November 9 2017: Alan Ball remembered

It’s been a bad few days. Jimmy McMillan, Paul Tully and now Eddie Roberts, another dear old friend, has died.

Eddie’s passing at least offers the chance to recall the diminutive World Cup winner Alan Ball, who’d begin his post-prandial talks by standing on a chair and announcing that he was the after-dinner squeaker.

Eddie’s chief involvement was in schools football, to which he devtoed more than 50 years of his life, but in 1992 he was chairman of Richmond Town FC and organised the do at the Scotch Corner Hotel at which Bally was chief guest and the “support act” was Fr Michael McKenna, a Roman Catholic priest.

Ball was then manager of Exeter City, at Darlington the following day, and spoke (as it were) for a song.

He was unforgettable, talked with gratitude and much affection of his dad, swore just once – when talking about his days at Blackpool and his friendship with Brian London, the former British heavyweight boxing champion from West Hartlepool.

Teasingly, he recalled that London was often on the canvas – “the only boxer I know,” said Bally, “who had a cauliflower arse.”

Fr McKenna, last heard of in Ashington, was every bit as entertaining – and probably didn’t swear at all. Eddie Roberts had heard him before. “I don’t know about saving souls,” said Eddie, “but I once heard him save a sportsmen’s dinner at which Emlyn Hughes was on first.”

Twelve years later, I again heard the late World Cup winner at a Trimdon Juniors dinner. His beloved wife Lesley had died the week previously, her funeral the day before. Alan not only turned up, but spoke wonderfully. “It’s a kids’ team. I didn’t want to let anyone down,” he said.

Between the two, I’d interviewed Brian London at his smart home in Blackpool, snitched on what Bally had said. Brian insisted that, though he’d been stopped a few times, he’d only been floored once in his life.

“I’ll have that little bugger,” he said of his mate, and that was swearing, an’ all.