Former Sunderland skipper’s derby memories

VICTORIOUS ... Sunderland coach Kevin Ball.

VICTORIOUS ... Sunderland coach Kevin Ball.

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KEVIN Ball says derbies are always among the most vividly remembered games for footballers once they hang up their boots.

And he hopes Sunderland’s players can do themselves proud this weekend so they can look back on a great victory for years to come.

The Sunderland legend, who played in the famous ‘Singing in the Rain’ 2-1 derby at St James’s Park, told the Echo: “When you’ve retired, games like the derbies are ones that you really tend to look back on and recall.

“You either have fond memories or you have horrific ones.

“My horrific memory is going into a challenge hard at St James’s Park and seeing the ball balloon back over me and over Thomas Sorensen in goal.

“I can’t tell you what was going through my head at that moment in time – but luckily for me the ball bounced on top of the crossbar and didn’t go.

“It was surreal.

“I can still see the ball if I close my eyes, and I can still see Chris Makin shouting at me afterwards to tell me it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen on a football pitch!

“That was a great game to win and it’s great to have that to look back on and that’s what Sunderland fans will want for the current players this weekend.”

Ball, who played almost 400 games for the club between 1990-99 and was one of the greatest captains the club has ever had, will be at the Stadium of Light this Sunday to watch the latest chapter unfold in the great North East rivalry.

And he smiled: “Derby days are fab days. Fab days for supporters and, yeah, maybe pressure days for footballers, but ones they can enjoy so much afterwards if they get the right result.”

Ball was renowned for his tough-tackling but his discipline in derbies was excellent and he agrees that it is important players strike the right balance this weekend between buying into the passion of the game and maintaining their professionalism.

“People go on about discipline and it’s important that players do keep their heads,” he said.

“But I think that it’s most important that when they play, they play the game not the occasion – that’s what it’s all about, it’s about being completely mentally tuned into the game.

“I don’t really subscribe to this ‘giving your all’ in derbies line, because personally I think you should give your best in every game.

“But if you can dig deep during this particular match and find a little bit extra, then do it, because ultimately the game offers you a chance to be a hero in the eyes of the fans like no other game can.”

The ex-skipper admits though that it will be difficult for any of the players involved this weekend not to be sucked into the sheer drama of the occasion.

“The atmosphere will be great,” he said. “The Stadium of Light will be rocking.

“It’s just a great place to be and I think the players should look forward to the game. It’s going to be a tough, difficult game but the players should expect that and want to be involved.

“I think the change in seating of the away fans is brilliant too. It will make such a difference.

“Seeing that south stand full all the time does give our players a lift and whoever it was that agreed to the change really needs a pat on the back.”