Imagine kicking someone in the ribs. Imagine being above someone lying on the floor and kicking them in the ribs. You probably wouldn’t would you? Imagine watching someone kicking someone in the ribs. Imagine watching it, sleeping on it, seeing pictures of it and then calling the person on the receiving end a disgrace. Unlikely, right? You would have to be a twat. A twat, or, it seems, anybody involved in football.
Last week, facing up to the fact that his Chelsea side were about to be knocked out of the League Cup, Eden Hazard took it upon himself to kick a ball boy who was shielding the ball from him with minutes ticking down on the clock. You would be right in saying the ball boy’s actions were a bit unsportsmanlike. The lad, too, clearly had a shit haircut. His twitter timeline is full of bollocks. All true.
Unfortunately for Eden Hazard though none of these things (officially at least) have yet been deemed valid reasons for kicking someone in the ribs. Luckily though, football plays by its own rules and those paid to be part of this game – be it pundits, players or managers, were on hand within seconds to ensure that the Hazard incident was quickly overshadowed by some of the most godawful gobshitery ever witnessed away from a South Wales hairdressers.
Commentating live on the game, Alan Smith was on hand to immediately declare:
He’s gone down in a heap.
Unaware of exactly what had happened, Smith then wisely waited a few seconds until he had actually seen the incident. After all, he’d look silly repeating that he had ‘gone down in a heap’ if in fact, he had been struck down by a sniper. Smith, it would seem, had remembered Barry Davies imploring Monica Seles to ‘get up love, you only have to play 3 sets!’ Seconds later, Smith was afforded a somewhat inconclusive replay, in which displaying the foresight of Columbo on a spinning heel, he was immediately able to declare that Hazard ‘did actually kick the ball.’ Phew! So far, so football. As it became increasingly clear that this might be a bit of an incident, Smith’s co-commentator managed to chip in, moving the focus away from whether or not Hazard managed to touch the ball before volleying this kid in the ribs and empathising with his situation:
You can understand the urgency of Eden Hazard
he reasoned, as our Belgian hero laughed on with Juan Mata.
The reaction did not end there though. Predictably the whole thing burst all over twitter in no time like so many of this century’s defining moments – The Anfield Cat, Megan Fox dying (again), Justin Bieber having a spliff and, of course, free basmati rice in London. Quick as a flash, Ian Wright was on hand to dive (nob)head first into the night’s hot topic. Tweeting to his followers (each to their own normally, but in this case made up entirely of morons);
To be fair, the ballboy, and Hazard acted poorly. It was something you don’t see everyday! Can’t help smiling. Congrats Swansea by the way.
Overlooking the fact that ‘Wrighty’ wasn’t actually being fair to anybody at all, it seemed that the theme for the next few days was set – expect a kick in the ribs if you’re going to lie on the ball.
Robbie Savage followed suit, tweeting:
First and foremost you can’t kick a ballboy but Hazard was surely just trying to get the ball back, wasn’t malicious!
Now, first and foremost, thanks to Robbie for immediately informing us that kicking a ball boy does NOT fall into the acceptable rules of the game. This might be hard for you to comprehend if, like me, you have never ‘played the game at the top level.’ It’s what gives such weight to the opinions of juggernauts such as Savage and Wright and leaves us slobbering idiots agreeing into our Daily Mirrors and sausage rolls.
The argument moved on. ‘Right, OK, he kicked a kid in the ribs but not maliciously.’ Clearly this was one of those funny kicks. Like the one Alan Shearer delivered into Neil Lennon’s head – so funny in fact that nobody dare mention it again through fear of splitting an entire nation’s sides. He didn’t get the ball after all , but that was fine because it was a jolly kick. Nobody (else) got hurt so come on, drop it. Everyone was equally to blame. The 18 year old for lying on a ball, and Eden Hazard for kicking him in the ribs while he lay there. Tomato/Tomato (you really need to go back and read that last ‘tomato’ as ‘tomarto.’)
What public and press alike needed now was a bastion of fair play to agree with this, a respected, balanced man. A football man who is not afraid to say what he sees. A man who sees all and never shirks from an honest opinion. Step forward – Arsene Wenger.
Hazard is not a violent player. He wanted to get the ball back as quickly as possible, which you can understand. In my opinion, he went in a little bit too strongly but I don’t think he wanted to hurt the boy. He just wanted to get the ball back.
He went in a little bit too strongly. What the fuck does that mean? He should have booted him in the fleshy part of the arse? Tickled him under the chin? Gave him a dead arm and a slap on the head? The consensus it seems was that essentially, what Hazard did constituted fair play. With a win at all costs attitude, in a high pressured game, you can get away with anything. It’s not surprising really that those ‘within’ the game would come out as one and lend their support to Hazard, or at least sympathise with him. After all these unscrupulous bastards have been doing whatever they can to win football matches for years. Wenger has made a living out of calling out every other side for their on pitch actions, while missing the indiscretions of his own band of cheating crying arses, while Savage made a career out of being a cheating gobshite. What was a bit more surprising though, was the over the top reaction of some towards the ballboy himself. Somehow, he found himself to be the villain of the piece.
All joking aside about what a total gobshite the lad appeared to be – clearly a blue WKD drinking, blazer adorning, Joe Hart admiring, night out chanting, arse grabbing, fluorescent underwear whopper – the response to what he did with the ball was well over the top. Look at any football match in any given week that involves a side chasing a result. Anywhere in the world. In these matches you will see players kicking the ball away, watching it roll past them when they should be taking a throw in, swapping the side they take goal kicks from, feigning injury – anything in their power to waste time. Yet this lad lying on the ball was beyond the pale. Why? Presumably because he hasn’t ‘played the game.’ As a result, he had no right to be a cheating gobshite. If he had been Ashley Cole, picked the ball up, put it under his shirt and standing there gurning at Ashley Williams, who proceeded to chase him round the pitch to the tune from Benny Hill to ‘wind down the clock’ nobody would have batted an eyelid. Ex professionals would all talk about ‘winning at all costs’ – the ball boy however had no such right, not being part of the game. It was probably this that meant Michael Owen and Harry Redknapp felt no shame at all when declaring, respectively:
You can imagine the frustration – you’re a player trying to reach a cup final but there’s this kid behaving like an idiot who won’t give you the ball back… The boy was tweeting before the game that he’s a super time-waster. The way he behaved was disgusting.
The lad’s antics were scandalous and no wonder he isn’t taking any further action. His Dad is a Swansea director so I’d assume this situation will be dealt with in the appropriate manner.”
No longer was there a need to even discuss whether or not Hazard had acted appropriately. Instead, it was declared the lad who shielded the ball (for barely two seconds) had deserved to get wellied. In doing so, Hazard was acting rationally, understandably and had dished out exactly what the ball boy had deserved.
Outside of the game, and you are fair game. It’s hardly new. Run on to a football pitch – face a ban, you’re a hooligan. Kick a bellboy in the ribs? He was an idiot for holding the ball. That’s probably why the City fan recently ran on to the pitch to shout at Rio Ferdinand following a derby defeat was informed, in court:
This has to be a custodial sentence which I will suspend, but you are lucky you are not going straight down.
(3 year ban, suspended 56 day sentence and 120 hours of unpaid community service).
While Craig Bellamy bravely did this which prompted his assistant manager to say:
Craig had been our talisman on the day and brought us back into the game twice…a goal had just gone in and Craig was going to the fella to say in no uncertain terms to get off the pitch.
Fair enough, the lad had probably never played the game. He got what he deserved, a good slapping. And he had wasted more time.