April 25th, 2007


Goodbye Alan Ball

When Alan Ball came to Southampton at the end of 1976 I was just finishing my Common Entrance exams and I was about to leave the city of my childhood. To me, Ball was an Everton player even though he was arriving from Arsenal; he had always worn blue on the cards and stickers that I had collected. By the time he arrived I no longer followed the Saints, although I shared the city's pleasure at winning the FA cup that year. I regarded the likes of Channon, Osgood, and McMenemy with affection because they came over well socially. McMenemy had the brass to mock my headmaster when he visited my school. The others were affable in the city's pubs.

Ball remained unknown to me. He was another of the iconic figures from 1966. A character on television replays and innumerable photographs. I never saw him play in a Saints shirt. But he was embraced by my friends and, vicariously, I shared their delight when he returned to Southampton as a manager; a delight tinged with scepticism in some cases because of his five years at Portsmouth. And here's the thing: in thirty years of stories about the man, every one showed him in a positive light.

Those that described him from personal acquaintance all admired and liked him. They found him modest, funny, pragmatic, and warm-hearted. Some of the shock at his death flows from his age but I think that much of it is about the loss of someone so widely liked.