Three weeks ago, David Ball scored an outstanding solo effort against Melbourne Victory, weaving in and out of two defenders, before curling the ball into the bottom corner.
It was an expert finish from a player that had previously graced the turf of Fleetwood Town's Highbury Stadium for a number of memorable years, the same player that went down in Fleetwood folklore for his glorious, Cantona-esque chip against Preston North End.
That chip was a magical moment that put both Ball and Fleetwood on the map. A Puskas Award nomination followed, along with a video that reached hundreds of phones, computers, and news outlets across the globe.
Ironically, five years on, we speak from opposite ends of the world. Wellington, to be precise; the Kiwi capital and place he now calls home.
Ball was a prominent figure during Fleetwood’s promotion to League One in 2014, and raised the pulses of the Cod Army faithful for five seasons. Throughout that period, he pulled on the red and white jersey 209 times, scoring 49 goals along the way.
Despite leaving the club in 2017, his gratitude towards his former club lives on.
“On a personal note, Fleetwood was an incredible five years for me," he says. "The club has played a huge part in my career, my life and my family’s life. I managed to have success there and like to think I played a part in getting them to where they are today.
“Every weekend I check their result to see how they have got on and I still speak to a few people there too, so it’s nice to see them doing so well this season. It's definitely a club that will stay with me forever.
“Hopefully I can either play there again before the end of my career, or return in another role”.
On a Saturday Afternoon, ‘David Ball’ chants would frequently echo around the tip of the Fylde coast. However, it is in a city 19,000km away where his name currently swirls the terraces. The Sky Stadium is located within ‘the windiest city in the world’; it is also home to the Wellington Phoenix.
After a season-long loan at Bradford City, Ball found himself heading into the summer of 2019 unemployed. Despite being a standout performer during The Bantams' relegation campaign, his contract with parent club Rotherham United had expired.
English Clubs had shown an interest, but it was early July when the former Manchester City youth product received an unexpected phone call, one that offered him the chance to ply his trade in Australia’s top flight.
“I had five or six offers from League One Clubs, and then out of the blue got told about two A-League teams that were interested. The offers were all similar in terms of money, so the decision wasn’t anything to do with that. I just felt like I’d done nine or 10 years in and around League One and felt like I wanted a new experience.
“It’s important to me to be able to look back at my career and say ‘I did that’ or ‘I tried that’. So for me the move was all about coming out of my comfort zone, and trying something new”.
Just 14 days after the initial phone call, the family left their home in Liverpool to embark on an exciting new chapter in New Zealand. It is fair to say, Ball jumped off the plane at Wellington International Airport unsure of what to expect, having never visited the country before. So it’s a huge relief that, seven months into his Wellington Phoenix career, he holds no regrets.
He and his family reside in the nation's capital, Wellington, a place nicknamed ‘the coolest little capital in the world’. For Ball, it's a place that is beginning to feel like home.
“I’ve settled into life really well here, with my wife and two boys," he adds. "The club has been brilliant in terms of making the transition as easy as possible for me. We have a place next to the beach, where we spend a lot of time as a family. The kids are in school round the corner, and we all feel really lucky to be here.
“It was obviously a huge move for me, and a massive change in lifestyle, but one I’m glad I made.”
One challenge that he and his family have had to overcome is the change in culture, and way that people live their lives.
“The culture out here is so different," he says. "Materialistic things aren’t important here. People just focus on doing as well as they possibly can without any of that.
“Football is everything to us in the UK, a way of life almost, but for the locals here there is much more to life. My kids have started to realise that at school too, so we’ve all had to change our outlook.”
Prior to the A-League’s postponement due to coronavirus, The Nix were on a hot streak. Victories in their previous four games saw them climb to third in the table. The team were really starting to find their feet, and no player more so than the Mancunian.
He has contributed to an impressive 10 goals in 19 games this season, with six goals and four assists.
“Everything was going really well for us before the disruption of the coronavirus and, for me personally, it’s been a really good season," he says. I picked up February's Player Of The Month and two Goal Of The Month awards, so I felt like I was consistently playing well and contributing to the team”.
Something that often sparks debate when on the topic of football abroad, is how it compares to the divisions back at home. Ball admits he has been pleasantly surprised at the quality so far, adding: "The standard is really good. I’d say the quality is very similar to Championship football, however the heat doesn’t allow you to keep the tempo up for the entire match.
“But, it’s certainly been to a high standard so far, and with me not really knowing what to expect it’s been really good.”
Englishmen in the A-League were somewhat of a rarity before Robbie Fowler made the move from Blackburn Rovers to North Queensland Fury back in 2009. Ever since, there has been an influx of ex-Premier League and Championship stars scattered around the league.
Alongside Ball at Phoenix are some familiar names: Steven Taylor and Gary Hooper. The duo have turned out for a number of prestigious British Clubs, including Newcastle United, Celtic, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday, to name a few.
“The three of us get on really well," Ball concludes. "We’ve all got jet skis and go out together a lot. It always helps having English lads around you, who have come from the same place that you have. Being on the opposite side of the world, it almost makes you feel at home being with those types of people every day.”