Welwyn Garden City’s Matt Ball looking forward to his ‘best years in non-league football’

PUBLISHED: 15:10 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:02 14 May 2020

Matt Ball looks to get the Saints back into the game. Picture: LEIGH PAGE

Matt Ball looks to get the Saints back into the game. Picture: LEIGH PAGE

Archant

Former Welwyn Pegasus junior Matt Ball says he is finally in a happy place with his football after seeing his professional dreams wither.

Matt Ball puts the pressure on the Gosport backline. Picture: LEIGH PAGEMatt Ball puts the pressure on the Gosport backline. Picture: LEIGH PAGE

He signed a first professional deal with Norwich City in 2011 but his only professional appearances came during a two-year spell at Stevenage.

In the meantime there were a few loan spells, at Farnborough and Boreham Wood, and after drifting into non-league via St Albans City, Hendon and Wealdstone, he is now at Biggleswade Town.

Matt Ball slots home the 32nd minute opener of the gameMatt Ball slots home the 32nd minute opener of the game

And it is there, where he spent a lot of time under Lee Allinson, that he has discovered his mojo again.

Talking to the All Things Football podcast with brother Dominic, the 27-year-old from Welwyn Garden City said: “For a stage I struggled to adapt to non-league football. I’m a technical player and I always want to pass the football.

Matt Ball guides the Saints forward. Picture: LEIGH PAGEMatt Ball guides the Saints forward. Picture: LEIGH PAGE

“I’ve always struggled when the pitches get muddy and its cold and wet and you’ve got to do the horrible stuff and the ugly stuff.

“It’s only the last couple of seasons I’ve adapted to it.

Matt Ball puts in a cross. Picture: DANNY LOOMatt Ball puts in a cross. Picture: DANNY LOO

“I always thought in my first few years at non-league I’d get back higher and into pro football.

“Now I just try to win football games and try and enjoy it.

Matt Ball gets into the box and cuts it back to Peter Clark who sees his shot blocked on the line. Picture: DANNY LOOMatt Ball gets into the box and cuts it back to Peter Clark who sees his shot blocked on the line. Picture: DANNY LOO

“I never got the non-league thing about going into the bar and talking to fans or the chairman or saying hello to the volunteers.

“It took me a few years to understand that and that’s why you see so many young lads who drop out of the professional game suffer, because they can’t grasp non-league.

Matt Ball gets into the box. Picture: DANNY LOOMatt Ball gets into the box. Picture: DANNY LOO

“It’s so different and you have to make time for everyone. The football part is great but the rest is a family and you’ve got to try your best to integrate with that.”

A change in role has also helped.

Matt Ball on his full debut for Boro. Photo: Harry HubbardMatt Ball on his full debut for Boro. Photo: Harry Hubbard

He said: “The number 10 role in academy football is a lot different to the number 10 role in non-league.

“In academy it is the playmaker and the match-winner but in non-league it is about getting in behind the defenders and working hard.

Matt Ball starts the celebrations after sending St Albans City through to the next round of the Herts Senior Cup. Picture: BOB WALKLEYMatt Ball starts the celebrations after sending St Albans City through to the next round of the Herts Senior Cup. Picture: BOB WALKLEY

“That wasn’t me and it took until joining Biggleswade Town to realise I’m a number four, the holding midfield position.

“These will probably be my better years in non-league football because of it.”

Matt Ball heads one off the line. Picture: BOB WALKLEYMatt Ball heads one off the line. Picture: BOB WALKLEY

The set-backs suffered along the way came only after he had signed with the Canaries. Until then life in football was almost perfect.

He said: “Our dad was a big football fan and we were out in the garden kicking a ball from an early age. It was also good to have two younger brothers to have a kick around with.

Matt Ball. Photo: Harry HubbardMatt Ball. Photo: Harry Hubbard

“I joined Welwyn Pegasus from around the U6 and U7 age and I played for six or seven years.

“We had a very good team and we won our league and won our cup, didn’t do anything in county wise.

“I got spotted by a few clubs. Ipswich was one and Spurs was another but that was the same time as Norwich asked me for a one-game trial with another lad from my team, Craig Arnott.

“I was buzzing to go there and play a game and within 24 hours they had asked me to sign. I was 13 then and went into the U14s.

“The scholarship was unbelievable, a really good time for me. I moved into digs and moved in with a lovely couple which helped me.

“My first year football-wise could have gone better but my second year was a really good season.

“I was on the bench for the first-team in the Championship at 17.

“When it hit home that everything you’ve ever worked for had been achieved, well just to hear Paul Lambert [the then Norwich manager] say we’re going to offer you a pro contract was such a good feeling.

“For me that was probably my last good feeling in full-time football as that was my goal.

“I didn’t have the mental capacity to push on higher if I’m honest with myself.”

The timing of his spell at Carrow Road could have been better but Ball also believes that not having the adversity earlier in his life ultimately hurt him as he grew older.

He said: “It’s an easy excuse to make but I always had yes answers. I was always driven to get those yeses and the pro contract but after that there was no goal.

“No reserve-team football didn’t help me and although I got better football with the first team I didn’t go up as quick as I needed to.

“The thing with me and Norwich, when I first signed my scholarship they were in League One but when I signed a pro deal they were in the Premier League.

“Just after I left they brought in the U23 league and that would have helped me.”

To listen to the full podcast go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuHiUZiyeL0


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