Kevin Ball on Chris Coleman, Sunderland's emerging youngsters and '˜vital' community work
Kevin Ball is watching on and offering his support to a coaching session, a natural habitat for a man who has spent over 30 years in the game.
The session is an initiative of the Foundation of Light, who are utilising funding from the BT/Premier League disability scheme.
One of the foundation’s own coaches, Jack Ramsey, is leading a pan-disability session at Sandhill View Academy, aided by Sunderland players Duncan Watmore and Lee Camp.
The Foundation is on the brink of one of the most exciting periods in its history, with the Beacon of Light facility soon to open.
A club legend, Ball understands how important Sunderland is to the local community and says it is crucial for players to keep engaging, no matter how results are on the pitch.
“Denis Smith (manager of Sunderland from 1987-91) used to send us out the social clubs, to do talk-ins with the supporters,” he recalls.
“At the time, you probably didn’t fully understand why, getting questioned on your performances, the club, your life.
“What he was doing, though, was getting you to understand who you were playing for, who you were representing.
“Denis would have a good to-and-fro with people at these meetings, but, by the time he had explained his logic, everyone was grateful that you were going there.
“Wherever you are in the league, you need to have that consistency in what you’re doing in the community.
“If you’re going well and then you can think you don’t have to do it, or you do more because it isn’t going well, it can seem insincere.
“We get out and about and I think the lads do enjoy it – it can open their eyes to a lot of things.”
Few former players have a better rapport with the Sunderland fan base and Ball thinks that current manager Chris Coleman can achieve something similar in time.
He said: “I’ve known Chris for a long time. He likes to mention one game where we played against each other and I accidentally kicked him… Kit (Symons, assistant manager), I know my from my Portsmouth days, however many years ago.
“I’ve spoken to them about the club a lot, and they get it – take it from me.
“When you get a manager, coach, player who gets it, it really does get under your skin. Simple as that.
“Chris definitely gets it and you can see that in how honestly and openly he speaks.
“Sometimes managers can become very guarded, but I think people appreciate the approach he has taken.
“The overriding thing is you know how much he wants to be part of this club, making it great again.
“He wants to be part of the fabric, so, in however many years time, people still talk about his time here. He wants to have that legacy.”
Ball takes pride, too, that a group of young players whose development he oversaw at the Academy of Light are breaking into the first-team picture.
Players whose natural work-rate and passion for the club has been a rare positive for supporters this season.
In George Honeyman, he hints that there could be a Sunderland captain-in-waiting.
He said: “When I go to games now, I didn’t have the pleasure of coaching Joel (Asoro) or Josh (Maja, but when I watch George and Lynden (Gooch), it makes me very proud to have had a part in the fledgling stages of their career.
“You always say, you can have all the ability in the world, but if you’re not prepared to put it in, it will be a waste of time here.
“Lynden deserves a lot of credit, coming in and settling from a different country.
“He gets it.
“With George, you see that demeanour when he equalises against Sheffield Wednesday, how much it means.
“I kept rewinding and rewatching that because of what we’ve spoken about over the years.
“He’s always wanted to play in our first team, that’s always been his focus.
“Hopefully, he’ll get better and better at that and hopefully, in time, leadership roles will fall on his shoulders because he’s got a natural talent for it.”