Last week, club legend Kevin Ball’s three-decade relationship with the club came to an end, but 27 years ago his future was up in the air.
Having joined the club in 1990 from Portsmouth upon Sunderland’s promotion to the top flight, Bally had established himself as a firm crowd favourite – excelling, after an initial shakey spell – at centre back, and more recently in midfield as manager Mick Buxton looked to give the team more bite.
He’d been named club captain after Paul Bracewell’s departure to Newcastle, having sorted his disciplinary problems which had seen him sent off twice in his first season for violent conduct, and established himself as a crucial player in a period of time that was disappointing overall, as we lurched from Malcolm Crosby to Terry Butcher, and then to Buxton.
Ball’s contract was due to expire at the end of the season, and despite a few rounds of talks an agreement hadn’t been forthcoming, so Buxton went public to reinforce his desire for the skipper to extend his stay.
The Sunderland manager said:
There are two very good reasons I don’t want him to leave. One, he is a terrific lad and two, he is a very good professional.
The biggest thing about Kevin Ball is his desire to succeed is always so evident.
Of course, Bally did end up signing a new deal, but Buxton wasn’t around to see it – Peter Reid took over the next month, and helped steer the relegation-threatened side clear of the drop, before going on to claim the title the following season.
Also making headlines on this day in 1995 was the future of Sunderland’s Northern Ireland international Phil Gray. Tippy, as he was known, was apparently a target of West Ham – and Buxton dismissed talk of him losing his leading scorer.
I have been a very good friend of Harry Redknapp for many years now.
If West Ham are interested in Phil Gray I would very much expect that Harry would simply come on the phone and tell me that.
All I can say is this is news to me and that I have heard nothing from Harry.
Also being rumoured for a move was Newcastle’s Lee Clark, who Liverpool manager Roy Evans was eyeing up to bring to Anfield. The 22-year-old had been the north east’s player of the season the year before, but had found himself on the periphery of first-team action.
Of course, Clark stayed at St James until his move to the newly minted Stadium of Light – where he formed a tremendous midfield partnership with one Kevin Ball!