Player #280

Appearances:

77

Starts:

77

Goals:

0

Seasons:

5

Tommy Ball
Tommy Ball

Source: Football card #4 Tommy Ball issued by J F Sporting Collectibles, Leicester under the Popular Footballers 1919-39 series, sixth series.

press to zoom
Tommy Ball
Tommy Ball

Source: Football card #4 Tommy Ball issued by J F Sporting Collectibles, Leicester under the Popular Footballers 1919-39 series, sixth series.

press to zoom
1/1

Tommy Ball

Position

Centre Back

From

1919-20

To

1923-24

IMAGE CREDIT

Tommy Ball

Seasons Quick-View

Seasons

Age*

19
20
21
22
23

Division

D1
D1
D1
D1
D1

Appearances

77
1
13
13
36
14

Starts

77
1
13
13
36
14

Substitute

0
0
0
0
0
0

Unused

0
0
0
0
0
0

Goals

0
0
0
0
0
0

*Age on opening day of the season

FAC: FA Cup; FL: Football League; D1: Division 1; D2: Division 2; D3: Division 3; PL: Premier League; CH: Championship

FULL SEASON BREAKDOWN

Thomas Edgar Ball

Birth Date

Friday, 11 February 1900

Birth Place

Usworth, County Durham

Birth Country

England

Villa Youth

n/a

From

Transfer in

Newcastle United

From

For

Free

On

July 1919

Previous Clubs

Usworth Central School |
Wadley Colliery |
Felling Colliery FC |
1919 Newcastle United |

Loans Out

None

Transfer Out

To

Died

For

n/a

On

November 1923

Subsequent Clubs

Died |

Tommy Ball
Tommy Ball

Source: Football card #4 Tommy Ball issued by J F Sporting Collectibles, Leicester under the Popular Footballers 1919-39 series, sixth series.

press to zoom
Tommy Ball
Tommy Ball

Source: Football card #4 Tommy Ball issued by J F Sporting Collectibles, Leicester under the Popular Footballers 1919-39 series, sixth series.

press to zoom
1/1

Villa Career

Seasons Active, Fee, Starts (Sub) | Goals |

1919-23 Aston Villa, Free, 77 | 0 |

STARTS

SUBS

GOALS

Played Under

George Ramsay led Management Committee

First Squad Appearance

Wednesday, 7 April 1920

Debut Appearance

Wednesday, 7 April 1920

Bolton Wanderers (h), Division One

DEBUT

First Goal

Did not score

Final Appearance

Saturday, 10 November 1923

Notts County (a), Division One

FINAL

Final Squad Appearance

Saturday, 10 November 1923

Honours

Played for the Villa

Height

Foot

International Team

Not selected

Died

11 November 1923, Aged 23

Tommy Ball

Player #280 for Aston Villa, Thomas Edgar Ball, known as Tommy Ball played as a centre half for the club.

Tommy played for Villa between 1919-20 and 1923-24 making 77 appearances.

Only a tragedy would prevent him making many, many more appearances for the Villa.

Tommy was born in Usworth on 11 February 1900 and he made his debut appearance for Villa on 7 April 1920 aged 20.

Villa had signed Tommy from Newcastle United in July 1919.

Tommy made just one league appearance in his first season and so did not feature in the successful FA Cup campaign including playing in the FA Cup Final victory over Huddersfield Town in front of a crowd of 50,018 at Stamford Bridge.

By the 1922-23 season Tommy was a virtual ever present in the first team and would begin the following season in a similar vein before a shocking incident occurred:

Tommy was shot to death by his policeman neighbour George Stagg in Brick Kiln Lane, Perry Barr the day after he appeared in Villa’s win over Notts County at Meadow Lane. More information on the whole sorry tale can be read here.

Tommy was buried in St. John’s churchyard, just up the road from Villa Park, in an ornate grave decorated with footballs. The grave bears the inscription:

“To T.E. Ball – A token of esteem from his fellow players of Aston Villa F.C.”

Tommy played under the George Ramsay led Management Committee.
---
From the Guardian 17th December 2014:

It is hard to find mentions of Tommy Ball in the match reports of national newspapers, partly because they tended to be brief affairs back in the early 1920s, when he enjoyed a rapid but tragically curtailed ascent, partly because as a centre-back he was under less focus than forwards, and partly because first names were rarely used and searching digital archives for mentions of the word “ball” in articles about football is a predictably frustrating way to waste an infinite amount of time.

Clearly Ball was an excellent prospect. Born in Unsworth, near Durham, 46 days into the 20th century, he was the sixth son of a coal miner (he also had two sisters and a younger brother) and a miner himself from the age of 13 until Aston Villa signed him from Felling Colliery in 1920. At the time Villa were one of the giants of English football – they finished outside the top 10 just twice between 1888 and 1933, winning six league titles and six FA Cups on the way – but despite the quality of their squad Ball swiftly wrestled his way into the first-team reckoning. His progress was blocked for a while by the presence of Frank Barson, the club captain and one of the game’s great centre-halves, but Ball still made 28 appearances during the two full seasons they spent together in the Midlands. Following Barson’s departure, however, he became indispensable. “When Barson went he became the Villa’s recognised centre-half,” reported the Mirror. “His play improved manifestly, and this season he was regarded by the Villa as a centre-half of quite exceptional ability.”

Unlike Barson he settled quickly in Birmingham, marrying Beatrice, the daughter of a local pie-maker and lard refiner – wags of the 1920s certainly sound a good deal more down-to-earth than today’s – and renting a house near Villa Park owned by a former policeman by the name of George Stagg, who himself lived next door. In all Ball played 74 times for the first team, his last appearance coming in a 1-0 win over Notts County in November 1923 that saw Villa move to third in the league.

The following evening he became the first and so far only English professional footballer to be murdered.

The night started peacefully enough, with Ball and his wife walking to a local pub, where he drank three and a half pints of ale before leaving at closing time (9.30pm in those days). They walked home but he left the house again pretty much straight away (either to walk the dog or to find the dog, depending on which report you read). Shortly afterwards his wife heard shouts and then a gunshot, and upon going to investigate found her dying husband staggering towards her.

“Oh, Bella!” he gasped, “he has shot me.” She ran into the road screaming, at which she heard more gunfire and “felt the wind go past her”. The shot had come from her neighbour’s garden. At this point, Mrs Stagg stuck her head out of a window to tell them to stop their shouting: “You are a lot of night bowlers!” she bellowed, as her neighbour lay dying below her. The Balls had repeatedly argued with Stagg, their landlord and neighbour, who complained that their chickens kept finding a way into his garden, and threatened to poison them. He had recently served his tenants an eviction notice. On this night, the arguments escalated tragically. According to her testimony, as she stood outside with her dying husband Stagg shouted abuse at them. “You had better get in, can’t you see that Tommy has been shot?” she replied, at which the second shot was fired.

“It was quite an accident,” Stagg told the police that evening, explaining that he had grabbed the weapon when he heard someone attempting to climb into his garden. “I fired the gun to frighten him,” he said, insisting that the gun had accidentally discharged a second time as the pair grappled over it.

Stagg’s story was so riddled with holes it could itself have been a victim of his shotgun. For a start there were two witnesses, the landlord of the Church Tavern and a bus conductor, who both insisted that Ball had been perfectly sober. Stagg said Ball had been trying to climb over his gate, when he could just have stepped over a small wall instead. And what was Stagg doing using a cocked and (re)loaded shotgun to push a man off a gate?

Stagg had served in the Birmingham police force until the first world war, in which he had briefly fought before sustaining an injury and subsequently being declared unfit for further service, either in the army or the police. Unable to work, living on a pension, it was alleged that he became bitter and miserable, and perhaps the timing of Ball’s murder – on Armistice night, 11 November, when thoughts of the war would have been particularly prominent – was anything but coincidental.

Stagg was arrested and charged with wilful murder and with malice aforethought. “There was no malice or aforethought,” he told the court. “It was quite an accident. My dog was barking as Ball was going past my garden gate, and he was shouting to the dog to stop it. I jumped out of the chair in which I had been dozing. I told my dog to go in, and Ball, who was under the influence of drink, shouted to me: ‘Go in and go tobed or I will bash your brains out.’ I said: ‘Now, Tom, go in and go to bed. There’s a good chap.’ “Mrs Stagg was up at the window, having gone to bed, and shouted from the window: ‘Go in, and don’t make a noise to wake the children.’ Ball shouted to Mrs Stagg: ‘I will bash your brains out,’ and went to climbover the garden gate. The gate was latched and bolted. I had the gun in my hand when I went to the gate to see what was the matter because the dog was barking. I told him to get off the gate and go to bed and used the gun to frighten him. He went away and came back again and tried to get over the gate again. I pushed him back with the muzzle of the gun, and he caught hold of the gun and tried to wrench it from me. As I wrenched the gun away I stepped back and the gun went off – a sudden jerk, and off it went.”

Stagg admitted it was “quite true” that Ball could just have walked into his garden without going over the gate, but that was his story and he was sticking to it. He fired a warning shot, reloaded and “Ball again tried to get over the gate. Witness pushed him back with the barrel. He was almost certain that the point of the gate caught the trigger and the gun went off.”

The judge took the gun, cocked it, and struck it against the bench,without moving the mechanism. He did it again, and again, and still there was no accidental fire. But then Stagg took the gun, walked over to his gate – which had been erected in the court as an exhibit – and struck the top of it. The gun clicked.

According to the Guardian’s report of the trial, Stagg said that his neighbour “used to knock his wife about” and “was frequently under the influence of drink” – the first assertion strongly denied under oath by his wife, the second by Alfred Miles, Villa’s trainer. The defence produced a doctor, who having studied Ball’s injuries said most emphatically that the gun could not have been at Stagg’s shoulder”, and insisted that the Villa player’s movements after the fatal shot were “more consistent with his having staggered back after letting go of a gun than if he had not been holding the gun when he was shot”. They also had several witnesses who back up his chronology of the evening, instead of that of Ball’s wife (she said there was a shot, then a pause while she left her house, then a scream when she saw her husband, then another shot; others heard shot-pause-shot-scream).

The jury spent an hour and 40 minutes considering the evidence before delivering a guilty verdict, but made an unusual plea for the judge to be merciful in his sentencing. Stagg’s counsel demanded leave to appeal. The judge dismissed the appeal and sentenced Stagg to death. Fortunately for Stagg, Arthur Henderson had recently been named home secretary, and in his first few weeks in the job, amid increasing public debate about and objection to the death penalty, had demonstrated his personal dislike for it by commuting two such sentences to life imprisonment.

Stagg was to become a third. Three years later he was declared insane and moved to Broadmoor, and he spent the rest of his life in a variety of mental institutions before he died in 1966, aged 87, at Highcroft mental hospital in Birmingham.

Ball’s funeral was attended by the other Villa players and representatives of several nearby clubs. “The Villa players’ floral tribute to their old chum and playfellow,” it was reported, “took the form of a yellow and white chrysanthemum football on a moss bed bearing the club’s colours.” A collection at the club’s next game raised £127, the modern equivalent of around £6,700, for his widow. In Barson and then Ball Villa had enjoyed two excellent and intriguing centre-halves whose lives were perhaps a little too dramatic. After his death Ball’s place in the team went to Vic Milne, at 26 already a qualified doctor, whose father, Bailie, had been the first chairman of Aberdeen. Milne remained at Villa Park for the remainder of his playing career, making 157 appearances, before becoming the club doctor and a local GP. Another unusual footballer, then, although his employers were probably profoundly grateful that his career at least was almost entirely drama-free.