How many English clubs can say they had a World Cup winner on their books? Until the recent influx of foreign superstars that honour fell entirely upon eleven Englishmen from 1966 and clubs of the stature of Manchester United, Liverpool, West Ham United, Everton and the like laid claim to the part their players had played in providing England’s finest footballing achievement. Then came Ardilles, Villa, Klinsmann, Barthez, Henry and the like and now the world game is influenced by English football to such an extent that no less than ten of the players who played in the 2010 World Cup final had played in the Premiership.
As the dust settles on Ashton United’s fine Evo-Stik League Club victory over Northwich Victoria, the club have been reflecting on the 50th anniversary of their own World Cup winner’s final game for this modest Lancashire club. Rejected by Bolton Wanderers for being too small and not taken on by Wolverhampton Wanderers after a second trial, Alan Ball eventually signed for Blackpool and the rest is, as they say, history – however part of Ball’s grounding in the game had been a season at Ashton United when his father, Alan Ball Senior, was manager. Ball was 15 years, 3 months and 13 days old when he became Ashton’s youngest ever first XI player, featuring in a Lancashire Combination Cup tie away at Glossop on 25th August 1960; Ashton won 3-1, helped in part by two goals from Alf Arrowsmith, who joined Liverpool the following week and went on to win a league championship with The Reds in 1964. Ball made seven appearances for Ashton over the course of the 1960-61 season, primarily in cup games although he did make a league debut on Boxing Day 1960 as Ashton won 3-0 away at Earlestown; he scored one goal for Ashton – that came in a 6-2 romp against Northern Nomads, also in the Combination Cup.
As happened this season, the climax of the 1960-61 season was a cup final - Alan Ball’s final game for Ashton came in the Manchester Intermediate Cup Final away at Cheshire League rivals and neighbours Mossley. On a heavy pitch Mossley dominated the game and the diminutive Ball was unable to make much impact against the professionals and seasoned amateurs of the home side, who eventually ran out comfortable winners; Ball was still 2½ weeks short of his sixteenth birthday as his days at Ashton United drew to a close. Ashton’s contribution to the World Cup story doesn’t end with Ball; his hat-trick hitting team-mate from 1966, Geoff Hurst, was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, as was Simeone Perrotta, who went on to feature for Italy in their 2006 win over France after his parents moved back to their homeland in 1982 - he was just four years old at the time.
46 years to the very day of that cup final appearance against Mossley, England lost the second of The Boys of ’66 when Alan Ball died at the tragically young age of just 61 in April 2007. As with all his team-mates and manager Sir Alf Ramsey, Alan Ball is fondly remembered by a grateful footballing nation.
Picture: Alan Ball in his youth as an Everton player (Photo: PA)