'My Portsmouth debut was one of the worst days of my entire footballing career. It was horrific' - Ex-Sunderland, Fulham and Burnley man Kevin Ball

It should have been the proudest moment of his life – instead Kevin Ball’s Pompey debut descended into one of the worst days of his career.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 8:00 am
Ex-Pompey skipper Kevin Ball made 126 appearances and scored three times before leaving for Sunderland in July 1990

Aged 19, the youth product was handed a Football League introduction for the Blues’ trip to Shrewsbury in January 1984.

With John McLaughlin and Peter Ellis missing, boss Bobby Campbell selected the versatile youngster at right-back for the Division Two encounter.

What unfolded was a 2-0 loss at Gay Meadow – inflicting painful memories which refuse to subside after 37 years.

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Ball told The News: ‘I have to be honest with you, my debut was one of the worst days of my entire footballing career – and that includes getting relegated.

‘I will never forget that day as long as I live.

‘Bobby Campbell told me to play right-back, but in those days you were thrown into the proverbial deep end, there was no information about who you were up against.

‘His name was Gary Hackett. He turned me inside out, upside down, and kicked me up the backside at the same time. He tormented the life out of me.

Kevin Ball went on to establish himself as a Sunderland legend, winning two promotions and skippering them in the 1992 FA Cup final. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

‘The only other lad who ever did that to me was Andy Willock at Coventry – and I wanted to punch his head in when he’d done it. If I could have caught Hackett, I would probably have punched his head in at the time!

‘People ask: “Was your debut good?”. No, it was horrific. They can’t believe I didn’t enjoy it.

‘Hackett completely destroyed me that day – and I’ll never forget Gay Meadow. Every time I went back there it reminded me of that match. Thankfully they’ve moved grounds since.

‘It taught me that you cannot take anything for granted, if you want to succeed at any level you have to improve massively. It’s an elite sport. If you want to be elite, work to be elite.

‘I am not sure if I ever, ever came across Gary Hackett again.

‘If I had, I would have gone over there just to try to kick him before saying: “There you go, now you know what it’s like”.’

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Ball’s opening two Pompey appearances would come under two different managers – nine months apart.

In October 1984, Alan Ball selected him for a man-marking job on Johnny Metgod in a Milk Cup second-leg encounter at Nottingham Forest.

Level 1-1 on aggregate at the final whistle, the tie entered extra-time, during which Steve Hodge and Bryn Gunn netted for Brian Clough’s side to claim a 3-1 overall triumph.

Yet Ball has far fonder memories of that second outing on his way to 126 appearances for the Blues.

He added: ‘It was live on TV and Alan Ball told me “I need you to do a job. Mark their player Metgod – and don’t let him shoot”.

‘Well, this was against one of the best players in the country at the time with the hardest shot ever!

‘Was the experience good? Definitely. He had one shot all night and I felt good – and I also learnt.

‘When you do that job to an okay degree, you then realise if you want to get any better you must work even harder. That’s the challenge.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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