Monday, 11 July 2011

On this day

11th of July isn't a particularly significant date in the grand scheme of things; 1991 saw Labour MP Terry Fields jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay his poll tax, and in 1979 the space laboratory Skylab I, plunged back to earth. None of those are relevant to Sunderland at all, but 21 years ago today was, what happened then? Kevin Ball signed for Sunderland of course!

Bally lifts the D1 Trophy
'Bally' traveled from the South Coast to join Sunderland from Portsmouth in 1990 for a fee of £350,000. He was signed by Denis Smith as a centre half, but throughout his career on Wearside, Ball filled in at centre midfield and it was there where he excelled, making that his more permanent position along the way. He was predominantly known for his tough tackling style of play, which accompanied his determined and no-nonsense attitude perfectly. Bally's Sunderland career lasted a lengthy 9 years, where he racked up 388 appearances for the lads, contributing 27 goals in the process. In his first two years at the club, Ball lined up alongside Gary Bennett in the heart of Sunderland's defence in the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool, which we unfortunately lost 2-0, the difference in class showed as Micky Thomas and Ian Rush delivered the goods to see off a hapless Sunderland side.

Ball enjoyed a tremendously successful tenure on Wearside, captaining the side after the departure of Paul Bracewell and winning the Player of the Year award in the 1996/1997 season. Prior to that, he helped Sunderland back to the Premier League by winning the Division 1 title in 1995/1996, a feat that he reproduced 2 years later, as he lifted the trophy in 1999 as Sunderland ended the season on a record total of 105 points, losing just 3 times that season.

Following promotion to the Premier League, a 34 year old Kevin Ball was deemed surplus to requirements by then manager Peter Reid, and he was allowed to move on in search for first team football, and he did so, arriving at Craven Cottage to play for Fulham who had just been promoted to the First Division under Kevin Keegan. He spent just a year in London however, before moving on to Burnley where he ended his career after a 2 year stint at Turfe Moore.

Kevin Ball as a coach.
Kevin Ball, a fans' favourite wherever he's played his football, is a Sunderland legend. His style of play is appreciated by fans of all North East clubs, and he was a perfect match for us at the time. Ball returned to the club to take up the role of Assistant Academy Manager, working alongside Ged McNamee. Following the sacking of Mick McCarthy in 2006, Ball was temporarily promoted to Caretaker Manager of the first team for the remaining 10 games. He then reverted back to the academy role that he occupies to this day. Upon returning to his more familiar role, Ball and McNamee guided Sunderland's youth team to a league title win in 2008, as well as this, Ball has helped produce some of the academy's biggest names such as Grant Leadbitter, Martyn Waghorn, Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback. Although the latter is the only remaining player at the club, Leadbitter and Waghorn are both playing at a respectable level in the form of the Championship, whilst Henderson now plays at Liverpool following his £20m move.

I'll leave you with this; Is Kevin Ball the only man capable of hitting his own cross-bar from 35 yards with a sliding tackle?

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