Alan Ball

It’s always a bit odd when somebody quite famous dies unexpectedly. It’s even more shocking if it was a celebrity you’ve got a lot of time for. So to hear Alan Ball had left this world behind this morning was a bit of a shock, like the football equivalent of John Peel if you will.

Jamie K and Simon Hattenstone remember his less than successful periods, and it may be fair to say that my club, Exeter City, weren’t the best side in the league under his management.

But, to somebody who was just becoming an impressionable young teenager at the time, Alan Ball’s written his place in Grecian folklore. He kept us in the old third division, he signed Ronnie Jepson and he had a real passion for the game. As one supporter I interview today said, his abiding memory of Bally would be the wee lad throwing his trademark flat cap on the ground when things weren’t quite going his way.

But there are two things he’ll be really remembered for at City, Exeter. The first is doing the double over Plymouth Argyle. That’s an achievement very few other managers have ever reached (and aren’t likely to reach for a good while yet). Depressing as it is, we don’t get to gloat over the Greens very often. That was one of the few periods in our history.

The second, to me, is just as important, perhaps more so. We had a nippy little young winger called Martin ‘Buster’ Phillips break into our first team. When Alan Ball took over as manager of Manchester City he signed Exeter’s teenage wunderkid for a cool half a million.

Now Buster was a very good player for City, make no mistake. But whether he was worth that much is highly debatable, and he certainly never reached the 10 million pound transfer fee Alan Ball predicted.

But there’s more to this than just another manager paying over the odds for a lower league player. City were going through one of their all too familiar financial crises at the time, and Bally was aware of this. By convincing Francis Lee to shell out the cash, he effectively saved the Grecians from going under. At the time that was our 1990s ball number 64 moment [1].

For those two memories alone, Alan Ball deserves to be honoured. No doubt one of those forms will be in the same of something pre-kick off in our final match of the season against Southport on Saturday. With a bumper crowd expected, it’ll be hair on the back of your neck time.

He might not have been the greatest Stoke, Man City or Pompey manager ever, but take a look on this thread on the unofficial Exeter forums to see just how much the man will be missed in one UK city.

[1] When Tony Cascarino pulled our number out of the hat to meet Manchester United at Old Trafford a couple of seasons ago.

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