Ken Ball, former president of the National Federation of Anglers, was an all-round great bloke, a tireless worker for angling and a great ambassador for our sport. Trevor Johnson knew Ken for 36 years and highlights some of his lifetime achievements.
Vision of a single angling body
Ken was a long-time advocate of one body representing all branches of English angling, through times when the concept was heresy to many and an impossible pipe dream to most.
After two years as vice-president of the National Federation of Anglers (NFA) and 10 as its president (1994-2004) he was convinced that a single voice was the only way for angling to have any long-term future. Sadly he didn't live quite long enough to see the founding of the Angling Trust. Like another of our angling heroes, Terry Mansbridge, Ken would have been over the moon and convinced our sport was at last taking a giant step into the future.
Leading the National Federation of Anglers
During his time as president, Ken helped take the NFA through a massive time of change and into probably the most financially secure period of its history.
But he did more than that, a whole lot more. He helped pioneer the NFA's change into a body talking to and working with other organisations and authorities. It sounds easy today, but it was uncharted territory back in the late 1980s and early 90s.
Using his engineering career logic, he preferred to 'jaw rather than war', and made it work in helping resolve long-standing disputes between rival angling groups and organisations.
Ken also did a lot of work with British Waterways to ensure anglers were recognised as core customers. He called for a national approach to angling, and promoted the need for professional fisheries management.
Pioneer of angling coaching
A lasting benefit of Ken’s period in office was recognition at the highest level of the need for, and establishment of, structured nationwide junior coaching as a foundation for the future. It was Ken who set up the team of Ken Aske, Frank Lythgoe and Peter Bryan, who set in motion what have become the coaching training schemes of today.
National and international influencer
Ken's path-smoothing negotiation skills and open-minded approach led to coarse angling's voice being heard in ever more important places and, ultimately, in meetings with government ministers. This would have been an unthinkable concept only a handful of years earlier. He also used his talents to promote English angling on the international stage, like the England team manager Dick Clegg, making friends around the world.
Ken's conversion into highly-skilled diplomat stunned those familiar with his roots as a 'bolshie' young Londoner psyched-up by two years 'feet-first' National Service training with the Paras. He was still pretty strong-minded when he and wife Paula moved from London to start a new life in Bletchley, just as the first bricks of Milton Keynes were being laid in the late 1960s.
Formation of the Milton Keynes Angling Association
Lapping up the local fishing, he couldn't understand why Bletchley people had to pay clubs like Coventry, based nearly 50 miles away, to fish the canal in their own backyard. And watching creation of the new city's great lakes, he saw red when established clubs from miles away looked set to share those lakes out between them.
With the rallying cry 'Local Waters for Local People' he took a mate to talk with the then Milton Keynes Development Corporation. They secured a deal which led to the formation of Milton Keynes Angling Association (MKAA) in 1970, which he chaired and steered into the late 1980s.
Then he spread the bankside message: "Give us 10 bob (50 pence) and we'll try and get you some fishing." And people took him up on it.
That early success made Ken and MKAA far from popular in certain circles and hostilities only subsided when the NFA actually invited the association to apply for membership. It did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Back then MKAA was short of funds. So when Ken and Jim Baglee attended their first NFA conference, they slept in their car on the sea front, while some other delegates spent more in the bar than Ken and Jim did on their weekend.
Proud moments and legacy
Ken's proudest angling moment was when his beloved Milton Keynes AA were crowned Division 2 champions on the Stainforth & Keadby in 1990, winning promotion to Division 1. In the same year MKAA juniors won their National on the Grand Union.
Ken may not have started with that intent, but he became one of the modern sport's greatest administrators, which undoubtedly cost him thousands of hours of potential family and fishing time. Ken had two great loves on the bank: fishing canals and bagging up on Ouse roach. Sadly he didn't get more time to enjoy both.
He was absolutely dedicated to the sport's wellbeing. A doer and a fighter to the core, he was almost universally respected as an honest man giving his all, albeit one with a strong sense of humour. Just two days before his unexpected death, he (still NFA Eastern Region chairman) called me from hospital to talk angling politics and to discuss where was 'on' for his next Ouse trip!
Last date edited: 12 January 2021