Arsenal Heroes: “He must have been some player to wear those white boots”

A Blast from the Past – Alan Ball
England footballer Alan Ball Jr. (1945 – 2007, right) with Arsenal manager Bertie Mee (1918 – 2001) after signing with Arsenal F.C. for a British cash record fee, UK, 22nd December 1971. (Photo by Les Lee/Daily Express/Getty Images)
Alan James Ball, MBE (12 May 1945 – 25 April 2007)
Born in Farnworth, Lancashire, he was the youngest member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team and played for various clubs, scoring more than 180 league goals in a career spanning 22 years. His playing career also included a then national record £220,000 transfer from Everton to Arsenal at the end of 1971. After retiring as a player, he had a 15-year career as a manager which included spells in the top flight of English football.
Ball started his football career as a schoolboy, playing for Ashton United a team his father managed in the Lancashire Combination. While still at school (Farnworth Grammar School) he acquired a youth contract with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After he left school, Wolves decided not to take him on; and he started training with Bolton Wanderers but they also decided against signing him to a professional contract as manager Bill Ridding thought he was too small.
Blackpool signed him after Ball’s father called in a favour with the coach; Ball was given a trial in September 1961 and was signed up as an apprentice. He turned professional in May 1962, making his Football League debut on 18 August 1962 against Liverpool at Anfield in a 2–1 victory. At age 17 years and 98 days, he became Blackpool’s youngest League debutant. On 21 November 1964, Ball scored his first hat-trick as a professional, in a 3–3 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Despite being in a struggling Blackpool team, Ball’s industry, stamina and distribution were noticed by England manager Alf Ramsey, who gave him his international debut on 9 May 1965 in a 1–1 draw with Yugoslavia in Belgrade, three days before his twentieth birthday. Ramsey was preparing for the World Cup a year later, which England was to host. Ball’s performances in the 1966 World Cup winning England team attracted the attention of a number of clubs bigger than Blackpool, Ball eventually being sold to Everton for a fee of £112,000 in August 1966.
Everton reached the 1968 FA Cup Final, but lost to West Bromwich Albion and were knocked out by Manchester City in the semi-finals the following year. Ball was instrumental in the team which won his first and only major domestic honour in the game as Everton took the 1969–70 Football League Championship title.
On 22 December 1971, Arsenal paid a record fee of £220,000 to take Ball to Highbury.
“I remember thinking that he must have been some player to wear those white boots – and Alan Ball was some player.” It’s hard to disagree with the words of David O’Leary.
Ball’s arrival at Highbury in December 1971 was big news. Arsenal had just done the Double and Arsenal’s manager Bertie Mee worried about the player’s ability to keep motivated so he splashed out a British record transfer fee to land the World Cup-winning England star. He was 26 years of age and at his peak for both form and fitness when he joined Arsenal; he made his debut against Nottingham Forest on 27 December 1971. However, Arsenal could not defend their League title in 1971/72 and also lost FA Cup when Leeds United beat them 1–0 in the centenary final at Wembley.
Ball had continued to play for Arsenal through all this time, as a near-constant member of the first team at first, including 50 appearances in 1972–73. A natural leader, Ball took on the captaincy at the start of the 1973/74 campaign and became Arsenal’s most influential performer as the Double side of 1971 fragmented and a new generation of players – including Liam Brady – began to emerge. In April 1974 Ball broke his leg, resulting in his missing the start of the 1974/75 season, in which Arsenal finished 16th. Ball also missed the start of the 1975/76 season after an injury in the pre-season friendly at Crewe Alexandra, Arsenal subsequently finished in 17th place that season. Bertie Mee resigned as Arsenal manager in the summer of 1976 and new manager Terry Neill wanted to take the club in a new direction. Now aged 31, Ball continued to play for Arsenal until December 1976, when he was sold to Southampton for a fee of £60,000. In total he made 217 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 52 goals.

Ball was awarded an MBE in 2000 for his services to football’

Ball, aged 61, died in the early hours of 25 April 2007 at his home in Warsash, Hampshire, following a heart attack. He suffered the fatal heart attack while attempting to put out a blaze in his garden that had started when a bonfire – on which he had earlier been burning garden waste – re-ignited and spread to a nearby fence. His funeral was held in Winchester Cathedral on 3 May 2007. Many of Ball’s former football colleagues were in attendance and the flat cap that he became famous for wearing was placed on top of his coffin.

“In my opinion he was one of Arsenal’s greatest players of all time,” said Brady. “He helped me greatly and, with David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton and Graham Rix, I feel he contributed a great deal towards our careers, passing on his experience of the game”


13 thoughts on “Arsenal Heroes: “He must have been some player to wear those white boots”

  • Excellent post, GN5. I knew very little about Ball but you have changed this with your detailed post. It sounds like he was a great footballer to watch but unfortunately he missed out on the good years prior to his arrival at the home of football.

  • Alan Ball was one of the finest players to ever put on an Arsenal shirt.A legend.He was at his peak just before the leg break & injury set backs & had formed a wonderfu central midfield partnership with the young,mercurial Brady.So much so one headline at the time referred to them as The Master & his apprentice( Brady) at times they were unplayable.Bally’s one touch play ,reading of the game & vision showed you why he was a World Cup winner & why Brady would learn from the very best & go on to be a superstar himself.An honour as a young man to have seen him play in the flesh.RIP.

  • It would be hard for me to pick a comparative player Total, but he was a 5’5″ non stop box to box midfield dynamo. For those who have never seen the 1966 World Cup Final he was England’s inspiration and playing from the wing he was responsible for the assisting on two of Peters goals – the English players considered him as the M.O.M.

  • Thanks GN 5. Bally was my idol. He signed for Arsenal when I was 11 and I always wanted to be him, growing up modelling my game on his. I never copied his white boots (not available then in New Zealand), but his engine and and fieriness were legendary. If you watch the ’66 final you will see a scrap of a lad with his socks at his ankles covering every inch of the Wembley turf. He crossed the ball for Hurst’s famous second goal. When we lost the ’72 FA cup final to Leeds I wept adolescent tears for him and the boys. He had a touch of Billy Bremner about him, would run and harry like Kevin Keegan, leadership a bit like Roy Kean, but I cannot think of a modern player who is like him. He didn’t have Overmars pace but did have his height. Ngolo Kante comes to mind in terms of work ethic and positional sense. He was a one off. One of the first things I’m going to do in heaven is look for him and get his autograph.

  • Aston Villa vs Arsenal… D
    Burnley vs Brighton…… H
    Fulham vs West Ham… A
    Man Utd vs Everton….. H
    Liverpool vs Man City… D
    Leverk’sen vs Stuttgart.. H

  • Yes I was a big fan of Bally to. He was quite small but very active, the sort of guy you hate playing against. The Arsenal player I would compare him with today, is Lucas Torreira when he first arrived and was at the top of his game. Quite an annoying voice though.

    I have to say though that I thought Chippy Brady was a better player.

  • Aston Villa vs Arsenal… H
    Burnley vs Brighton…… A
    Fulham vs West Ham… A
    Man Utd vs Everton….. D
    Liverpool vs Man City… A
    Leverk’sen vs Stuttgart.. D

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