The Bally and Proctor Rotherham Roadshow

It is unlikely that the fair-haired assassin – birth name, David Michael Ball – will do an Emmanuel Adebayor knee-slide towards his former admirers this Saturday should he score at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury ground.

It is more probable that he will simply hit the mute button, celebrate a little inside – if at all – and then de-mob himself from his new Rotherham teammates before quietly making his way back to the other side of the field.

If there is vigour of a kind, then it cannot be criticised as Bally gave this club something it had briefly missed following the departure of Jamie Vardy: a talisman.

Lest we forget that Vardy exited this town on 17 May 2012 and just two months later, on 23 July 2012, Bally arrived in order to take up the grand mantle.

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Aura players do exist and whilst Bally has plied his trade in the lower leagues, he is not too dissimilar to Eric Cantona or Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Edin Dzeko in terms of magic and sparkle and scintillating brilliance.

Such words will embarrass him as he is neither the obvious mythical rogue nor the gargantuan presence of those other fellows. What he is, however, is inventive, artistic and resourceful – a player capable of plucking a ball from nothing and laying it to rest in the sheath of the goal net.

Ball, the 2015 FIFA Puskas Award Nominee, courtesy of his sublime, 20-yard lob against Preston in March of that year, is an enigma to some, the man who started off life at Manchester City yet has had to content himself with the less popular brands of Swindon, Peterborough and Rochdale.

When he found Fleetwood, he finally found a home – an audience that lauded his gifts and understood that his celebrations were actually theirs; that his bones were merely an extension of their own calcified greatness.

The everyman that is Ball, with his slightly arched back and floppy froth of hair, originally left Fleetwood in May 2015 before Andy Pilley and Graham Alexander came to their senses weeks later (in time for the 2015/16 season) and slapped a contract of sorts on the chairman’s pre-Poolfoot Farm desk.

Such worries have now disintegrated. Fleetwood fans recognise that marginalised ships do pass in the night and in that moment, that moon-speckled five years, both club and player had it good.

Bally has been part of some big, heroic matches for the Cod Army. None more so than the League Two Play-Off final versus Burton Albion in May 2014.

The cult hero at the time, Antoni Sarcevic might have scored the decisive goal. The dependable captain, Mark Roberts might have grabbed the Wembley trophy before anyone else. But Ball’s name cropped up again and again. He combed the field like a ladykilling grasshopper:

Ball. Ball. Ball. Half-chances, but you forgave him. Because he was there. Because he had an Ian Rush-like radar. Because he ghosted into positions that other players couldn’t comprehend.

Other matches singe the neurons: FTFC vs Yeovil in April 2015 when another promotion was still a distinct possibility. But Fleetwood’s debut in the third tier of English football against Crewe (9 August, 2014) is the most significant of all. Not just because such a day was unimaginable when the windows used to fall out at Highbury, but because Bally had – what was to be – a rare 45 minutes with his current strike-partner, Jamie Proctor; a second half in which they both scored.

Indeed. This is where ‘Procs’ comes in – first match for Fleetwood and all.

The BBC claimed Proctor “powered a second [goal]” that day. Such are the scant, indolent reports from the big networks that you could be forgiven for thinking that his shot was a regular, slightly hard hit drive. In the real world, away from the champagne journalists, this happened:

Proctor – hanging around on the left, expending little energy, clever, a quiet ebullience to him, prodigious. Suddenly – bang! The top right corner of the net bulging. Faces amongst the track-suited ranks of Fleetwood’s youth spellbound, pleasantly traumatised.

It was the closest thing to a slam dunk in football that you’ll ever see.

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At that moment I thought This is the man – the player to steer Fleetwood forward. Slight arrogance, the physique of a Roman gladiator and misunderstood verve. Why had he tossed away the last few months at Crawley Town after residing at historic clubs such as Preston North End and Swansea City though?

A double hernia it seems during his Deepdale days, plus a bulging Swansea squad.

David Ball once said of Procs: “He can be anything”. Swansea chairman, Huw Jenkins – referring to his manager, Michael Laudrup’s planned revolution – said: “Our aim is to establish a promising group of youngsters”.

But then Proctor was horse traded five months later to the lesser known manager, Richie Barker at Crawley and fell into oblivion.

‘Promising’ has been the word long associated with Proctor. Even now, aged 25, he simply looks the part – carries himself like a roving executioner. But he didn’t do it at Fleetwood, or wasn’t allowed to. Bradford and Bolton didn’t work out either.

Have Rotherham cannily brought together the strike partnership which was supposed to work three years ago at Fleetwood? Have they understood that modest goal ratios don’t always carry through to a player’s next side? Has a club finally recognised “the best sweets in the pack”?

I have seen many a fine debut in my 30 years of watching live professional football or at least witnessed the entrance of what I would call an ‘aura’ player: Eric Cantona making his Leeds United bow at Boundary Park on 8 February 1992; Tony Yeboah briefly taking to the field at home to QPR on 24 January 1995; and Rio Ferdinand making his first Elland Road start on 16 December 2000.

With these players there was a mix of the unexpected, the devastating and the supreme. They were on another planet. Bally and Procs are mere earthlings by comparison, but that does not stop me fearing them if they happen to be loitering on the edge of Fleetwood’s 18-yard box at the weekend.

Both are capable of jolting the opposition. Both are lower league mavericks that rip up the rule book when necessary.

Saturday, 5 August 2017 will be – although not many people realise it – a titanic day. The return of one former servant is fortunate, if a little frightening. The return of two, an unusual event indeed.

Fewer people warmed to Proctor (compared to Bally) during his days at Highbury. The suggestion was that he was lazy – a snoozer from time to time. For the sake of such talent, I hope that motivation is no longer a problem. I hope that he does what he was supposed to do at Fleetwood. Score goals.

The signs are good. In the Yorkshire friendly versus Barnsley on Saturday, 29 July, Proctor bagged a second half eight-minute hat-trick. And Bally is no slouch either having put away six in six pre-season.

Will these stats terrify the Cod Army back three, Cian Bolger, Nathan Pond and Ashley Eastham?

It depends. If Fleetwood have outlets of their own. If we can unearth another talisman on Saturday when the real stuff begins.

The Author

Jeff Weston

Author of Wagenknecht (ALL MEN crack up at 40) and Pitchside, Ringside and Down in the Table Tennis Dens.

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