Debuts Part 19: Alan Ball

PAUL MCPARLAN fondly recalls Everton’s popular World Cup-winning midfield dynamo

On 13 August 1966, the FA Cup holders Everton were playing league champions Liverpool in the Charity Shield at Goodison Park. Both trophies were displayed – along with the Jules Rimet trophy – by Everton’s Ramon Wilson and Liverpool’s Roger Hunt. It was a display that will probably never be seen again in an English stadium. Liverpool outclassed their rivals to gain 1-0 victory. For Everton manager Harry Catterick it confirmed his worse fears.

It wasn’t just the manager who was worried, the players were as well. Everton had been outplayed by their opponents and knew that they were miles away from being a team that could challenge for the title. The season was not yet underway but already a dark cloud hovered over Goodison.

Everton, the best team in the country three years earlier, were now not even top dogs in their own city. The pressure was on for Catterick to deliver a title challenge after finishing in a lowly 11th place the previous season. The Charity Shield reinforced his belief that the side lacked a midfield dynamo. Everton had never really replaced captain Tony Kay who was banned from the game in 1964 for his involvement in a bribery scandal. Catterick, financed by John Moore’s football pools empire, was prepared to spend big.

Everton had monitored the progress of Alan Ball of Blackpool since the 1963/64 season when Tony Kay opined, after his first encounter with Ball: “I’ve clobbered him a couple of times, but the little sod keeps coming back – and he can play!”. After the World Cup, Ball, at the age of 21, was hot property. Leeds United were favourites to sign him after offering Blackpool a record £105,000. Revie had made it clear to Ball that he wanted him and every Friday during the summer a brown envelope would arrive at Ball’s house with £100 inside. It was Revie’s way of keeping Ball sweet.

Catterick was a shrewd manipulator of the media and intimated that he was not that interested in Ball. Everton needed to sign a new player before the transfer deadline for European competitions elapsed at midnight on 15 August. That day, he turned up unannounced at Blackpool’s stadium and demanded to speak to Ball. Everton met Blackpool’s asking price of £112,000, an English record, which forced Leeds to match their offer. Ball received a call from his manager saying that the club were ready to sell him and two teams wanted to sign him. He suspected that Leeds were one and was pleased that Everton were the other. He often used to watch midweek games at Goodison Park with his father and both were far from impressed with Revie’s approach. The player signed for Everton that afternoon as Catterick stressed the urgency of the impending transfer deadline.

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Revie panicked when he heard of Catterick’s sleight of hand and rushed over to Liverpool to intervene. It was too late; he hadn’t realised that Harry was in Blackpool. Arguably it was payback time for Catterick. When he sold Bobby Collins to Leeds in 1962 he thought that Revie was prepared to sell him Billy Bremner subsequently as part of the deal and this still rankled with Catterick.

Ball made his debut five days later away at Fulham on Saturday 20 August. Already during training, his infectious enthusiasm and total commitment had impressed his team mates. If he felt the pressure of the transfer fee, it didn’t show. He could not have asked for a better start to his Everton career, scoring the only goal of the match on 75 minutes to ensure a 1-0 victory for Everton at a ground where they had not won for six seasons. Everton supporters had taken to the new signing immediately. As the team boarded the train back to Liverpool, a joyous fan threw himself at Ball’s feet and proclaimed: “God sent you from Heaven to Everton just to score goals like that”

Next Saturday the love affair really ignited. Liverpool visited Goodison for the first league meeting of the season. It was Ball’s chance to test himself against the Champions. He could not have made a better impression as the clock on the Goodison pylons showed 3.12pm Everton were leading 2-0 courtesy of a brace by Ball. He had truly arrived. The vociferous chanting of his name reverberated around the stadium as Everton strolled to a 3-1 victory

Alan Ball ended the season as Everton’s top scorer with 18 goals and they never lost a game in which he scored. He had a galvanising effect on the players around him. Everybody upped their game as they climbed to sixth place, finishing only three points behind Liverpool. On 11 March 1967 he became an Everton legend when, in front of a combined crowd of almost 105,000 – 64,851 at Goodison and over 40,000 watching on a screen at Anfield – he scored the only goal of a Fifth Round FA Cup game against Liverpool to take Everton through. Ball regarded this as the best goal he ever scored.

Already he was forming a partnership with Colin Harvey in midfield. Watching the Cup game that evening was Everton’ s new signing, a certain Howard Kendall. Catterick’ s masterplan was taking shape. The Holy Trinity of Ball, Harvey, and Kendall was about to be unleashed. The future was bright, the future was blue.

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