No divided loyalties for Sunderland legend Kevin Ball - but he owes Portsmouth plenty of thanks
There is no divided loyalty, no sense of split allegiance.
Kevin Ball will unashamedly cheer on Sunderland in Sunday’s Checkatrade Trophy final against Pompey.
Entirely understandable considering his standing as a Black Cats legend and popular presence as club ambassador.
Yet Ball retains a fondness towards the south-coast club he credits as presenting him with a second chance in football, providing the foundations upon which a successful Sunderland career was constructed.
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Released as an apprentice at Coventry, he was taken on by Pompey’s youth set-up in 1982.
By the time he departed in the summer of 1990, the central defender or midfielder had amassed 129 appearances and scored four times, even captaining on occasions.
Roker Park was his destination, a £300,000 bid accepted by Blues boss Frank Burrows, and so began a lifetime bond.
But the 54-year-old remains indebted to the Pompey ways which helped mould him.
Ball said: ‘I was going to come back to Fratton Park in December with my son, Luke, for the match between the clubs.
‘Luke was born in St Mary’s Hospital and, since I left the club when he was about three, I don’t think he’s been back, so we wanted to go. But I was off watching another game and he had to work, so it ruined that plan.
‘My time at Pompey was brilliant, I cannot fault it at all.
‘Did it teach me to become a footballer and then at Sunderland I became a footballer? One or the other, whichever way you want to look at it, but it was a fantastic learning curve for me.
‘At Coventry I was a bit of an idiot. I understood what it took to be a footballer, but it was a little bit too much for me at the time and I probably needed to grow up.
‘Then the opportunity at Pompey came up. From that point of view, I was lucky they saw something in me which gave me a chance.
‘When you get an opportunity, you have to take it - and I’d like to think I did that.
‘They taught me how to look after myself, to grow up, we weren’t cosseted, we weren’t given everything. My digs were with Dot and Ernie and after training you’d make your own lunch, cheese on toast, and at night Dot would cook you dinner.
‘It also taught me massively at a very early age the importance of the media to supporters and how it influences what they think.
‘I left home and I grew up. To start at somewhere like Pompey, where supporters were so passionate about their club, was fantastic.
‘It’s a proper football ground, we used to go to the gym and play head tennis, run up and down the Fratton end to keep fit, while many a time we tried to knock lads into that little pit around the pitch.
‘Gordon Neave was there doing the kit and he would give us a right rollicking, but always, always came in immaculately dressed.
‘I will never forget it, clean shaven, immaculately dressed every day, like a standard he always set.
‘When it came to me leaving, they offered a contract, but I took a little bit of a gamble.
‘I felt I should have been offered a better deal. I wasn’t money-orientated, never have been, I just feel that sometimes you need to get what you feel you’re worth. It wasn’t to be, so I moved to Sunderland.
‘Luckily enough, it was a good gamble and an opportunity I made it work.’
Ball made in excess of 350 appearances during a Sunderland career which reaped two Division One titles, two spells as caretaker boss and a testimonial against Sampdoria.
He continues to regularly attend matches and has been impressed with manager Jack Ross’ impact, steering the Black Cats into fourth in League One.
Ball added: ‘I am not telling you Sunderland’s strengths because that’s unfair and you’ll be looking out for them!
‘I’ve watched most of their games this year, both home and away.
‘I see a team which work hard for each other, I see very good individuals who have a specific way of play which I like watching.
‘I think they have a tremendous resilience and a lot of ability.
‘It’s going to be a good day out - but a great day out for one team and one set of supporters.’
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