Eye on the Ball
It’s early October 1965, Peter Richards, a chemistry student from Oxford decided to take in a game at Stamford Bridge on his first Saturday in the capital. So on a crisp autumnal afternoon Peter took his place to watch a top division match between Chelsea and, the visitors that day, Blackpool.
With just over 28,000 in attendance the atmosphere was crackling and the home fans packed the Shed End. It was a far cry from where Peter usually watched his football in Headington, a village in the Oxford suburbs. The Manor Ground, home of Oxford United, was a poking little ground all be it with heaps of character but was no comparison with Stamford Bridge.
But it was not the surroundings that stuck in the mind of Peter Richards that day but rather the performance of one particular player.
“The way he ran the midfield was a master class. Passing the ball with accuracy and pace as well as flicking the ball into space with an almost nonchalant ease.”
Making his trade seem easy would be the trademark of the diminutive midfielder with a crop of flaming red hair. His name was, of course, was Alan Ball, who, at 20 years of age, would be lifting the World Cup with England as the youngest player in the squad less than a year after appearing in this match.
His performance that day was key to the 1-0 Blackpool victory as was the defensive effort of Jimmy Armfield and goalkeeper Anthony Waiters. What Blackpool fans wouldn’t give to have players of this quality in their side today! Another notable performance was that of Blackpool striker Ray Charnley, who was prolific at club level but only ever made one appearance for the National side. He kept the Chelsea backline on its toes that day in another stand out performance.
Ball’s ability and performances at the 1966 World Cup would earn him a move to Everton where he formed “the holy trinity” midfield with Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall. He made 146 appearance scoring 71 times in two spells with Blackpool and his performance that day left its imprint in the memory of Peter Richards that he still remembers to this day.
“I was lucky to see such a good player that day and one that I will never forget. He was so clearly a cut above the rest of the players on the pitch and it was clear then that he would go onto greater things.”
In a career spanning 22 years Ball would score more than 180 goals and pick up a World Cup winners medal to boot. He could never replicate the success he had as a player when he became a manager but to Blackpool fans he will always be a club legend who will mostly be remembered for the 40 goals he scored during his first spell at the club when Blackpool mixed it with the elite in the First Division. Blackpool fans will be dreaming of one day being able to replicate the accomplishments of the side of that era and reaching the play-offs will be a start.
Words James Richards