Q: Sunderland have announced that they plan to start a Hall of Fame, with the first eleven entrants inducted at an event in the near future. If you could choose one person to induct, who would it be and why?
Damian Brown says...
I’m going for the obvious one here but not for the traditional reasons. We all know how much Kevin Ball means to Sunderland AFC. We know he’d bleed for the club (and has on many an occasion) and we know his heart and soul have been poured into it. Coupled with his talent as a player that would be reason enough in itself for many, but my reasons are a little closer to home.
I’m a southerner raised half my life in the North East, and through that I know there’s a raft of things about both cultures that make them remarkably different. Of course we’re all Englishmen, but the nuance that exists between the few hundred miles that separates the North and South isn’t often spoken about in the same conversation as foreign players relocating to the UK. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s anything like a hostile environment awaiting southerners in the North East, there is a fundamental difference in the attitudes and perspectives, and crucially this is a barrier that many can’t overcome.
Unlike some of my Roker Report colleagues I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Ball, but what has impressed me most whenever I’ve read or heard him speak about Sunderland is that he understands that nuance that distinguishes the city and the club from so many others. He speaks so highly of Sunderland because he’s one of it’s adopted sons, and both as a fellow adoptee of the city and people, and as a fan of the club, it warms my heart that he has such a depth of appreciation and feels such kinship in a way that I can empathise with, in a small way at least.
I’ll never have the honour of playing in that shirt. I don’t have the privilege of living through uproarious joy in that shirt, and suffering heartache in it. I’ll never stand in the dugout entrusted with the immediate future of such an institution. But the way Kevin Ball has lived his life wearing his heart on the sleeve of that shirt makes me proud of him in a way that I’m probably taking liberties in being. He’s fought tooth and nail for a home he found, not one he was born to; earned the respect and affection of a people that weren’t his own. I’d wager if he had the chance to do it all over again he wouldn’t change a thing.
Kevin Ball belongs in the Sunderland AFC hall of fame because he perfectly encapsulates the indefatigable spirit that makes Sunderland and her people such an honour to be a part of. Without that wedding of his values to those of Sunderland this club would be a lot smaller, and poorer for it. It hasn’t always gone to plan for Bally but he dutifully does his job and does his level best to contribute anything and everything he has for the benefit of us all, and he’ll carry that love forever.
If anyone deserves to be immortalised as a son of Sunderland AFC it should be him.
Craig Davies says...
No Sunderland Hall of Fame would be complete without the inclusion of a certain Kevin Mark Phillips. Of course his Sunderland record is outstanding and I will justify Super Kev’s inclusion with a few stats to solidify my argument. But numbers aside, Kevin’s very existence as a professional footballer is worth more than a footnote in the annuls of footballing history.
Small, slightly built and a part time right-back at non league Baldock Town, the young Phillips might have been given to think the factory warehouse that paid his bills may well be the destiny that awaits him for the rest of his days. But, like all truly inspirational figures, humble beginnings would not determine a lifetime of fate. He’s a living example of exceeding expectations, of being more than the sum of his parts, of clear determination in the face of few opportunities and of never giving up on your dreams. Young people of all abilities and skill sets should look at Kevin and feel inspired to achieve more from life than anyone thought possible and not let setbacks or obstacles derail you from goals and aspirations. His story off the field, is therefore as inspiring as his wondrous exploits on the pitch.
On the field of play he was outstanding. A goal ratio at Sunderland of just over 1 goal every 2 matches was a throwback to proper goal tallies of old. If a striker scores 17 goals in a season now they’re hailed as gods and cost a fortune. Phillips would reach 17 by Christmas. When Phillips fired Sunderland into the Premier League in 1999, former England star and Southern mouth-piece Rodney Marsh proclaimed Phillips would completely flop at a higher level. Kevin went on to score 35 goals that season and won the European Golden Boot as a bonus.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of his legendary partnership with Niall Quinn, his turning, curling chip in horrifically wet and windy weather against the Mags, his England caps or his ability to score goals of all varieties. 30 yard screamers, bending, direction-shifting curlers that bamboozled keepers, headers and all manner of angle defying net busters from inside the box were all his forte.
The last year or so of his time at Sunderland was admittedly flat, with a combination of injuries and behind the scenes challenges. But that should not even begin to tarnish what he achieved at our beloved club. A club record breaker, a European Golden Boot winner, England caps and so many memories and moments for Sunderland fans to savour are just part of his legacy.
The man himself has described Sunderland as ‘the club I love’ and has spoken openly of his desire to one day manage the club that made his name. He scored 130 goals in 240 appearances and forever has a place in the heart of Sunderland supporters. If Super Kev didn’t walk into a Sunderland AFC Hall of Fame, it would be a travesty.
He should definitely be there and there to stay.
Chris Wynn says...
Has to be Jimmy Montgomery at the top of the list for me.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on my Dad’s knee whilst he described his double save in 1973.
It’s a few moments of my life I’ll never forget, and that was purely a description of an athletic goalkeeping feat that is up there with any save in football history.
Born in the heart of the city in Hendon, played for the lads for 17 years from between 1960 & 1977, record appearance maker, throw an FA Cup winners medal in there and the man simply lived the dream.
He’s genuinely one of the nicest people you could meet making him a perfect club ambassador, a role he’s relished with passion for the club.
Jimmy, we salute you.
For me it has to be Niall Quinn.
I realise this article is very ‘modern era’, with three of the featured players forming an integral part of Peter Reid’s famous promotion-winning side, but for so many more reasons you have to recognise what Niall Quinn gave to this club during his years of service not only as a player, but as our chairman.
Quinn was a fine player who discovered a new lease of life forming a key partnership up top with Kevin Phillips, and endeared himself to the supporters with a series of classy displays that saw him go from being a second tier centre forward in his 30s to a genuine threat to the top sides in the top flight at the twilight of his career.
Quinny was loved by all supporters and was given a testimonial where he chose to donate the proceeds to charity - commonplace nowadays, but Niall was the first professional footballer who chose to do so.
And his charitable donations to the city and people of Sunderland continued when he returned to rescue the club with the Drumaville consortium, catapulting Sunderland into the top tier during a whirlwind year where we signed loads of players and were managed by Roy Keane.
Quinn’s legacy at Sunderland is unrivalled. Many players ultimately achieved more as players but no ‘outsider’ gave as much to the club as Niall did, and that’s why the people of this city and region feel so strongly about him and what he was able to help us to achieve.
For me Niall Quinn is an elite-level hall of famer and a man who in my opinion deserves a statue outside of the Stadium of Light one day, such are his contributions. He’s such a humble character though that I’m led to believe he’d rather not be commemorated in such a way, but for me he’s the type of bloke that all Sunderland players should aspire to be. Proud, dedicated and understanding of what this football club means to so many people.