Words by Ben Summer, interview by Alex Bullamore and Ben Summer
Dominic Ball started life at QPR as a low-risk free transfer, summoned from then-manager Mark Warburton’s managerial past.
Three years later, he’s departed for Ipswich – leaving QPR as a cult favourite, scorer of lockdown’s most ridiculous wondergoal, and – maybe unexpectedly – a published author.
Sitting down for an exclusive chat with ‘R’ Generation, the midfielder explains how he got the idea to write a book.
“It actually started about five or six years ago,” the midfielder says.
“I had a tough loan spell move to Peterborough and I was so fed up with it all. I was like: I just want to play football, but there’s all this other stuff going on.
“A lot of people think we’re living the dream kicking a ball about every single day, and a lot of the time it is that, and I love it. But on other occasions it can be quite challenging.
“So I just wanted to put out a true memoir of me and my group of mates, and our journey through that period from the youth team to try and make it into first team football.”
The author royalties from Ball’s book, From Winning Teams to Broken Dreams, will go to Sarcoma UK – the only UK charity focused solely on fighting the rare cancer that took the life of Ball’s friend Spencer McCall.
Ball is visibly emotional when talking about his friend, known to him as Spenno. In his book, it’s revealed that the he played the 2021/22 season’s opening game against Millwall after carrying Spenno’s coffin the previous day.
“That Friday was probably the hardest day of my life,” he says. “But the relationship I had with Spencer… he always wanted me to do so well, and we both loved football. All he would’ve wanted me to do was make sure I played, and played hard, in that game against Millwall.
“It was really tough. This is the first time I’ve actually thought about that day. It was really difficult. Every game I was playing at the start of the season, I was playing for him.
“I will continue to play for him, I always think about him, just before I go out on the pitch. It just gives me that little push, because I know he’d just want me to go and do my best every time I play.
QPR fans, returning to Loftus Road in their numbers on the first day of the season, would’ve had no idea what Ball was going through – which he says is more common than fans realise.
“Players are still people. That’s what I’ve always pushed for in terms of treatments from fans, staff and coaches. There has to be a mutual respect and it can be difficult when that breaks down.
“Player to player, during the last three years at QPR, there’s always personal things going on – with family, with each other – and people are being a lot more open now, which is good. The support I got from all the lads was incredible. Everyone wanted to lift my spirits.”
“I always think about him, just before I go out on the pitch.
Ball’s final season at QPR was a strange one. He started 13 competitive games (and came off the bench after 36 minutes to rescue an initially dreadful game against Barnsley) before losing his place, initially to Andre Dozzell.
The arrival of Jeff Hendrick, the good form of Luke Amos, an unassailable winning run in which Ball barely made an appearance – whatever the reason, he was out of favour with a manager who had known him since he was a kid.
“Yeah, it was tough,” he says. “I always wanted to play. I spoke to the manager three or four times during that period just to say: ‘Look, I’m not begging to play here, but you know me. I’ve worked under you for five or six years now. You know what I can do, I’m desperate to play, I want to help the boys get results.’
“I believe that I was showing that in training. The issue was we had seven other midfielders, so it was tough.
Listen to the interview in full here:
“I thought I had a really good start to the season. I was enjoying it, I was a big part of the squad in the changing room. I felt like, what have I done here?
“But with that sort of mindset, you don’t actually gain anything from it. The most important thing for me was trying my hardest to get ready for whenever I was picked. And I did that.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t contribute until the last game, but a lot of things are out of your control.”
But when asked, Ball says he’d be happy to play for Warburton again in the future: “I’ve played some of my best football under him. He’s always trusted me. I’ve been a professional footballer for seven or eight years, and played under Mark Warburton for four of them.
“It’s nice to change it up – change club, change of scenery, change of coaching. I had that in my mind around January time anyway.
“Mark’s been very good for me, and I appreciate a lot of the opportunities he’s given me. I would never turn that down.”
But before the player and manager amicably parted ways, QPR’s nosedive in form had left fans baffled. Can the now-departed midfielder explain what happened?
“Naturally, the squad divided a little bit because half the boys were injured,” he says. “At times, it was seven or eight of us training. That does, in a way, cause a bit of a divide.
“When we were winning in January, it was amazing. We were thinking we were gonna get promoted.
“If you’re not on the pitch, you can’t make a difference.
“The squad was a very good squad. We were all in it together and wanted the same thing. We just couldn’t put the performances together. It was disappointing but there’s so much you could put it down to. You could list so many things.”
In the book, Ball mentions how a loanee can disrupt the environment in a squad – he explains that the loan player is a new and unknown quantity. If a loanee takes someone’s place in the squad, the person losing out is likely to be a close friend of the existing players.
“If you’re not on the pitch, you can’t make a difference.
With that in mind, did the signing of Jeff Hendrick disrupt the status quo within the midfield (with Ball, Johansen, Field, Amos and Dozzell already pushing for places)?
“It can work very well. You get a high-quality player in who costs very little. It works for all parties. Jeff and the other boys came in on loan. They’re very good players.
“We might not have needed midfielders, but Jeff is a Premier League experienced player. I thought that would be a good signing, a really good, talented player.
“But sometimes it doesn’t work out for everyone and the whole dynamic of the squad.”
Ball is keen to stress that football is a business. The loan signing of Hendrick was a business decision, as was the club’s decision not to offer Ball a new deal.
The business end of football is equally as brutal at youth level, where some of Ball’s friends met an early end to their careers.
In his book, he talks about the constant anxiety of being an academy player desperate for a scholarship, and a scholar desperate for a professional contract.
He was released by Watford at Under 16 level, and initially told he hadn’t landed a professional contract at Spurs (before staying on as a scholar to fight for one).
“It’s never going to be nice. As a young player this is your dream. At Spurs I was devastated and I’d still been offered a third-year scholarship. In my head, my whole life was based on wanting to be a professional footballer and get that first professional contract.
“I was sure that I was gonna get it. So when I was told: ‘Look, we don’t think you’re good enough just yet for that. We need to see you for longer.’ It literally just crippled me.
“They’re speaking to me for 10, 15 minutes and I’m literally about to cry. I can’t hear anything they’re saying. I’m just thinking: ‘I need to get out of this room.’
“I don’t believe I should be going in there thinking I’m getting a pro contract and not getting one.”
Does it have to be this way? Again, Ball stresses, football is a business.
“If they start treating players really nicely and end up having a squad of 30 players at the age of 21 who are never going to make it, unfortunately, that’s a waste of money.
“But these kids, and players like myself – we are people. Is there a better way to do it so there’s no surprises, no shocks, all the players understand that this is the situation and you’re never guaranteed anything?
“How it’s done can be improved, but it needs to be ruthless. If young players aren’t prepared for first team football and what is required to do it, they won’t last very long.”
“These kids, and players like myself – we are people.
Ball’s experience of youth football was dominated by the all-or-nothing view – you’ve ‘made it’ as a Premier League player, or you haven’t made it at all.
But several of the players featured in the book – himself included – have found stable careers in EFL and non-League football.
On whether the dream of the Premier League is over-emphasised at academy level, he says: “It’s so hard because as a youngster when you’re messing around with your mates you’re not wearing a League One jersey. You’re wearing Man United, Real Madrid, Barcelona.
“When you actually come into a football academy, that’s it. You’re doing this to play in the Premier League. But you look at the Premier League now – the data shows that to actually make it in there is nearly impossible.
“For the boys that have done it, they deserve to be there. The one I refer to a lot is Harry Winks. I was close to him at Spurs. He had this mentality where he was never happy with where he was at. You could say a little bit moany but for good reasons – he was so single-minded. Harry Kane was the same. ‘I’m getting there, that’s it, nothing else matters.’
“If someone had said to me: ‘You’re gonna have a career in the Championship or League One,’ I would’ve been like: ‘No, really? Is that what I’m doing all this for?’
“But you grow older and you realise how hard it is, how good the players are in the Championship, League One, League Two, and how competitive it is.
“You realise it’s still football. For me, it’s just about enjoying it.
“I really enjoyed QPR. It was perfect. I really wish we got promoted. Because that would have been the dream.
“But it’s not over. I’m still only 26 and I’ve hopefully got another 10 years if I look after myself.”
“I really enjoyed QPR. It was perfect.
Looking to the future, Ball will ply his trade at Ipswich. Why Ipswich in particular?
“The main thing for me was the opportunity and the manager Kieran McKenna,” Ball explains. “He was actually my coach at Spurs when I was in the youth team. I always rated him very highly and he was a massive part of my development as a young player.
“Kieran spoke to me pretty early on in the summer and spoke to my brother, who’s my agent. I always thought this was the right move for me.
“Going to a club that really wanted me… of course it was a tough final six months at QPR. I want to be going somewhere where I can be contributing every single week.
“I’m looking forward, hopefully, to getting promoted next year and being back in the Championship.”
Dominic Ball’s book, From Winning Teams to Broken Dreams, is available on Amazon.
Many thanks to Dom Ball for giving up his time for this interview – which can be heard in full on your podcast app of choice using THIS LINK.
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