A couple of weeks back, one of my distant Welsh cousins sent me a scan of a brief history tidbit which noted that the "aptly named Billy Ball" had scored the first goal for the Swansea City football (otherwise known as 'soccer' to those of us in North America) team in their opening match on 7 Sep 1912 against Cardiff (game ended in a 1-1 tie).
While it was a very long shot, I started on the hunt for Billy Ball - knowing that we had two cousins in the family, both named William Ball (one Wm Henry and the other Wm Spickett), who were born in 1892 and 1893 respectively, which would have put them around age 19-20, when the match was played. According to the 1911 census, they were both working in a Cardiff bakery, operated by the Evans family, who were related to the mother of William Henry. After 1911, the trail went cold, but I found them later in life.
My father always talked about my great-grandfather, Thomas Ball, having played rugby for Wales. I grew up thinking that there was some great sporting legacy in the family. However, since starting this journey, I haven't been able to place Thomas in any rugby league or on any team. There are a couple of years in his late teens for which I have no information. In the back of my mind, the lost sporting glory may be lurking in these shadows... but without any proof, I remain open to the possibility that the story may be fiction or misunderstood by Dad. When the news of Billy Ball came to light, I thought that maybe this was the sports legacy retold so many times by my father.
So what of Billy Ball? The newspaper site, WalesOnline, carried an article mentioning Billy Ball. I was able to find a wonderful online archive of Swansea City FC on the 100 Years of Swansea City FC blog. I was also able to find a photograph of him on the Swansea University Flickr site. I've made a few inquiries about him and will let you know what I can find out.