Ball and Milton

On Alan Ball's death, Howard Kendall, a notable wing-half and once, with Preston, the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup Final, generously declared that Ball was the outstanding member of the Kendall-Ball-Harvey trio.

Alan Ball and Arthur Milton, both former Arsenal players, died on the same recent day. But Milton, double international as footballer and as cricketer, was 79, Ball only 61. Ball died from a heart attack while trying to extinguish a bonfire in his back garden. I saw his first game for England in Belgrade against Yugoslavia on his 20th birthday in the summer of 1965. The following year I also saw his best game for England — the manager Alf Ramsey rightly told him he would never play a better one — in the World Cup Final of 1966.

More than 20 years earlier, on a dismal winter afternoon, I saw Milton's first game for Arsenal as a 17-year-old blond inside-right from Bristol who, truth to tell, did little or nothing. I am still not quite sure why I and two of my Charterhouse school friends — the school had produced a stream of England internationals in the late 19th century and the last amateur captain of England, A. G. Bower, in 1925 — had chosen to break bounds and risk a beating by travelling up to London for an obscure friendly between Fulham and Arsenal by the Thames. But given Milton's future career as successor to the more spectacularly-gifted Denis Compton, as Arsenal and double England man, I suppose you could, in some sense, call it an historic occasion.

Later on, soon after leaving school, I used, as an impassioned Arsenal fan, to go to Highbury to watch Milton scintillate on the right-wing for Arsenal's reserves. Indeed, I had once cycled 10 miles each way along the Hog's Back from school to Aldershot where I saw him play, for the second time, and more effectively, against Aldershot reserves, for the Gunners' second team.

As an outside-right, however, he was transformed. He had exciting pace and ball control, duly broke into the first team, and, in October 1951, was surprisingly chosen for the first and only time for England, a late choice, to play at Wembley against what, at that time, was a powerful and elegant Austrian team. I saw that match as well. Milton began it splendidly, laying on two fine chances for his inside-right Ivan Broadis, but Broadis missed them both, Milton fell away, and he never got another game for England at soccer; though he would play for them half a dozen times at cricket, scoring a century on his debut against New Zealand. He was a fine fielder, taking over 350 catches for Gloucestershire and once said that the Bristol wickets didn't suit him and he might have done better elsewhere.

Oddly enough, though famed chiefly as an inside-forward, Bell had his greatest and most significant success on that very right-flank whence Milton, 15 years earlier, had fashioned in vain those chances for Broadis. That was in the second-half of extra-time in the 1966 World Cup Final against West Germany. Ball's orders from Ramsey had, in fact, been to draw the experienced West German left-back across the face on the attack thus tiring him which indeed he did for much of the match. This he duly did till extra-time found him functioning as a classical and dynamic right-winger. Ironic indeed given the damning nickname of that team as Ramsey's Wingless Wonders.

Ball had already had a shot saved with difficulty by the German 'keeper, Hans Tilkowski, when Nobby Stiles, the abrasive little English right-half, sent a long searching pass in his direction. "Oh no, I can't I'm finished! I've already died twice!" Ball would afterwards recount. But somehow he found the strength and energy to persist, to zoom past "Schnelli" once again, and to pull back the ball which Geoff Hurst crashed against the underside of the German bar. Did it cross the line? Tofik Bakhramov, the linesman from Baku, thought it did and he pointed his flag to the middle to put England ahead 3-2 but perhaps we shall never know for sure.

Ball was the son of an abrasive father with the same name, who coached him intensively and could be violent on the field. His son was hot tempered, not belying his red hair, often in trouble with referees, but never spiteful. As a youngster he was absurdly told, when on trial at Bolton Wanderers, by the then manager, Bill Ridding, "You'd make a good little jockey." Blackpool signed him when still a first division team, but immediately after the 1966 World Cup, he was sold for a then record �110,000 fee to Everton. There, he was the crucial figure in the deliberated Kendall-Ball-Harvey midfield trio. On his death, Howard Kendall, a notable wing-half and once, with Preston, the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup Final, generously declared that Ball was the outstanding member of the trio.

Fascinated by his relation with his father, who failed as a manager — Alan junior would manage numerous clubs, among them Southampton and Portsmouth, with moderate success — I once wrote a short story, based on the two, called `Footballers Don't Cry'. Published in an annual collection called `Winters Tales', after early rejection, it eventually was broadcast in Mandarin Chinese by the BBC and was included in `Reader's Digest Great Short Stories of the English speaking World'.

Bobby Charlton, a star of that 1966 World Cup, recalls that the 31-year-old Alan exuberantly approached the Final, where the older players had a certain apprehension. But four years later, in Mexico, Ball admitted that before the opener against Rumania, in Guadalajara, he had never felt such anxiety.

Nowadays, Arthur Milton as footballer would have been a millionaire, at the expense of cricket. In fact, he ended up as a postman. Sad to contemplate, yet he, with his endearingly modest demeanour, was, he insisted, quite happy in the job and enjoyed the time he performed it with no regrets or bitterness.

As for Alan, as a player, he would never stop running and striving.