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v West Brom

Saturday 13 September K.O. 15:00

Alan Ball

Alan Ball

Everton Giant 2001

One of the more enduring images of English football's finest day is that of a 21-year-old from Farnworth tirelessly covering every blade of the Wembley grass for his country's cause.

Alan Ball was the youngest member of Alf Ramsey's team on that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon in July 1966 as the host nation overcame West Germany in the World Cup Final. The effervescent Blackpool midfielder was one of the stars of the tournament, and Harry Catterick was waiting to pounce.

A month later Alan left the seaside for the big city, with a then British record fee of £110,000 moving in the opposite direction … and not a single penny of it was ever begrudged. In typical fashion, he marked his debut at Craven Cottage against Fulham with the only goal in a 1-0 win, but it was seven days later that his love affair with the Evertonians really ignited.

The first Merseyside derby of the 1966-67 season came just three games into the campaign and 64,318 spectators crammed into Goodison Park to see it. Everton won 3-1 and Ball scored two of the goals. The fiery Lancastrian revelled in the derby atmosphere and showed that unique sense of theatre that became his trademark - a real player for the big occasion if ever there was one.

Later that season he was the scourge of Liverpool once again when over 100,000 fans saw him claim the only goal of an FA Cup 5th Round tie - over 60,000 watched the game At Goodison Park and another 40,000 watched the 'live' screening at Anfield. His first campaign as an Everton player ended with his name at the top of the club goal chart - netting 18 times to outscore the likes of Derek Temple and Alex Young. The following season he went two better, scoring 20 goals in all competitions and the fact that he regularly hit double figures was an enormous bonus for the team.

Alan was firmly established as a genuine 'Goodison idol' with an array of talents that had the Gwladys Street drooling. He was famously tigerish in the tackle, he could pass the ball quite beautifully, he was as brave as a lion, and, of course, he had limitless stamina.

In short, he could do no wrong… and the 1969-70 season was unquestionably his zenith as an Everton player.

Alan BallAlan Ball at Everton

Alongside Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey, Alan formed the most revered midfield triumvirate in the club's history and an opening sequence of just one defeat in 18 fixtures provided the platform for a glittering Championship success. Everton stormed to the title with second placed Leeds United 9 points adrift (when it was 2 points for a win remember) and with Alan orchestrating things in his own inimitable style, The Blues looked set to dominate the decade. That they didn't still rankles with Alan Ball.

He was a winner and the slip from Champions to also-rans in the space of 12 months was difficult for him to take, although he didn't want to leave and there was widespread consternation and disbelief amongst Evertonians when he was sold to Arsenal in December 1971.

Just a month earlier, Alan had scored the fifth of an eight goal mauling of Southampton in the snow at Goodison Park - little did anybody know it would be his last for Everton.

His departure was mourned like no other before him and arguably, no other since. The fans knew that he was irreplaceable both on the field and in their affections, and they saw another British record fee of £220,000 as no consolation whatsoever.

251 appearances yielded a highly impressive 71 goals, 39 of his 72 England caps were collected whilst an Everton player and those who still insist that his exit was premature can point to the fact that he went on to play a further 400 matches after leaving Goodison. Undoubtedly one of the finest players to ever wear the Royal Blue jersey, Alan Ball was a unique footballing package.

The infectious enthusiasm, the sublime skill, the boundless energy, the goalscoring knack, the sheer consistency, the flame coloured hair, the high pitched voice and the white boots - the man is an Everton legend and is entirely appropriate choice as the first Everton Giant of the 21st Century.

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