Sunderland and Kevin Ball are forever linked; our former captain is as much a part of our club’s tapestry as Niall Quinn, Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr, Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney and Charlie Hurley (among others) are.
That’s making no judgement on playing ability or anything like that, purely the esteem they’re held in at the club and among supporters to this day.
But, back in 1995, Ball’s spell at Sunderland looked as though it could be coming to an end.
His contract was up at the end of the season, and despite a few rounds of negotiations a resolution didn’t seem imminent.
Manager Mick Buxton was determined to keep the club captain at Roker, however, and said:
There are two very good reasons why I don’t want him to leave.
One, he’s a terrific lad and two is a very good professional.
The biggest thing about Kevin Ball is that his desire to succeed is always so evident.
Buxton’s comments probably did Bally something of a disservice, as while his desire and will to win was always obvious, that often overshadowed the quality he brought to the football pitch.
After being signed by Denis Smith in the summer of 1990 to replace John MacPhail at the heart of Sunderland’s defence, Ball took a few months to really find his form. A couple of sendings off in the 1990-91 season didn’t help, and ultimately his unnecessary absences one of the many factors that contributed to our relegation.
His quality shone through, however, and it was Buxton who earlier in the 1994-95 season shifted Ball to a defensive midfield role, where he stayed for the rest of his career.
The contract negotiations rumbled on, however, and a couple of weeks later Buxton revealed they’d reached an ‘impasse’.
Buxton told The Journal:
I’ve spoken to Kevin, so has our secretary Geoff Davidson, and so has Bob Murray, and at the moment we’re at an impasse.
The simple fact is we’ve made an offer to him and he has turned it down.
These sort of negotiations are a complicated scenario these days.
When I was a pro, you either got an offer at the end of the season or you got a free transfer and you started looking for another job.
If nothing changes in Kevin’s situation, then it will go on until the end of the season.
There’s no question of him leaving this season. In the position we’re in he’s too valuable to us.
What I will say is that his attitude on the pitch has been tremendous. He’s not letting it get to him.
If everyone in football was like Kevin there would be nothing wrong with the game.
Maybe we have got one or two here who might take their bat and ball home. If they do they are not only letting themselves down, no other club will touch them because they might do the same sort of thing with them.
Kevin Ball, in response, said (presumably growled):
We’ll have a general chat and see what happens.
Buxton, of course, didn’t get to see the end of the season, he was gone before the summer came with Peter Reid replacing him.
The Barnsley game towards the end of March – Buxton’s last match – is best remembered for the dusty gale, Brett Angell’s disallowed goal and Dominic Matteo’s illegitimate appearance.
However the day before, Buxton had managed to convince Bally to extend his stay on Wearside – the skipper penning a new three year deal, and setting him on the path to be mentioned in the same breath as those esteemed legends more than 25 years later.