A dark night for football

It seems as though last night’s incident at the Liberty Stadium has sparked off a fierce debate about who was in the wrong and what action should be taken.

Those in the Swansea camp believe that Eden Hazard should have been sent off and should now face a hefty suspension and possibly even criminal charges, while those in the Chelsea camp believe that Charlie Morgan was time wasting and Hazard was unfairly penalised for attempting to retrieve the ball.

Most neutrals, myself included, believe that the issue is not what happened, or who was at fault, but the mere fact that it happened. It paints a dark picture of the state of the beautiful game in 2013 and again calls into question the attitudes and behaviour of footballers idolised by impressionable children across the country.

Let me be clear, Hazard’s actions were unacceptable. Whether or not he struck the ballboy is immaterial – the mere fact he went to kick the ball while Morgan was lying on top of it, knowing exactly what he was doing, is little short of violent conduct, and I am sure that the FA will agree when it reviews the incident in depth.

The image seen across the country is not that of a player attempting to retrieve a ball, but instead a player taking a kick at a young man lying on the ground, apparently indefensible, and it is a chilling image indeed.

But I choose my words carefully. The very mention of a player kicking at a ballboy creates an emotive response. The image conjured up in people’s minds is that of a 6-foot-something monster towering over a frightened pre-pubescent child while he should be enjoying a proud moment in his life.

But Charlie Morgan could not be much further from that description. He is, in fact, 17 years old and, to make matters worse, the son of one of Swansea City’s directors. He may well have felt proud, as he watched his team head towards a Capital One Cup final at Wembley against League Two heroes Bradford City, but he appears to be anything but an innocent bystander.

Shortly before the match, he announced on Twitter that he would be making his final appearance as a ballboy, before using the hastags “#needed #for #timewasting”. And looking at the incident, that appeared to be exactly what his intentions were.

I may not have a tribal passion for football beyond my beloved Gillingham and the English and Spanish national teams, but I have enjoyed watching football for more years than I care to remember, and I cannot recall seeing a ballboy acting so bizzarely, especially not one old enough to know better.

Sure, I have watched in despair as a ballboy wastes a few seconds by refusing to hand the ball to a player, even exasperation as confusion reigns as to who they should be passing the ball to and unintentionally breaking the run of play, but even these instances are rare.

It appears from the video, however, that Morgan jumps on top of the ball, wrapping his body around it and refusing to give it up to Hazard. In frustration at this display of time wasting as his team stared into the jaws of almost-certain defeat, Hazard, just 5 years older than Morgan, tried to retrieve the ball in a most spectacular fashion. Whether or nor he actaully makes contact with Morgan is unclear, but you can clearly see the ball rolling from under him on the other side.

It is an indefensible display, from both sides. Reading’s Noel Hunt tried to cool things down by saying that he does the same thing with his 2 year-old niece and she just laughs about it. But this is not back-garden fun, it is a serious situation watched by hundreds of thousands of people, from across the world – and the stark image portrayed is still a shocking one.

Spain’s El Mundo said that the incident overshadowed what should have been the talking point of the cup campaign, the final between a Premier League team and counterparts from the fourth tier, while 20minutos said Hazard’s actions were “shameful”.

Meanwhile, Cathal Kelly of Canada’s Toronto Star, was more rounded in his appraisal, saying that there was “fault all round”.

Morgan and his dad have spoken to local police, and said that they do not wish to press charges. Morgan and Hazard met in the Chelsea dressing room and apologised to each other while Hazard later apologised to the press. But none of that is enough to distill the image from people’s minds.

Whichever camp you are in, whoever you think is at fault and however you think the incident should have been dealt with, it is difficult to deny that it was, all round, a dark night for football, and hopefully one which shall never again be repeated.

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