2nd October – Michael Ball

A lot of people say that more British players should go abroad and learn how football is played in different countries and that is exactly what birthday boy Michael Ball did.

He may not be the most famous to go play abroad but at least he took the risk and decided to give it a go, a lot of British players are criticised because they take the safe option and would rather stay in a league that they understand. So the 35 year old left back definitely deserves credit for deciding that his football would improve by leaving England and trying to adapt to a new culture.

The one time capped England defender started his career at Everton and made his debut in April 1997 as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur and then started the match against West Ham a week later. He developed into a very solid full back and could also fill in at centre back when it was required and in his five years at the club he played 121 Premier League games, scoring eight times. His form at club level impressed England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and was included in his squad for a friendly against Spain in February 2001. Ball would come on at half time for Chris Powell to get his one and only England cap.
Ball at Everton
In 2001 Everton had to sell some of their better players, including Ball who joined Rangers for £6.5 million. Ball had a difficult start at Rangers as he was fined £10,000 by the club for swearing at manager Dick Advocaat in the Old Firm Derby against Celtic after being substituted and then in only his 11th game he suffered medial ligament damage that would keep him out for 18 months.

After missing the entire 2002-03 season he regained his fitness and became a first team regular in the following season and in his first month back he scored his first goal against Dundee United and also won the Player of the Month award. In all competitions he played 43 times during the season but this caused problems as Rangers would have to pay more money to Everton after he played a certain amount of games so they were reluctant to use him at the start of the 2004-05 season.
Ball Rangers
This was eventually solved in December 2004 and Ball helped the club win the Scottish League Cup and the SPL title but at the end of the season Rangers wanted to get rid of some of their highest earners and after 55 SPL games Ball joined Dutch side PSV. Unfortunately the manager Guus Hiddink and the PSV fans could not see the best of the defender because of injury problems that ruined his time at the club but he did still help them lift the Dutch title in his first season.

Injuries meant he did not even play a game in his second season at the club and joined Manchester City on the 31st January 2007 on a six month deal after impressing on a trial. He quickly regained his form and became a dependable defender for City and in his first season and a half at the club he captained the side on a number of occasions. But in January 2009 he needed an operation on his knee which would keep him out of action for nine months and on the 1st July he was released by the club.
Ball MCFC
To get back to match fitness he joined several clubs on trial but none of these led to contracts and he had to wait until the 8th August 2011 to get signed to another club. Leicester City signed him but he only made three appearances for the club in his only season at the club.

The final word can go to Sven Goran Eriksson who was also his manager at Manchester City. “Michael’s experienced, having played in Scotland and Holland as well as England and it’s good he is staying with us as he’s going to be very useful. We had to build on what was good here, so I’m happy that he’s signed.”

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11th August – Nigel Martyn

Nigel Martyn was one of the most underrated goalkeepers in Premier League history and was the first £1 million goalkeeper in British football.

Although he made his England debut in 1992 he only went on to play 23 times for his country and this was very unfortunate as if he had came along a few years later he would have definitely been an automatic first choice. Martyn was a fantastic keeper, pulling off some fantastic saves and was always a fan favourite at his various clubs.

The beginning of his career is somewhat unbelievable as Ian Holloway said in his autobiography that the goalkeeper was spotted by Bristol Rovers tea lady while on holiday and invited Martyn to the club for a trial. He obviously impressed the coaching staff as he was given a professional contract in 1987. Over the next two seasons he became first choice and played over 100 league games for the club before moving onto Crystal Palace in 1989 for £1 million.
Martyn CP
Once again Martyn was first choice for a long time and proved his ability by helping the team reach the FA Cup final in 1990 and although they lost against Manchester United after a replay, it was a fantastic effort and the goalkeeper received a lot of praise for his performances. He remained at Palace for seven years and made 349 appearances for the club before once again setting a record fee for a goalkeeper.

In the summer of 1996 Leeds United signed him for £2.25 million. While at Leeds he never let the club down and his performances were outstanding both in domestic competitions and also on the European stage. His display against Roma at the Olympic Stadium will be remembered for a long time by the Leeds fans as it helped them progress to the UEFA Cup semi finals in the 1999/00 season. Again in Europe Martyn was in inspirational form as he was part of the squad that defeated Barcelona, Lazio and Deportivo as they reached the semi finals of the Champions League under David O’Leary.
Martyn LU
Martyn was first choice at Leeds for six seasons and he was named officially as Leeds United’s greatest ever goalkeeper which was a huge honour as the club have had some other magnificent keepers in the past such as Gary Sprake and John Lukic. His time at the club came to an end after the 2002-03 season with Paul Robinson being the number one for that year and him failing to play a league game.

Everton signed the goalkeeper on a free transfer and after an injury to their first choice Richard Wright, he took over from him and his consistent performances meant that he kept his place in the team.
Martyn Everton
Despite coming towards the end of his career he arguably had his best year in the 2003-04 season as he helped Everton finish fourth in the table with many fans believing that he kept them in that lofty position almost singlehandedly. In his final season in the professional game he was picking up more injuries and on his final and 100th appearance for Everton he produced one more fantastic display in an FA Cup fifth round tie against Chelsea. He was then later described by manager David Moyes as his ‘greatest ever signing’.

The final word can go to David Moyes. “You are always planning for who is the next Nigel Martyn. When Nigel was leaving, he was reliable, consistent and a great man to work with. To try and find a goalkeeper like that who you can trust was not easy.”