Mills in a state of disbelief over Ball

FORMER Ipswich and England captain Mick Mills admitted he was in a state of disbelief upon hearing of the death of his friend Alan Ball.Mills, 58, said: “I heard the news and probably reacted as most people who knew Alan would have done - with total shock.

By Mel Henderson

FORMER Ipswich and England captain Mick Mills admitted he was in a state of disbelief upon hearing of the death of his friend Alan Ball.

Mills, 58, said: “I heard the news and probably reacted as most people who knew Alan would have done - with total shock.

“I got on very well with Alan and liked him a lot. He was a wonderful footballer and achieved far more as a manager than I think people ever gave him credit for.

“He loved life and was great company, and as a footballer he was one of the very best. He was one of the fittest and had so much energy that he seemed to cover every blade of glass, but he was also good on the ball.

“Alan was one of the very first 'one-touch' players and even today there are some professionals who are hopeless at that part of the game.”

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Mills, who skippered Town to FA Cup and UEFA Cup success, knew Ball well and their careers in playing and management included a number of parallels.

As well as representing their country together, they both played for Southampton and managed Stoke City, where Ball replaced Mills in 1989.

Ball had previously been at Colchester and upon leaving the Potteries it was at Layer Road that Mills returned to management just weeks later.

They were both in the England team that drew 1-1 with Yugoslavia at Wembley in October 1972, a game significant for marking Mills' senior international debut.

Mills, then Stoke boss, recalled how he lost out to Ball when he tried to sign his former Ipswich and England colleague Paul Mariner.

He said: “Paul and I sat down and tried to thrash out a deal but eventually I had to say to him: 'Look, there's no way I can match what Bally is offering'.

“I told him to go down to Portsmouth and sign for them because I was sure he would enjoy his football there.

“I remember Pompey as a well coached, well managed team who won promotion to the top division.

“I know from speaking to Paul that he thoroughly enjoyed working with Alan and I get a bit angry when I hear people saying he wasn't that good a manager.”

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