Alan Ball rose to fame in the 1960s as the youngest player of England’s World Cup winning team.Though England as a team emerged heroically from the tournament, Ball was one of the players regarded as individual success, especially as he was one of the more inexperienced members of the squadwith no proven record at the very highest level.
Eventually, his World Cup heroics led him to Everton. Whilst there, Ball was instrumental in the team which won his first and only major domestic honour – the 1969-70 Football League Championship title. However, it wasn’t until 1971 when he was transferred to Arsenal for what was at the time a record purchase of £220,000.
Overall, throughout his career as a player, he scored more than 180 league goals in a career spanning 22 years.
Following his playing career, Ball had previously managed Blackpool, Stoke City, and Portsmouth before replacing Terry Cooper at Exeter in 1991.
Although during his time at St. James’ Park the Grecians struggled, Ball still managed to keep them in the old Third Division. His most memorable achievement, however, was the development of a fantastic youth policy. To quote City director Stuart Dawe: “The kids who have come here have done so because they want to be with a man of the calibre of Alan Ball. He puts so much time into them. City’s highly praised manager himself confirmed that “with the high-profile youth policy that I introduced to St. James’ Park, I am sure Exeter City will be blessed with talent in years to come’’.
Unfortunately, Ball is said to have made that that comment shortly before taking a position with Southampton in 1994. Subsequently, he managed Manchester City and Portsmouth before retiring in 1999.
Alan Ball, aged 61, died in the early hours of 25 April 2007 at his home in Warsash, Hampshire, after a heart attack while attempting to put out a blaze in his garden that had started when a bonfire – on which he had 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. Ball was the second of the 1966 World Cup winning team to die, the first being captain Bobby Moore in 1993.
In 2022, Steve Birley (Exeter City Commercial Manager when Alan Ball was manager) wrote
“I so remember the day I asked Bally if he'd be happy posing for a picture with him about to take a bite out of a bunch of grapes to promote the phone line. Typical of the chap he was, he agreed so quickly. He was always 100 per cent behind the commercial team. Great memories. After the photo shoot, Bally turned to me and said: "Birley Steve (thats what he called me), you'd have been well at home in the United States as there was a commercial manager there who, at one game, asked the players (with Bally in the team) to each go out onto the pitch and 'appear' from a coffin. he said that ever since then he had appreciated just how 'thinking outside the box' was important at that time in terms of football marketing.”