Jimmy Ball reveals the truth behind iconic Portsmouth photograph with dad Alan Ball at Fratton Park

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A crying Jimmy Ball embracing dad Alan amid Fratton Park promotion celebrations remains an iconic photograph.

The 11-year-old’s emotional moment was brilliantly captured by The News’ photographer Murray Sanders in May 1987 following a return to the old Division One.

Yet the true inspiration behind Ball’s tears is not common knowledge.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Alan Ball’s men had sealed promotion days earlier without kicking a ball, when Shrewsbury triumphed over Pompey’s rivals Oldham in the penultimate match.

The Blues subsequently ended the campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United, but that didn’t ruin the Fratton Park party.

Jimmy Ball told The News: ‘It’s a brilliant picture, but doesn’t quite tell the full story.

‘At the final whistle, I ran onto the pitch like everyone else – and someone whacked me around the head.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘I’m not sure who did it, but suddenly I was grabbed by this policeman, who held onto me good and proper. I’m thinking “I’m in trouble here”.

An emotional Jimmy Ball with dad Alan at Pompey's promotion party against Sheffield United in May 1987 - but there's a little-known story behind those tears. Picture: Murray SandersAn emotional Jimmy Ball with dad Alan at Pompey's promotion party against Sheffield United in May 1987 - but there's a little-known story behind those tears. Picture: Murray Sanders
An emotional Jimmy Ball with dad Alan at Pompey's promotion party against Sheffield United in May 1987 - but there's a little-known story behind those tears. Picture: Murray Sanders

‘I didn’t know what to do, I was trying to explain who my dad was, but I’m not sure if the policeman heard, so much was going on, and I was crying.

‘Then I remember getting handed up from the front of the dug-outs towards the directors’ box, where my dad grabbed me and lifted me up. I was still blubbing.

‘Now I'm not sitting here saying I wasn’t emotional about winning promotion, my old man could cry at the drop of a hat, we are an emotional family.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘But I was crying out of elation, crying after being whacked on the head, crying after being grabbed by a policeman and worrying what would happen to me.

Jimmy Ball, now manager of AFC Totton, pictured while caretaker boss at League Two side Forest Green Rovers in April 2021. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty ImagesJimmy Ball, now manager of AFC Totton, pictured while caretaker boss at League Two side Forest Green Rovers in April 2021. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Jimmy Ball, now manager of AFC Totton, pictured while caretaker boss at League Two side Forest Green Rovers in April 2021. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

‘Yes, it was an emotional day!’

While Fratton Park toasted a long-awaited return to the top flight, there were also unlikely celebrations in Southampton at that time.

Days earlier, neighbours in Avonborne Way, Chandler’s Ford, where the Balls lived, joined the family in rejoicing news of Oldham’s crucial defeat.

Ball added: ‘I remember it vividly. I was listening to Oldham’s game on the radio around a friend’s house, while dad was away covering the game for television.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘As soon as the final whistle blew, I threw the headphones on the floor and ran home, where I found mum crying. Then everyone came round, the neighbours, his friends, everyone.

‘We lived in a close and were all partying, everyone was going mad, they’d made signs too – the only person not initially there was dad!

‘But it must have been wonderful for him to have that bit of time on his own driving back, taking in the enormity of it: “I’ve finally flipping done it”.’