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Alan Ball, the midfield dynamo in England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad has died of heart failure at the age of 61. Many of the details of his career are well-known - but it’s not widely realised that he might have been a star of West Midlands football.

Although he was born in Lancashire, Ball caught the eye of Wolverhampton Wanderer’s extensive scouting network and signed schoolboy forms with the Molineux club.

They let him go, figuring that at 5’ 6” he was too small to make it in the professional game; that was also the excuse used by his next club Bolton, and it wasn’t until he joined Blackpool in 1961 that his great work-rate and short passing skills wereappreciated.

By 1965 he’d earned England selection and was the youngest member of the successful ’66 squad.

In many ways Ball symbolised the footballing era initiated by his first international manager Sir Alf Ramsey; he was, above all, a team player, with a tremendous work ethic.

At a time when England found it difficult to accommodate the “fancy dans” like Jimmy Greaves and later Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh, Ball’s industry earned him a guaranteed place in the team.

Following the World Cup, Ball was transferred to Everton, and later became the most expensive player in Englishfootball when transferring to Everton for £220,000 in 1972.

In all he won 72 caps before being dropped by Don Revie - a decision he only discovered when a journo rang and asked his wife what her reaction was.

As a manager, he was rather less successful. After enjoying early success and a promotion at Pompey, the club were eventually relegated; a fate which also befell Stoke City when he was in charge, and later the same thing happened after a traumatic season at Manchester City.

For all that, he will be fondly remembered for his operatic voice and having played a vital part in English football’s greatest day.

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