That wasn’t the only time on that tour that there were a few problems after Bally had had a few to drink. I’ve said that he had something of a love-hate relationship with Lawrie McMenemy, who was Director of Football. Bally was passionate, impulsive and wore his heart on his sleeve while Lawrie was the restraining voice of reason. They needed each other and worked well together but there was some rivalry and jostling for position, and that meant they did have some blazing rows—including one over dinner on that tour.
The wine was flowing and Alan launched into a lengthy rant. The gist of it was, ‘You’ve had your effing chance, I’m in effing charge now. Why don’t you eff off back to England and let me effing get on with it?’ So Lawrie did just that and jumped on the first plane home while Bally went and slept it off, again. When he woke up and discovered Lawrie had gone, he picked up the phone and said, ‘What the effing hell do you think you are doing? Why are you back in England? I need you here.’
They were like an old married couple in many ways, often arguing but with a deep mutual affection and respect. Lawrie also curbed Bally’s impulsive excesses in the transfer market—apart from the time he made the mistake of taking a couple of days off. He got back to find Bally had signed a centre-back from Exeter by the name of Peter Whiston, a nice lad but never Premier League quality. I never quite figured out the reason for signing him, but it can’t have been a footballing one.
That 1994-95 season was probably the most enjoyable of my career. I played great football and scored a lot of goals, largely without the fear of relegation. I also won the BBC’s Goal of the Season for what was my favourite ever goal—largely because it was against my old mate Tim Flowers. We were at Ewood Park and I picked up the ball just outside the centre circle, beat a couple of players and spotted Tim just off his line. I hit the ball from 35 yards and it went exactly where I wanted it to go, straight to the top left corner. It was a wonderful moment, not least because Tim got nowhere near it and ended up floundering in the net. It was my second goal of the match but, even then, Tim had the last word because Blackburn won 3-2.
My form in the early part of the season was helped by the fact we’d signed a terrific player who was completely on my wavelength, both on and off the field. It was great piece of business, and it came about in the most bizarre way. After another 1994 pre-season tour, this time in Holland, we’d checked into a hotel with its own football pitches in the middle of nowhere. It was a popular venue with a lot of clubs, including Barcelona who were staying there when we arrived. They were managed by Johan Cruyff who knew Alan Ball well. They were both big stars in world football and had a strong mutual respect and friendship. Cruyff was a legend and we were in awe of him. I was the only one of our squad brave enough to ask him for his autograph.
That night Bally had dinner with Cruyff and half-jokingly asked if he had any players he could spare. Next morning Alan got up to find Barcelona had checked out but had left behind a young Danish lad by the name of Ronnie Ekelund with the message, ‘Take a look at him and if you like him, he’s yours.’ He trained with us that morning and it was immediately obvious he was a top-quality player. He had great vision and technique, and could pick out a pass. We clicked straight away and Bally immediately set the wheels in motion for us to take him on loan, pending a permanent deal. I detected some reluctance from Lawrie McMenemy, either because the deal had nothing to do with him or because he didn’t want another Peter Whiston. Lawrie was back in Southampton completing the transfer of Bruce Grobbelaar who flew out to Holland to join us.