Better than man bites dog? Player kicks ballboy
Your grandchildren will one day ask you: where were you when Chelsea’s Eden Hazard kicked Charlie Morgan?
Football isn’t just about tiki-taka, mesmeric stepovers, mazy driibbles, killer passes and 30-yard wondergoals. Sure, those things are important. But lest we forget, football is a branch of the entertainment industry. And sometimes it’s not the main event but the sideshow that’s more fun.
A referee falling over, a streaker or a mass brawl can often compensate for a wretched sporting spectacle. Now I’m not suggesting that the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final between Swansea and Chelsea was a dull game. It must have been a night to savour for Swans fans. But, for the neutral, this game was all about Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard kicking the ballboy. It was the only reason I stayed up to watch the highlights. That incident was worth the admission price alone.
In all the years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve covered controversial incidents of every hue and stripe: mascots fighting, PA announcers insulting the opposition, team-mates brawling, referees swearing at players, and all manner of makeshift missiles being hurled on to the pitch. But a player kicking a ballboy? I’ve never seen anything like it.
It wasn’t just Hazard’s petulant reaction, it was the ballboy’s antics which were remarkable. I’ve seen incompetent ballboys. I’ve seen ballboys shamelessly wasting time. Ballboy gamesmanship is nothing new. When the home team is chasing the game, the ballboys will usually get the ball back in play as quickly as possible. By the same token, ballboys can also be infuriatingly tardy in returning the ball when it suits their team. As Glenn Hoddle admitted last week, ‘You will tell the people who are instructing the ballboys that if you are winning the game, don’t get the ball back quickly.’ Stoke City’s ballboys used to hand long-throw specialist Rory Delap towels in order to wipe the ball dry.
But Charlie Morgan went one step further. He wasn’t just slow, he refused to give back the ball. In fact, he dived on the ball to prevent Hazard prising it away. This was a once-in-a-generation event, like a solar eclipse or a sighting of Halley’s comet; something that spectators at the Liberty Stadium will be able to tell their grandchildren about. ‘Where were you when Hazard kicked the ballboy?’, people will ask. For the record, I was writing my spiked column, blissfully unaware of the momentous events in South Wales. Troubadours will write songs and artists will paint pictures of Eden Hazard sticking the boot in. Artist Terry Lee has already immortalised the incident by creating a Subbuteo model of Hazard standing over the prone youngster.
You can probably tell from my flippant tone that I wasn’t exactly horrified by the incident. It was – whisper it – quite funny. But judging by the fevered national debate that followed, some people took it extremely seriously. For many Chelsea-haters, Hazard’s behaviour was further proof that the club has lost its moral anchor. ‘Twitter users reacted strongly to the incident, branding Hazard a “disgrace”, “scumbag” and “animal”‘, reported the Sun. The police received a number of complaints about Hazard’s reaction. Seriously. Look, I can see that Eden Hazard didn’t exactly cover himself in glory by kicking at the ballboy. It was a momentary loss of self-discipline. But what sort of sad, humourless snitch lodges a complaint with the police? Doesn’t that constitute wasting police time?
Hazard was shown the red card and incurred a three-match ban for violent conduct – a penalty which the FA may well decide to increase. Opinion was, however, divided about whether the Belgian playmaker was more sinned against than sinning. It soon emerged that Charlie Morgan, the ballboy in question, wasn’t an impoverished urchin from a Swansea sink estate but the 17-year-old son of a club director who drives a white Audi A1. Morgan had tweeted before the game: ‘The king of all ballboys is back making his final appearance #needed #for #timewasting’. There was little sympathy for the ballboy’s antics from some quarters. Joey Barton tweeted that the Hazard’s ‘only crime is he hasn’t kicked him hard enough’. Former Chelsea and Everton winger Pat Nevin caused a furore by laying the blame squarely with the ballboy. ‘He only has one job and his job is to go and give the ball back, and what did he do? He keeps the ball’, Nevin told Radio 5Live. ‘He should know what his action should be in that situation. His behaviour was disgraceful.’
So, a ballboy acted like a numpty and a footballer kicked him. So what? The social fabric won’t unravel as a consequence. I’d be more worried not about the contretemps itself but the hysterical reaction. Nobody was killed. The ballboy wasn’t badly hurt. So why all the handwringing and gnashing of teeth? It’s typical of the inflated cultural significance of football that the whole nation, it seems, gets its collective knickers in a twist over an innocuous and frankly comical incident.
Ironically, the spat itself was resolved informally and with admirable common sense. Morgan decided against pressing charges. Instead, he went to the Chelsea dressing room and apologised. Eden Hazard was similarly contrite and the two antagonists shook hands. End of story. Except I suspect that won’t be the last we’ve heard of Ballboy-gate. The Guardian‘s David Lacey has suggested that the football authorities should ‘produce a code of conduct for ballboys and order clubs to make sure it is observed’. Really? Do we need yet more rules and regulations governing conduct at football?
Frankly, I don’t care if ballboys waste time. Nor will I lose any sleep over players losing their rag with the ballboys. I go to the football to be entertained, not for a demonstration of good manners. Footballer kicks ballboy. Or ballboy kicks footballer. What’s not to like?
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.