It’s easy to look back at the good old days through rosy spectacles, when men were men and women were quiet, when you could leave your back door unlocked, when footballers played with pigs’ bladders and when Sunderland AFC had a captain worthy of the armband. Yet the halcyon days of the commanding captain weren’t too long ago. Cast your minds back just a few short years and you’ll remember possibly the finest captain we’ve ever had – Kevin Ball, a man who you don’t piss about with and who wore the armband with honour and aggression. Then, if we think back a little further, we have THE defining moment of our recent history. 1973 and all that and, of course, the little fella from Scotland – Bobby Kerr – holding aloft the FA Cup, a trophy that he could have had a bath in. These two great captains met on one memorable night at the Barnes Hotel recently for a special ALS night hosted by ITV’s Geoff Brown. So, kick back, crack open a few tins and smoke two hundred tabs to give you that authentic talk-in feel as we present the (printable) highlights of an evening with Bobby Kerr and Kevin Ball:
Bobby on his first memories of Sunderland.
I came to Sunderland and went home because I was homesick. So I went back up to Scotland and I was homesick up there, so I came back down to Sunderland! I’ve been down here ever since. In those days the wages weren’t what they are now. I think in the Cup Final it was £65 a week. The day I signed it was £25. In them days some miners were getting about thirty quid a week. So we weren’t badly done by. Nowadays, it’s just gotten out of hand.
Bally on his first memories of Sunderland.
I got a message from the wife saying ‘Matt Busby’s been on the phone’. Here’s me thinking ‘Man United, are you sure it was Matt Busby?’ Then she said ‘No, hold on, it was Viv Busby, that’s it!’
My wife and I travelled up to Durham to meet Denis Smith and his wife who showed us around. One of the funny things was I didn’t actually realise Sunderland was on the coast. I mean, I was born in Hastings, which is on the coast; I still go down there sometimes when Luke (Bally’s son) isn’t playing for the Academy. To be honest, looking back, I’m so glad I did come up here, moving away from Portsmouth was the best thing I’ve ever done and I had the best years, career-wise, of my life.
I’ll always remember Man City on the last day of the season. Unfortunately, I was suspended for that game, but it did bring it home to me, walking out in front of the supporters down there, they all sang my name, I had tears in my eyes and I’d only been here a year. I never really understood at the time, like I do now, what the club means to the fans. But that was the first real taste of it, and obviously, over the time I’ve been in the North East, I’ve grown accustomed to understanding how you feel, what your expectations of the club are and how, basically, everyone loves Sunderland Football Club.
Bally on the FA Cup Final
We had a great first half and had some chances, if Byrney had stuck that chance away; I still say we would have beat Liverpool. But it wasn’t to be. I was very disappointed, but by the same token, it was a great day out, something that as a footballer, you always hope you’ll get the opportunity to do, play in the Cup Final at Wembley. We might have lost on the day, but it was a boyhood dream come true.
Bobby on the FA Cup Final
We had the likes of Billy Hughes, Dennis Tueart, Ian Porterfield and Vic Halom, so we had a talented team. We went out to stop Leeds from playing, but they never stopped us from playing. I felt sorry for Eddie Gray, because if he passed me he hit Dick Malone and if he passed Dick Malone, he hit me. I just think the name was on the cup to be honest, if you look at the Man City game, the two goals, you’ll never see many like that.
I can’t remember walking up the steps, but I can remember falling down them! I forgot me medal, so you’ll see me turning round telling Richie Pitt and Monty. I got it back eventually though! There’s a photograph of me with Stokoe taken after the game and I had no teeth in. It must be the only photograph you’ll see of me with no teeth! Billy Hughes and I had the same sort of set missing, so we put our names on them. Just in case we put the wrong set in by mistake! At the end of the day, it wouldnae have mattered. But that was the first time we did anything without our false teeth in.
Bally on winning the League in 1996
We had some good players in the team, we were well organised. We worked very well as a team and seemed to go on a run towards the end of the year where we won one, then two, then three, then four, we just thought we were never gonna get beat again. For any player that has experienced winning the championship, it’s a fantastic feeling, honestly. When you know you’ve finally won it. We had some good characters in the team and it was just a great, great thing to win.
Bally on a run-in with Reid
During a game against Grimsby. I was meant to be marking a lad called Paul Groves, who was one of Grimsby’s best players. During the game, I had to go with another man and left Brace to pick up Groves. The manager was shouting for me to pick up him up, but I shouted back, telling him that obviously I can’t pick up two at the same time, can I? So that never helped. Anyhow, just before half time, I scored from no more than about a yard. I went in at half time and I was sort of giggling and laughing like a big kid cos I scored me first of the year. As we were going in Reid saw me laughing and said: ‘Oi, wipe that smile off yer face.’
Anyhow, I had a problem with me calves, and they were playing up. I’d had an operation on them a few years ago. So I asked the physio to come and have a look at me calves, to which Reidy’s reply was ‘Leave him alone.’ Then, he called me a c*** with his back to me.
So I said ‘Listen gaffer, if you’re gonna call me do it to me face or don’t bother doing it at all.’ After that it was a case of him saying ‘Well, what are you gonna do about it, like?’ By now I was stood up, ready to go for it like you do. And he said to me ‘I’ll see you after,’ and I’m going: ‘You think that’s gonna be a problem then?’
Anyway, we go out the second half, and I made two goals. They used to give away an eagle for the Man of the Match award, so I was walking away with this eagle. Big beaming smile on me face, but on the way to the dressing room I’m half thinking ‘Shall I hit him with left or the right?’
So I walked in there and he just looked at me and laughed and shook me hand and said ‘Well done, good game.’ That thing at half time was just a bit of kidology really. He had to get somebody to react to him, to have a go back to him. If he could have a go at the captain and the captain feels the way he did, everybody else will sit up and take note. He just sort of looked at me and winked. As far as I was concerned that was the first taste of Reidy’s man management and my only fall out with him.
Bally on stopping at a pub after the Play-Off Final
I still to this day think that us stopping at that pub on the way home was a great thing to do. It’s that camaraderie. You need that at a particular time. I remember when we got relegated after the first championship, we all went our separate ways and you felt you were mourning something, you’d lost something and you had no-one to put your arm around or have a drink with. No one to say to you ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be ok’. It was hard to do. This time I was determined that I wasn’t going to go home and feel that way again. I didn’t want anybody else to either, so I do seriously think that helped tremendously.
Bally on lifting the Championship trophy against Birmingham at the SoL
For one reason or another, that game was another that I was due to be suspended for. It would have been the second time that I’ve lost out on picking up the trophy through suspension. So I went down to Lancaster Gate, as I had done on previous occasions, and just said to the committee ‘Yeah I do kick people, it’s part of my job. I don’t intentionally hurt anyone but I’m gonna go for the ball.’ If I miss it, which invariably I used to do, you end up getting booked. That’s part of the game. So I sat there and I thought to myself ‘This is how you do it, just tell them how you feel, if you have to plead a bit of insanity or senility, then you just do it if it means you can get out of the suspension.’ So I sat down and put my piece across. After a bit, I got called back in. and at the time I’m just thinking ‘Don’t suspend me.’ Then he’s gone, ‘We’re not gonna suspend you, we’re gonna fine you £3000.’ The best thing about it was that you can pay it on the never-never as well. I wasn’t paying it cash up front! So, I was lucky enough to play in the game against Birmingham, and that was the best day of my professional career, apart from the testimonial.
Bally on the progression or regression argument
I think one of the disappointing things is if you look at the players out there in the first two years, evolution says for a club to get better, sometimes you have to move on and bring a better class of players in. That’s fair enough and it’s what football is all about.
So, a team can win you the First Division championship, but it might not be good enough to stay in the Premiership. So, he has to go out and improve. But, from some points of view, if you look at the players the gaffer’s released and let go then compare them with the players he’s brought in, in my opinion, some of those aren’t as good as the ones he let go.
I still can’t understand why they let the likes of Paul Butler and Alex Rae and other people like that go. I played against Alex the other week and he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still fiery, great passer of the ball and his pace still hasn’t gone. And Paul Butler as well, now I don’t think Buts was a Premier league centre-back at that moment in time and he would probably agree with that himself. But I still maintain to this day, the club has paid a lot of money for centre halves after Buts has gone, and I still think he was and still is as good as any of them and with a bit of work he would have got better.
Bally on the Lee C666k fiasco
He came into training and he explained to us what happened. It’s funny, cos some of the people I know all assumed I would have lamped him, but I didn’t. We had a chat about it; he explained to me what happened. The one thing I always liked about Lee, putting aside what happened with the t-shirt for a moment, was that when he played for Sunderland Football club, he played really well for us, there’s no getting away from that. The other thing I liked about him was that he never said for one minute was that he didn’t support Newcastle United. Never did he turn round and go, ‘Well, now I’m playing for Sunderland. I’ll support them,’ type of thing. I always admired him for that.
The crux of it was he was drunk at the cup final. Now that’s no excuse, but somebody somewhere has seen him in a state then stitched him up. Somebody saw that as an opportunity to get that t-shirt over his head, take the photo and it turned up on the Internet. This is the story he gave, and people who were there told me as well. He didn’t want to leave the club and apologised to all those he could. Lee was genuinely distraught about it. So after I had a little chat with him, he explained to me what happened, and because of the respect I had for him for what he did for the club in the time he was there I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I still believe to this day that someone, someone from Newcastle, stitched him up. And I’ll tell you this, if I thought for one minute he’d done it on purpose to belittle the football club, I would have smacked him!
Bally on SuperKev’s situation
You’d have to say, at this moment in time would people turn around and begrudge him leaving? I don’t think they would. I think they would understand. The only team I would hate him to join is Newcastle, after the link in the press. I think the supporters would understand any other club, but to go there would be the biggest smack in the teeth the club has ever had. I think it’s just paper talk blown up out of all proportion, and on top of all that, where would he live? He’d have to live in bloody Scotland!
Bally on the future
You look back at the previous two seasons and the fact that the club have finished seventh until what’s happened this year. To put it into perspective, you look at what Leeds have done and they’re in debt to the tune of something like ninety million quid. It’s gonna come to a stage where if you wanna be in the elite top six, you’re gonna have to spend money, but spending money doesn’t guarantee success. This summer is probably Peter Reid’s biggest since he’s been at the club, because if he gets it wrong this year, there’s gonna be repercussions next year.
I hope this season is just a blip, I honestly do. Reidy knows he’s gonna have to sit back this summer, analyse his squad; he’s got to get in some quality players. I know a few people have said they’re not gonna renew their season tickets. I’d like to think that the fans will give the gaffer another opportunity next year, because he has given the club a lot of great times. If it doesn’t come after that, you’ve got every right to really voice your opinions. He needs to make sure he’s buying proven quality, and he knows that it’s gonna benefit the club. That’s the most important thing.
Bobby Kerr: 413 games, 67 goals.
Kevin Ball: 376 games, 27 goals.