Kevin Ball on his fondest Stadium of Light memories, Peter Reid and Sunderland’s best ever signing

Kevin Ball at the Stadium of Light.
Kevin Ball at the Stadium of Light.
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Kevin Ball is Mr Sunderland.

Tough-tackling Ball made 388 appearances between 1990-99 before going into coaching including two spells as Sunderland caretaker manager.

The former midfield general is now a club ambassador and is well placed to reflect on the rich history of the Stadium of Light, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer.

As part of the celebrations the Echo has produced a 48-page supplement which is on sale from today and our analysis and coverages includes exclusive interviews with Ball, former chairman Bob Murray and striker Kevin Phillips.

As part of our in-depth interview with Ball, we asked him for his fondest Stadium of Light memories, the best player he ever played alongside and the best team he was part of plus his thoughts on Peter Reid and his assistant Bobby Saxton.

Favourite match?

Sunderland 2 Birmingham City 1 May 9, 1999

“We had already won the title and couldn’t be caught but all I kept thinking in the build-up was not to get beat in the last game.

“I’d actually been before the FA the day before because I’d got to 15 bookings.

“It would have been the second time I’d missed picking up the trophy if they wouldn’t let me play. At Roker Park I was suspended [against Stoke City when Sunderland were crowned Division One champions in 1996].

“I pleaded my case and won. To this day Paul Thirlwell doesn’t forgive me. I rang Reidy to tell him and he said: “How have you got away with that! You can ring Thirl.” I had to ring him and he was like: “I can’t believe it!”

“I just didn’t want us to get beat. Come the end of the game when we’d won, for me it was one of the best feelings.

“I just sat there afterwards and took it all in. Then to walk out with Reidy was great. The kids out on the pitch, it was the family club I had always loved.”

Lowlight?

Sunderland 1 Newcastle United 4 April 17, 2006 (Ball in caretaker charge)

“When you are the manager, out there winning it is the best place in the world.

“The day we played Newcastle and went 1-0 up, cruising the game. We were so in control it was frightening. An individual mistake cost us and you could see us capitulate.

“You think you’re the man. Then it is 1-1, and then you are 2-1 down, 3-1 down, 4-1 down and you feel insignificant and embarrassed if I am being honest.

“All these people are looking at you and you take the responsibility for the performance. That was hard. It was difficult.

“We were in a situation where we were already relegated and you are basically restoring pride. It would have been nice to make your mark on it.

“It is tough out there and there is a lot of expectation. But rightly so. Our club is the city. That is what they focus on.

“When we play out there, we take on the responsibility of all those people on our shoulders.”

Best player you played alongside at the Stadium of Light?

“You look at Kev Phillips and it is easy to say him with all of his goals or Niall Quinn for everything he gave but I’m going to say the best player that I played with that complemented me would be either Alex Rae or Lee Clark.

“Nash [Clark] and I forged a great partnership. We used to argue which was great, he did something I couldn’t do and vice versa.

“I had the strength of winning the ball back, he had the strength of timing runs, getting the ball and passing it and to this day he still talks about our time together.

“Nash was a brilliant footballer. Alex Rae is one of the best midfielders I have ever seen. Their character as a player, is the type you need at the Stadium of Light.

“Confident with the ball, take it, pass it, keep it. They have character about them that people can relate to. The pair of them were great.”

The best Sunderland team to have played at the Stadium of Light?

“The reason why I think the team that won the league with 105 points is the best is because after the play-off final we said we would win promotion and we did it.

“It is different saying it and doing it. For me, in my eyes, that will always be the best team the Stadium of Light has seen.

“The manager gave us all real structure in what we did. Everybody loved it. That was one of the best teams in terms of balance.

“We had a very strong bond on and off the pitch and not only was I captain I had four or five others that would stand their ground and support me.”

Ball on Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton:

“For me that was Bob Murray’s best appointment, bringing Reidy to the club at the time was brilliant. It was a masterstroke, simple as that.

“To take it on, the real master stroke was Peter Reid bringing in Bobby Saxton.

“Reidy was the face of the club in terms of his character, personality, enthusiasm - the demands on us in training and matches was brilliant.

“He had a real knack of knowing when to step in and when to step out, how to manage people.

“Bobby was one of the best signings this club has ever made, one thing he knew was how to treat the players on a daily basis when the manager wasn’t there.

“Bobby took the training and he was magnificent. He immersed himself in it.”