Date: January 18 2019
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
For a certain generation of Evertonians, Alan Ball will always be an icon. But this play, Ball Of Fire (presented by Blue Park Theatre Company), didn’t just focus on his time at the Toffees: it portrayed his entire journey, from a young aspiring footballer to later life beyond the beautiful game.
Alan (played here by Michael Hawkins) was a working-class boy with a passion for football, only to be motivated by his disciplinarian father, Alan Sr. (John Purcell), who didn’t hold back in criticising his son’s football abilities and how he should live his life. According to his father, nothing else should matter, including a budding relationship with his soon-to-be wife Lesley (Samantha Alton). Alan’s mother was almost invisible, seemingly good only for making tea! I should mention that Ronnie Goodlass was on hand to serve as a narrator between scenes, and also handled a phone call from an Everton fan who, despite their success, still found reason to complain!
Once he established himself within the sport, Alan was picked up by Blackpool and ended up with a World Cup winner’s medal as part of the famous England team of 1966. Not long afterwards, he was sold to Everton, somewhat surprisingly to Alan himself. Despite his shock at Blackpool cashing in on him, he blossomed at the Blues and became an all-time fan favourite. Again with his father always in the background pushing him, he married Lesley and seemingly settled down, but financial problems and a tendency to go wild when out on the town would impact him and his career.
Alan ultimately went to Southampton, and his family moved accordingly. He had mounting debts, and life began to take a bit of a downturn. Good news turned into bad news when his dad got a coaching job in Greece, only to be tragically killed in a car accident in Cyprus, which deeply affected Alan and his family. His football career dried up, and he went into management, taking the helm at several clubs (which wasn’t covered extensively in this show). He eventually hung up his boots and, in later years, he became a popular after-dinner speaker. He idolised his wife, but his main influence was his father. His mother and sister only played minor roles in the story, which unfortunately acted as a sign of the era. Most of the time, they were making or drinking tea, with only minor or ultimately forgettable dialogue.
Overall, this was a nice biography of a footballing genius, who stayed true to his upbringing. The settings were simplified yet effective, with other cast members popping up to play everyone from a pitch invader to Geoff Hurst! The costumes were authentic to the time and to Alan’s personality, which included his football kits and his infamous flat-cap. There were background images, news reports and footage of one of Alan’s reflective speeches, which helped to add context to key moments. It wasn’t a show that one would describe as exciting, but it did leave an impact on multiple occasions, and it was definitely appreciated more by true, older Evertonians. Simply put, if you loved Alan Ball, you’ll get a real kick out of Ball Of Fire.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good