BLACK CATS fans’ favourite inflatable has returned to Wearside.
The red beach ball, emblazoned with a Liverpool FC crest, became part of Premier League folklore when Sunderland hosted the Merseysiders almost three years ago.
After being bounced around by Liverpool supporters behind the goal, the ball found its way to the centre of the penalty area, where it would play a starring role just minutes into the match.
A Darren Bent shot, seemingly heading straight towards goalkeeper Pepe Reina, struck the ball, diverting it past the helpless Spaniard and into the net, gifting Sunderland a 1-0.
Now, thanks to Sky Sports show Soccer AM, the ball, which is kept at the National Football Museum, in Manchester, has returned home as part of a special feature ahead of this weekend’s visit of Liverpool.
Following the famous fluke, fruit and veg shop owner Kevin Barlow, 45, bought the piece of Sunderland history for £411.77, in an auction to raise money for Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
He then donated it to museum, from where it was couriered to and from to spend only 90 minutes back at Kevin’s shop in Sea Road, Fulwell.
SAFC fan Kevin said: “Me and my wife have been season ticket holders since the Roker Park days and it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at the football.
“Everyone does something silly in life and people say I’m an idiot for spending that much money on a beach ball but I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for such a good cause.
“Soccer AM got in touch with me about filming a piece called Fantique. They’re going to put a price on the ball.
“I’ll get to see it for about an hour and a half, that’s it before it’s off again.”
While Kevin admits such intervention is unlikely in this Saturday’s clash with Brendan Rodgers’ side, he and wife Lesley, 45, will be in attendance and hoping for a similar result.
He said: “With the Reading postponement, it’s actually our first home league game of the season, so we’re both really looking forward to it.”
ECHO reporter, Scouser and life-long Liverpool fan Mark Scully remembers the fateful day only too well:
WHAT on Earth has happened there?
While not quite the exact words I used as I stood with the massed ranks of Liverpool supporters coming to terms with Darren Bent’s early strike, that was certainly the sentiment.
I had seen the offending inflatable before kick-off. In fact, the thing went right over my head as we bounced it around but I had no idea it had ended up on the pitch.
I still could not see it as Bent unleashed his shot, so I was understandably confused as to how the ball had seemingly altered its own trajectory to bamboozle our keeper.
As in most grounds, it is difficult to get a good phone signal, so it was not until I got out and back on the coach that my phone lit up in a blaze of indignation, confirming we had been on the wrong end of the ultimate What Happened Next?
The goal should not have stood, but at least we got you back with that questionable free-kick routine at Anfield.
Here’s to a great match this weekend... and a Liverpool win, of course!