ON the day Alan Ball would have celebrated his 70th birthday, Pompey are preparing to welcome in their new manager.
Yet those who encountered the charismatic former England international who died eight years ago, will today reflect on one of Paul Cook’s popular predecessors.
The best times I had at Pompey were under Bally. He treated you like a man and gave the players respect – as a result he got respect backAlan Knight
Ball took charge of the Blues over two spells, spanning 320 matches, and in 1987 led a side still fondly remembered into Division One.
Despite having also managed – and played – for Southampton, to this day he remains loved by both sets of supporters, bridging that fierce south-coast rivalry.
After the World Cup winner’s sudden death in April 2007 at the age of only 61, Winchester Cathedral was comfortably oversubscribed for its 2,000 capacity.
For Alan Knight, the goalkeeper in the Pompey promotion side, the affection he possesses for Ball will never diminish.
And today, especially, the Farnworth-born figure will be remembered by so many of those who encountered him.
Knight said: ‘I can’t speak highly enough of the bloke.
‘The best times I had at Pompey were under him. He treated you like a man and gave the players respect – as a result he got respect back.
‘Some people say he was a better coach than a manager but he certainly managed to manage that group of gremlins, who would have been the hardest in the world to control. Jose Mourinho would have struggled to manage that lot!
‘Vince Hilaire used to share a room with me and on various away trips he would get us to go out for a drink with him, he always used to say he wanted to “Grab a goalie”.
‘After a couple of sherberts he was known to sing The Greatest Love Of All, which was later covered by Whitney Houston, and one time made so much noise in our room the porters dragged him out!
‘I remember the first time I really met him was after being called to Bobby Campbell’s office. Bally was involved in the youth team then and was sat on the floor.
‘I was there for a rollicking from Bobby and tried to defend myself with some rubbish excuse or other and couldn’t help but notice Bally pulling his hat over his face.
‘He knew I was making things worse for myself!
‘That was him – you always knew where you stood with him.’
Knight, of course, attended Ball’s funeral eight years ago, a day when football mourned the passing of one of its most popular sons.
He added: ‘It was no age when he died, we were all shocked, it all happened so suddenly.
‘I attended his funeral long with the likes of Billy Gilbert, Kevin Dillon and Vince and it was a special occasion.
‘He was a great guy and respected by so many people – we all miss him.’