Why Pompey's Alan Ball wouldn't have been allowed to succeed today

Heartbreak was assured during victory over Bradford City, a thumping result at that.

Saturday, 13th February 2016, 9:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:40 pm
John Deacon and Alan Ball

Regardless of the emphatic 4-0 scoreline, the progress of Wimbledon and Charlton that same Saturday afternoon condemned Pompey to a consecutive fourth-place finish.

The road to the First Division was blocked at the very last on that cruel day in May 1986 – and Fratton Park wept.

Yet Alan Ball remained. History demonstrates he would later succeed.

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These days we inhabit an era starved of such a generous disposition towards managers who fail to meet targets.

Had Ball been at the helm in the present footballing climate, the axe would have unquestionably been wielded during that summer’s period of mourning.

Justification would consist of reasoned soundbites such as ‘taking the team as far as he could’ and the desire for a new boss ‘to take the club to another level’.

No doubt accusations about losing the dressing room and being tactically naive would also have been tossed into the departing manager’s black bin liner of belongings.

In all probability, Ball wouldn’t have even been granted that second opportunity at promotion for the 1985-86 season, let alone beyond.

The modern-day penchant for short-termism overrides rationality and patience. Like a child wanting sweets, demands must be met instantly.

The past week has provided the exits of Neil Redfearn (four months), Paul Clement (eight months) and Ronnie Moore (13 months).

There have been 42 Football League managers who have left their jobs this season – the Championship and League One totalling 26 departures between them.

Closer to home, some supporters have now clambered to their feet demanding Paul Cook’s removal following a fifth defeat in 28 League Two matches.

It has taken until February for the Blues to produce a performance on par with the wretched football dished up with such monotonous regularity in preceding seasons.

In the process, the newly-stuttering team slipped to eighth in the table with 18 matches remaining. Their lowest position under Cook to date.

Cue hysterics from a tiny minority panting for the manager’s head.

A week earlier, Cook’s side were lauded for one of the greatest Pompey team goals witnessed in living memory during the FA Cup tie with Premier League Bournemouth.

The same month saw Championship Ipswich eliminated following magnificent performances both away and at home.

Forgotten, so breathlessly forgotten.

Applying today’s attitudes to football 30 years ago, it is incomprehensible how Ball was treated in the aftermath of a season which drew another fourth-placed finish.

A mere five days following the 1985-86 campaign’s bitterly-disappointing finale, John Deacon handed him a 12-month extension to join the remaining year on his contract.

‘I felt Alan had earned that and it was time to kill off the speculation about his future once and for all,’ explained Pompey’s chairman.

No doubt such an action would have been greeted with accusations of ‘rewarding failure’ by some today.

As for those supporters understandably left disillusioned over the season’s devastating outcome, the Sports Mail published 26 letters over the subsequent two Saturdays.

‘Pompey: The Inquest’ boomed the headline, as fans were presented with the stage to vent their feelings.

Interestingly, only Roger Farmer from Cape Town, South Africa, called for Ball to be dismissed.

‘An experienced no-nonsense manager should be appointed, particularly capable of maintaining strict discipline on the field,’ the fan wrote in the May 10, 1986, edition.

The remaining 25 contributors similarly did not allow the manager to flee unscathed, yet were not nearly as brutal in their requirement for comprehensive change.

Their strong words criticised Ball’s ‘ridiculous comments to the press’, rounded on placing ‘too much faith and emphasis on the wide winger system’, pointed out playing ‘his favourites week in, week out regardless of form’ and employing the ‘wrong tactics to leave the Second Division’.

Yet Farmer was the lone voice calling for a sacking.

Certainly his reaction would been sung by a chorus in this day and age.

In the aftermath of last Saturday’s defeat to Leyton Orient, the first stirrings towards dissatisfaction over Cook could be felt.

The strains of faint cries for his untimely exit could be heard.

Already some are shifting restlessly in their seats over a season which has so far presented the most entertaining football from a Pompey side since the golden era of Harry Redknapp.

In their eyes, the only resolution is for the installation of an 11th permanent manager in the past seven-and-a-half years.

Makes complete sense, doesn’t it.

The murmurings are out there, though, no doubt about. Dotted around on Twitter and on message boards, they exist.

Thankfully, the general alarm which has greeted such chunterings has demonstrated those beliefs are not widely-held among the Fratton faithful.

Alas, not the case at Derby, where Clement paid the price for leaving them fifth in the Championship.

Neither for Moore, last year’s Houdini performer whose Hartlepool team are presently four points above the League Two relegation zone.

Applying the law of averages, can those 42 departed managers possibly all be appalling at their job?

As for Ball, following his stay of execution he led Pompey into second spot – and a place back in the top flight following a 28-year absence.

And how Mr Farmer celebrated.