Sunderland legend Kevin Ball is as passionate off the pitch as he was on it and the man to have in your corner when the chips are down.
And the former Sunderland skipper has given his backing to a new fan campaign aimed at helping fight the harsh measures handed out to Durham County Cricket Club by the ECB.
Richard Mennear sat down with Ball at Philadelphia Cricket Club to discuss his passion for cricket, the sanctions and how Sunderland AFC can learn from Durham’s academy.
Kevin Ball is widely regarded as one of Sunderland’s greatest ever captains.
The former player, coach, caretaker manager has done it all since arriving on Wearside in 1990. His love for the North East runs deep and he is passionate about sport in this area, including Durham County Cricket having grown up in Hastings a keen and promising cricketer.
That’s why the severe sanctions imposed on Durham by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) following their bail-out struck such a powerful chord with Ball.
The sense of injustice was keenly felt in this region and further afield and now Ball is putting his name to a new fan campaign.
Durham were relegated to Division Two with a 48-point deduction after agreeing a £3.8million package of aid from the ECB to help with outstanding debts.
But as part of the bail-out, Durham also had other severe sanctions imposed including a revised salary cap, removal of the ground’s Test match status plus stiff penalties in cup competitions.
Now four Durham supporters – led by veteran and ex-Durham President Tom Moffat – have launched an online appeal to raise funds and to send a strong message to the ECB.
Ball, who helped launch the website, said: “In terms of the sanctions I only see the flat part of it but I can’t understand why you would chose to do that to such a successful county and expect them then to get better. If there’s a sanction to be put in place it’s got to be quantifiable and fair and you look at that and say how is it?
“There may be issues surrounding Durham but the idea should be that you want them to carry on and get stronger, not start so far on the back foot it’s going to be really difficult for them, because there’s no benefit to them.
“I think the North East mentality is to roll their sleeves up and say, ‘We’ll show you.’
“If there’s anything that comes out of this idea it’s looking at an 87-year-old like Tom [Moffat] who’s had so much history with Durham and he’s still as passionate about it now. This is everybody’s way of saying, ‘We’re not going down without a fight.’ I think everyone in the North East should get behind this campaign and back one of our own. When there’s a time of need in North East sport they come together and they do it well.”
His love of cricket runs deep and Ball – now a club ambassador at Sunderland – has been to visit the Durham academy which has produced England internationals Keaton Jennings, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood, Scott Borthwick and Graham Onions to see what tips Sunderland AFC can take.
Sunderland’s academy has produced the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford and Ball says the two sports can learn from each other.
“My dad used to do every sport – cards, darts, cricket, football. I remember playing cricket a lot with him,” added Ball.
“As a young player I played for my school, my county, and I used to go and watch Sussex when they played at the Priory in Hastings.
“Once I started playing football, cricket went onto the backburner but when I moved up here to live in Chester-le-Street I could see what they were trying to build at Durham.
“As a coach myself I’m really interested in the players they’ve produced and I’ve been in to see their academy manager [John Windows] to see what they do and the pathways to how they do it.
“If you look at the way young players have progressed through at Durham, it’s brilliant.
“It was their player pathways that impressed me most, how they integrate their players.
“I started reading in a magazine how they like their young players to play in the North East Premier League because they want their cricket to be real.
“Part of my role at Sunderland is to look after our young players when they go out on loan to expose them to what I’d class as real life games.
“I think it’s brilliant what they’ve done and I’ve spoken to our people at work about it. Durham want their youngsters to be playing against players who really want to get them out.
“When I spoke to them it was pre-season and a few of them were going to India to play so they could be exposed to a different sort of cricket. I thought that was bloody brilliant.
“Every club needs its pathway – us, Durham, whoever.
“I was just impressed with their enthusiasm and how they integrate them into the first team.
“When it happened I saw a fantastic facility, a fantastic club and I’m thinking, ‘How are the sanctions going to benefit this?’
“It’s not like one sanction which cover the lot, there’s a whole range of things they’re doing to them.
“I wouldn’t say Durham were standard bearers because if you look at ourselves, Middlesbrough, any sport will have their own ways of doing it but if the cricket club said to me one day they would like to come and watch our training and see what we do, I think everybody should do it.
“What needs to come out of this campaign is our area supporting Durham County Cricket Club and we’re all disappointed in these sanctions because they massively affect them adversely.
“It’s about all of us saying, ‘We’re behind you.’”
And Ball is available for selection ahead of a big match this summer.
Peter Reid will be taking the reins of a Sunderland XI against a Newcastle XI as part of the testimonial year celebrations for Durham legend Paul Collingwood.
Ball added: “The fact that Reidy’s agreed to play will bring back memories from when I played at the Riverside in the mid-1990s to mark the opening of the ground.
“I love my cricket and I’m such a saddo I don’t mind keeping wicket but I enjoy fielding too, I’m happy to bowl and I love giving it a whack with the bat so if they want me to play I’ll be right up for it.”
To learn more about the new fan campaign or to donate visit www.justnotcricket.org