A face to face dressing down from a fan didn’t do Kevin Ball any harm - Sunderland’s players could do with more of the same

Sunderland players (left to right) Darron Gibson, John O'Shea, Bryan Oviedo and Joleon Lescott. Picture by FRANK REID

Sunderland players (left to right) Darron Gibson, John O'Shea, Bryan Oviedo and Joleon Lescott. Picture by FRANK REID

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When Kevin Ball first arrived in Sunderland he was, he is fond of retelling, given a dressing down on his performance from an irate fan in a Chinese takeaway.

Rather than souring his view of the Black Cats supporters, the colourful exchange endeared them to him.

Meeting fans face to face made him realise what the club meant to them, and, in return, what it should mean to him.

Fast forward more than a quarter of a century since Bally made his debut for Sunderland and the disconnect between Premier League stars and the ordinary fans is a hot topic.

It is a common complaint that many Premiership players rarely, if ever, interact with thousands that cheer - and sometimes jeer - from the stands.

The modern players are often bussed into games and barely look up as they hurry from coach into the stadium, their headphones blocking out the sounds of matchday support. In Bally’s day, manager Denis Smith pushed his players into the community, doing talk-ins and meeting the fans outside of the matchday cauldron.

Kevin Ball in action for Sunderland Reserves v Port Vale Reserves in 1998

Kevin Ball in action for Sunderland Reserves v Port Vale Reserves in 1998

The current regime at the Stadium of Light is following that early lead in the hope it pays dividends.

The players visited workers on the shopfloor of Nissan late last year and yesterday the red and white’s new signings were given a whistle-stop tour of the city, stopping off at Penshaw monument for a photo shoot.

No-one is saying that meeting fans will win games, but it could help them win the fans’ respect - a respect that in the modern game, is fast being eroded.

The players, whether they realise it or not, are living the dream and carrying the hopes of thousands on their shoulders.

The more often they can be reminded of this, the better.

While we’re not advocating regular dressing downs in local takeaways for the Black Cats stars, a few home truths from fans can only help open the players’ eyes to the passion and pride the supporters have for their club.

It’s important that players understand that in the supporters’ eyes, they not only represent the community, but they are also a vital part of it.

Getting the players into the community and engaging with the public is a win win for the club, the stars and the fans. A measure of a truly great club an be judged as much by how often it wins off the pitch as does on it.