How pitchside youngsters are trained to stay out of the spotlight

Eden Hazard's dismissal at Swansea has put the practice of ball retrieval under scrutiny. Sam Wallace reports on what clubs and the FA teach their ballboys

At Arsenal, they are instructed on throwing the ball back to players at chest height. At Tottenham Hotspur, they are recruited by the club's community coaches from local schools and clubs. For England games, the Football Association keeps its own elite team together until they approach the age of 18 when they are discreetly replaced with younger children.

Ballboy recruitment was, before Wednesday night's Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at the Liberty Stadium, just one of those things every club had done for years with varying degrees of effort invested and free tracksuits handed out. Come the FA Cup and league fixtures over the weekend, the scrutiny on ballboys will be that much greater.

The case of Charlie Morgan, the 17-year-old Swansea City ballboy who was at the centre of Eden Hazard's deeply controversial red card on Wednesday night, has shone a light on the hitherto innocuous world of elite-level ball retrieval.

There have long been certain clubs where the ballboys have been used to gain a small margin of advantage. When he was Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho would frequently complain about "disappearing ballboys" when home teams were trying to defend against his Chelsea side. He has returned to the theme during his time at Real Madrid, especially when they visit the Nou Camp.

Last season Stoke City were accused by Neil Warnock, when he was Queen's Park Rangers manager, of only permitting their ballboys to provide ball-drying towels at throw-ins for the home side. Nevertheless, no ballboy has ever intervened in a game in this country to the extent that Morgan did at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday night, nor is one of those tracksuited children perched on stools behind advertising hoardings ever likely to do so again.

A number of clubs, and the FA, were contacted about their selection process when it comes to ballboys. Among those who responded were Arsenal, who recruit 12- to 16-year-olds from among their Junior Gunners membership to establish an elite team of ballboys and ballgirls under strict instructions to treat away teams with equality.

A spokesman for the club said they had 300 applicants for 20 places to be ballboys and ballgirls this season, all of whom were invited to attend the club's Hale End youth academy in Essex. "During this day, the applicants are tested on their abilities including catching, throwing, concentration, general fitness and understanding of the game of football.

"Twenty successful candidates are then chosen and are invited to a special training day at Emirates Stadium, in order to prepare them for the season ahead. This training places emphasis on fair play and sportsmanship and our ballboys and ballgirls are coached on delivering the ball into the chest of the players and to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible for both teams. All members of the squad are reminded to act with respect to our opponents at all times."

The FA selects ballboys and ballgirls from two local FA-affiliated clubs near Wembley Stadium and that group of 20 children is used for all FA games, including England internationals and FA Cup semi-finals and finals. The organisation said that it is inundated with requests from schools and clubs to provide ballboys and ballgirls and would not disclose the identity of the clubs that are used.

The FA's ballboys are under strict instruction not to favour the away side in internationals and even if an England manager were to request a helping hand in that regard, the FA would over-rule him.

In years gone by, Chelsea would offer schoolboys they were trying to sign the opportunity to be a ballboy – Peter Crouch, who grew up in Ealing, was a regular at Stamford Bridge, although he eventually joined QPR. Now Chelsea's ballboys are recruited from the club's academy.

At Spurs, the ballboys are recruited via the club's community programme by coaches who go out into the local area to set up education programmes. At QPR, all ballboys and ballgirls are Junior Hoops or season-ticket holders, aged 10-14, who first have to go on trial for their catching, throwing, kicking and running abilities.

At Swansea, the club say they employ 12 ballboys per game, recruited from all over South Wales. The requirement is that they are no younger than 13 and the club said that all ballboys receive training before they are used at a match. Ahead of kick-off, the boys are given a briefing on how to behave and reminded of the key rules of the game. The club said that they are reminded not to waste time in retrieving the ball.

Touchline terrors: When ballboys go bad

Scotland, 2006

France coach Raymond Domenech complained to Uefa after Scottish ballboys were slow returning the ball in a Euro 2008 qualifier at Hampden.

Brazil, 2006

A ballboy in a Brazilian league match stroked the ball past Atletico Sorocaba's keeper at a goal-kick, with the referee giving the goal.

Tottenham, 2007

Chasing a quick throw-in, Konstantinos Loumpoutis of Famagusta gets the ball in the groin from a ballboy during a Uefa Cup loss at Spurs.

Real Madrid, 2011

Coach Jose Mourinho claimed Barcelona stopped using ballboys at the Nou Camp in a Super Cup match as they protected a lead.

Stoke, 2011

Tony Pulis's side were warned by the Premier League after ballboys only made towels available to home players at the Britannia.

Chievo, 2012

Milan's Sulley Muntari handed his shirt to a ballboy after scoring in a match at Chievo, only to have it returned by the unimpressed lad.

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