The Day Everton Changed

by   |   21/12/2021  25 Comments  [Jump to last]

I can still remember the feeling as my dad held up the newspaper. The Daily Express, 23 December 1971, with the headline that Alan Ball had been sold to Arsenal the day before – for £220,000 – a new British transfer record. Pictures followed of Ball gloomily walking out of Goodison Park with his famous white boots slung over his shoulder.

This was unbelievable, Alan Ball was my hero and his 5½ years at Everton dovetailed with my formative years as an Evertonian. I was 7 when Harry Catterick broke the English transfer record in 1966 with his acquisition from Blackpool for the sum of £112,000 – at the time a record transfer fee paid to an English club – as he was a recently crowned World Cup winner with England.

Catterick had beaten Leeds for the signature of Ball after witnessing the gulf between the then champions, Liverpool, and the FA Cup holders, Everton, in the 1966 Charity Shield that was played at Goodison Park. He added Howard Kendall later that season to create (with Colin Harvey) the greatest midfield trio in Everton’s history, the driving force of the 1970 Championship winning side and better than anything in the Premier League today.

Ball made me believe that he was as much an Evertonian as I was. He never stopped running, had a great passing game, and scored goals – important goals. His legendary words “Nothing is the same once Everton has touched you" were written on the wall of the Home Team changing room when I visited, proving that he ‘got’ our club!

Rumours grew around the reasons for Ball’s departure. Catterick, who had never been one to duck tough decisions, said it was purely business. He had doubled his money and had 5½ good years from Ball, winning a Football League Championship.

Stories of dressing room unrest caused by Ball were slightly more believable, as I had seen Alan Whittle remonstrate with him after he had run solo through the Southampton defence to put Everton 5-0 up, in an 8-0 victory, in a blizzard, just a month earlier. Ball went on to become Arsenal's captain, with more games for England; he would play for 12 more years, moving to Southampton in 1976 before returning to Blackpool as player-manager in 1980.

The course of Everton’s history at the height of their successes has been changed by events beyond their control. The two world wars following Championship triumphs, then the European ban on English clubs in 1985 had a devastating effect on progress. But – of all the human decisions that affected the club adversely – the sale of Alan Ball on 22 December 1971 remains, to me, most mystifying and damaging.

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Bill Watson
1 Posted 22/12/2021 at 12:50:32
At around 6;45am I was having a cuppa before setting off for work. The transfer was announced on the radio and my tea went down the wrong way and I nearly choked.

In those pre-agent and social media days, the first you knew of a transfer was often (especially with Harry Catterick) when the done deal was announced.

If I remember correctly, the transfer followed a defeat at the mud heap also known as the Baseball Ground.

Darren Hind
2 Posted 22/12/2021 at 14:08:22
You are going to receive a lot of support for this sentiment, Steven.

This transfer broke many Blue hearts. Bally was revered. Took me weeks to get over it. How the kopites rejoiced.

For me, this was only one foot in the grave though. I remember the papers being full of speculation when it became known that one of football's hottest properties was up for gabs.

Here's what Philip Carter had to say: "Everyone was of the opinion that Trevor Francis was a first-class player, myself included, but we felt that £1 million was a ridiculous price to pay for anyone. I am certain the board and myself would not condone that sort of irresponsible behaviour."

Trevor Francis was dazzling on his day. However, he was not everyone's cup of tea. Many thought he wasn't worth that much, but the landscape had changed forever. The big boys were all prepared to go beyond £1M to land their man from there on in. Carter may as well have stated that Everton were no longer in the big time.

Makes Howard Kendall's achievements seem all the more remarkable...

Alan McGuffog
3 Posted 22/12/2021 at 14:16:26
It put the tin hat on a bloody awful year. Panathinaikos, then surrendering the lead at Old Trafford to that lot. And the overall disintegration of the great late '60s side.

I went back to University in January 72 hoping things would improve. Hope, eh… it's what does for you!

Barry Rathbone
4 Posted 22/12/2021 at 14:28:39
Cataclysmic when we sold him but the biggest error was never finding a replacement. Compare and contrast with the heathens across the park – they lose stellar talent on a regular basis but replace with equivalent or better. Even more galling is they often pay relative buttons and make a profit along the way.

Our scouting and transfer policy has been overwhelmingly abysmal since 1970 – that is and has been our Achilles Heel since Alan Ball.

Joe McMahon
5 Posted 22/12/2021 at 14:49:55
Darren, its interesting you say that about Francis. He only joined City as John Bond insisted Swailes put his hand in his pocket. An exciting player in his time.

I remember in the early eighties (I was about 12), he got sent off at Maine Road against Everton. I was just elated seeing Adrian Heath score.

You are correct though, time after time, Everton cock up transfers. I remember we didn't opt for Van Dijk when he was at Celtic. The nearly club, eh?

Bill Gall
6 Posted 22/12/2021 at 15:11:30
Being disappointed was an understatement; when I heard about Ball leaving, devastated was more like it. I named my youngest boy after Ball and could not believe the Cat wanted to sell him.

There was a lot of talk about his goal-scoring but I believe the year Joe Royle scored his 29 goals in 1 season, most of them were from a cross or pass from Ball. That type of assistance to me was why he should not have been sold, apart from how much of a crowd favourite he was who, as they say, put bums in the seats.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 22/12/2021 at 15:38:45
I had a message from Peter Corcoron on this very subject this morning. Before my time but the year of my birth; I would have been just over 3 months old, living with my mother in my Grandfather's flat in the Garston Tenements oblivious to the dismay that was descending upon Everton fans.

I don't think my Dad ever really got over it or forgave Everton for this, even though he couldn't deny his love and passion for them for the rest of his life. As I've said elsewhere, he (and by default me), used to look out for Alan Ball and Southampton in the late 70s.

One of my brothers is named Alan John after Alan Ball and my paternal grandfather.

The other is James Howard after my maternal great grandfather and Howard Kendall.

Danny Boy here was named after an Irish song my maternal Grandmother used to like to sing!! I feel cheated.

Alan McGuffog
8 Posted 22/12/2021 at 15:49:31
If his leaving wasn't bad enough, in itself it ushered in the era of Belfit, McLoughlin, Harper, Lawson, and so many other greats.
Dave Abrahams
9 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:01:48
Darren (2),

Possibly a bigger mistake was not going in for Peter Shilton. We didn't have a great team under Billy Bingham but Shilton would, almost certainly, have saved us a good 10 points the season we were in a good position to clinch the title.

Danny O’Neill
10 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:12:36
That brings a great era of British goalkeepers into the discussion, Dave Abrahams.

Although Gordon Banks was before my time, I grew up with Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence and, my personal favourite, Pat Jennings. Then closely followed by Neville Southall.

A golden generation of British keepers.

Darren Hind
11 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:21:50
Indeed, Dave @9,

Or better still, we could have just brought Cloughie in. He signed Shilton and Francis and made them European Champions.

I fully endorse the point Steven made in his OP but we've missed a few boats down the years, mate.

Fuck it... we'll only depress ourselves thinking about it.

Barry Hesketh
12 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:31:01
Obviously, the sale of Alan Ball has had a detrimental psychological impact on many Evertonians, but I would say that the sale of Wayne Rooney was the most devastating blow to happen to the club in relation to losing a star player. Alan Ball was sold because that's what the club decided was best for the club at that time, probably wrongly; Rooney's sale was forced due to the financial predicament that Everton FC found itself in.

Players like Rooney don't come along very often, and certainly, it's highly unlikely that such a player will come through a club's academy of his boyhood club. I'm not arguing that he shouldn't have been sold or that he should have stayed with the club because he was a blue, rather, it signalled the end of Everton FC being regarded as one of the leading clubs in the country.

That was the day we as a club officially joined the other clubs who were outside of the elite, and ever since then any potential international star that we've had at the club, could be purchased by any other club that could tempt our best players with higher salaries and a greater opportunity for personal success.

For those that remember the chequebook years at Everton of the 60s and 70s, it has been a bitter pill to swallow, having to accept that the Blues are no longer a club that would be high on the list of the very top players.

Peter Neilson
13 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:36:52
I went to see Bob Latchford at the Epstein Theatre a few years ago. His view was that we were only a goalkeeper away from winning things under Gordon Lee. He went into this in his autobiography A Different Road. Well worth a read if like me you still think he walks on water.
Dave Abrahams
14 Posted 22/12/2021 at 16:37:29
Darren (11),

Everton are such a conservative club, they would have been terrified of bringIng Brian Clough to Goodison Park but he would have definitely revolutionised the club. Archie Gemmill and McFarland would have joined Francis and Shilton along with a few others and - and - yes, fuck it, just depresses you thinking about it!

Danny O’Neill
15 Posted 22/12/2021 at 17:06:24
Sobering but very good point Barry. It wasn't the fact we sold Rooney, it was the manner in which we had to sell him and for the price bargained that told us where we were.

I'll use another pivotal departure that turned my life upside down. Howard Kendall walking out on the then second time in 3 seasons English Champions.

Maybe it was circumstance with the Heysels ban etc. Or maybe he could see what was coming. But then he came back for more.

Don Alexander
16 Posted 22/12/2021 at 17:34:27
Selling him was a portent, had we realised it, of 50 years of boardroom dross.
Ste Traverse
17 Posted 22/12/2021 at 23:00:40
People mentioning Brian Clough, but wasn't he supposed to have been interested in the Everton job in 1977? I was only one year old then so before my time. It was something I read a few years ago.

He was at Forest then but before all his great success and his stock was still high with winning the title at Derby so surely Everton should've been looking at someone of his pedigree instead of the guy they eventually appointed.

Michael Kenrick
18 Posted 23/12/2021 at 12:13:52
This is a good read, posted by Bradley Cates at his EfcStatto website:

Alan Ball’s Goodbye

He says George Watts was the Everton Chairman at the time. There is a photo of George Watts (Chairman) and Bill Dickinson (Secretary) on line from 1971 but my records list the great Sir John Moores as Chairman from 1968 to 1973.

Strange... looks like I'll have to do some research.

Alan McGuffog
19 Posted 23/12/2021 at 12:30:12
So Frank O'Farrell had the chance to sign him but was content with David Sadler in midfield. Aaah bless
Tony Abrahams
20 Posted 23/12/2021 at 13:45:13
My mind might be playing tricks Ste@17, but I’m sure I listened to a Clough interview when I was a teenager, and he said he was very close to getting the Everton job, but the directors had second thoughts because they thought he would want to run the whole club, and he couldn’t argue, because that’s exactly what he would have wanted to do.
Paul Hughes
21 Posted 23/12/2021 at 13:59:30
I was an Everton-mad 7 year old in 1971, with ginger hair and white footy boots. I didn't understand then why my favourite player had to be sold. Still don't.
Ken Kneale
22 Posted 23/12/2021 at 14:00:05
Another way Cloughie shaped events at Everton was that The Catt thought he had Archie Gemmill in the bag to fill the midfield gap left by Bally going only to find Cloughie had slept on Gemmill's sofa to ensure he got a signature the next morning
Joe McMahon
23 Posted 23/12/2021 at 14:02:21
Tony, I've also read that Everton messed up the chances of Bobby Robson becoming manager. He wanted to inform the Cobbold brothers himself about the Everton job, but somehow they were informed by outside sources first.
Brian Wilkinson
24 Posted 27/12/2021 at 01:12:25

I heard a rumour that the boot manufacturer Hummel were looking for a professional to wear their white boots and were prepared to pay £2,000. He took them up on the deal, only to be disappointed, he said.

“To be honest, lads, they were crap, like cardboard, so I got the young apprentices to paint my Adidas football boots white. It was great, till one day it rained and the black came through. A not too happy watching Hummel rep saw what I'd done so I said goodbye to the two grand.”

Brian Murray
25 Posted 27/12/2021 at 02:00:35
The sale of Bally, if handled properly, wouldn't've seen us nosedive so quickly. Catterick's health and judgment of a signing after that was woeful. The likes of Henry Newton, Tiger McLaughlin etc saw to it was the beginning of the end of us as a force.

It's said we don't do dynasties or never have any proper prolonged plans. The '80s great side obviously taken out of our hands with them shower getting us banned. No way Lineker and Kendall would have left for starters.

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