Inspirational Ball of fire...

So who was the man of the match that golden day when England ruled the world? (

Saturday, 30th July 2016, 12:05 am
The England team which won the World Cup in the final at Wembley. (top row left to right) Harold Shepherdson (trainer); George Cohen; Martin Peters; Gordon Banks; Alan Ball; Bobby Moore (captain); Nobby Stiles. (front row left to right) Bobby Charlton; Roger Hunt; Geoff Hurst; Ray Wilson; Jackie Charlton.

Most would plump for Geoff Hurst, but England’s hat-trick hero himself has his own thoughts on the matter.

He plumped for the youngest player on the pitch, that Blackpool bundle of energy Alan Ball.

Ball was here, there and everywhere on that never-to-be-forgotten day.

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Some of the critics dubbed the England final team ‘Wingless Wonders’ but that is misleading and, in a way, it overlooks Ball’s role in the team,

What else was Ball but acting as a winger when he laid on England’s controversial, was-it-over-the-line-or-not third goal?

It had all looked a lot different a year earlier when not for the first time in his long career, the fiery Ball got in trouble while playing for England Under-23s

His hopes of playing in the World Cup looked doubtful when he was sent off for throwing the ball at the referee.

Ball had blotted his copybook for the Under-23s just weeks after his full international debut and was full of remorse afterwards.

He said at the time of his dismissal: “I go into every game determined that I won’t get into trouble.

“I’m only 20 – I wanted to learn and I know that I have got to learn.”

The watchword throughout Ball’s career was determination. It was apparent right from the outset of his career.

He was rejected by Bolton Wanderers as a kid, apparently being told that he would be better off turning his hand to being a jockey.

Despite such a jibe, which would have crushed a lesser mortal, it made Ball want to prove Bolton wrong even more.

He was encouraged all the time by his father Alan Ball Senior, later to become the manager of Preston North End, and for whom he turned for advice as a mentor throughout his long career.

Ball was gladly taken on by Blackpool, who soon realised and nurtured his special gifts.

He was single-minded from the start and even told Stanley Matthews how he wanted the training to go.

Ball became one of the best one-touch players of all time, and it soon became apparent after the World Cup that he would be too hot for the Seasiders to hold on to.

And so it was that Ball went to Everton, the Merseysiders stealing in to take him from under the noses of Leeds United, who thought they had clinched a deal.

There were no substitutes back then, so there was no chance of any of the reserves getting a share of the action in the final.

Among those who had to sit out the big day were the Blackpool captain Jimmy Armfield and George Eastham, then of Arsenal.

Armfield’s role was very much ancillary and off-field by this time.

He had been skipper of England, but suffered an injury at just the wrong time – George Cohen did so well in his absence that when Armfield was fit again there was no place back for the Seasiders’ legend.

Weeks before, there had been plenty on fanfare before a ball was kicked in anger.

Blackpool great Matthews carried the FIFA flag at a pre-World Cup service at Westminster Abbey, while Armfield was chosen to read one of the lessons.

Blackpool-born Eastham was an old boy of Arnold School in the town, attending that seat of learning at the same time as Armfield and the pair remained friends after George emigrated to South Africa.

They sat and suffered on the sidelines as they witnessed football history in the making, unable to effect the outcome in any way.

Bobby Charlton, who later went on to become manager at Preston North End, had played a major part in England getting to the final, but was not quite so effective in the final. That was largely because he was told to keep a close eye on Franz Beckenbauer in the West German team.

The problem was that Beckenbauer had been given precisely the same instructions, as a result of which they rather tended to cancel each other out.

There was another man on the field, Nobby Stiles, who would go on and manage PNE also. He had been at risk of being kicked out of the tournament for a bad tackle on a French player in the qualifiers.

Ramsey steadfastly stood by his man and had enormous faith in Stiles, who did an excellent job of nullifying the threat of the great Eusebio in the semi-final.

He endeared himself to the public with that, post-match jig of delight

The curse of dementia has hit Stiles and his England team-mates Martin Peters and Ray Wilson.

The hope is that the anniversary will stir imperishable memories.