michael: "Would do well to learn from Alan's example of how to treat people and what is important in life."

Whatever else he was, Ballie was always accessible - and not just from the point of a media man, to whom Ballie was a dream - available at the end of a telephone with a pithy quote.

He was accessible to the people who paid his wages as a player or manager and you would find Ballie in his local, always willing to stand his ground in an argument with a fan and willing to stand him a pint afterwards. It was why people loved him - and why they turned out in force to show it.

SEE ALSO
Footballing legends remember Ball
03 May 07 |  Hampshire
Alan Ball funeral photos
03 May 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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