“No one was greater than their club, but you came pretty close.” – Tribute sent to Goodison after Ball’s death.
‘I was running back to the centre-circle after I scored the second goal against Liverpool and pure elation welled up inside me. I remember thinking: “I just love this place, I want this place forever.”‘
Ball, who chased his surname perpetually, like a Jack Russel chasing its tail – was a true Everton legend. The zest from this orange haired dynamo was extraordinary, and it was borne out of an utter hatred for losing. Remarkably he may have hit his peak in the summer of ’66; a 21 year old squeaky ginger drill-sergeant with the world at his feet.
“Run you bastard, run!” screamed Ball – the youngest man in the team – upon spotting an exhausted Nobby Stiles flagging in the World Cup final. Two weeks after England lifted the Jules Rimet, Harry Catterick – Everton’s shadow-dwelling mastermind – made Ball an Everton player as Britain’s first six-figure signing. Ball himself was tireless, a blur of orange and blue, moving his white-hot boots in perpetual motion.
Ball led his Everton to their 1970 league win; they finished on 66 points – a heady nine clear of Leeds United – very impressive for a time when two points were given for a win. Catterick’s sale of Ball was controversial, but Everton had him in his pomp. He left Goodison in body but not spirit, he was to remain an Evertonian for the rest of his life.
I know precisely what I was doing when I heard that Everton were selling Alan Ball. I can even remember the exact time. I was peering into the mirror, shaving, with the radio tuned to the BBC. It was shortly after 8-00 am on Wednesday 22 December 1971, I was a 21 year old getting ready for my daily commute into Liverpool Exchange station and in that instant the bottom fell out of my world and Christmas was utterly spoilt. As I recall the BBC report focussed on the fact that the fee, £220,000, was a British record; I couldn’t care less. I was crying.
It came as a complete surprise and utter shock to me, the football world and to Ball himself. Everton manager Harry Catterick had summoned the player into his office and informed him that he was being sold to Arsenal. No debate, no discussion, deal done, goodbye and thanks. Apparently Ball cried too.
In football terms it marked the end of the fabulous Harvey-Ball-Kendall ‘holy trinity’ and the ‘Catterick era’ and it would be a long 13 years, some very dark indeed, before the Blues would rise again.
Alan Ball did not ask for a transfer. His heart was broken too. I am not a superstitious person but I can’t rid myself of the thought that first Rooney and now Stones are punishments by the footballing gods, for the way Ball was treated all those years ago.
Premier League: Saturday 11 March (15:00); West Bromwich Albion at Goodison
Saturday 18 March (15:00); Hull City at Goodison