I expect most people were shocked when the incident happened with Eden Hazard and the Swansea City ballboy on Wednesday night but I have to admit I wasn't surprised. I immediately thought, "That was bound to happen one day."
I can't condone what Hazard did, but I can understand his frustration at the kid lying on the ball at such a crucial stage of the game because I've been there, though fortunately I was always too far away to actually take actions into my own hands – or feet.
Ballboys are usually fans of the club they are working at and it is inevitable that they will tend to favour the home team, but some are worse than others. I still have a laugh with Steve Coppell about the time I was convinced the ballboys at Reading were working to a plan. When the home team needed the ball they got it immediately, at corners the ball would even be placed in the quadrant for them. But when the away team wanted it the ball would be rolled back slowly along the floor. It used to drive me mad.
What made things worse was they operated the multi-ball system. The ball would be whacked into the crowd, our players would wait for it to come back only to realise another ball had already been thrown into the hands of a Reading player on the touchline. Twice we got done with quick throws like that.
We wrote to the Football Association twice and asked if they could monitor what was going on. It was so bad that when I went there the next time I went to the referee's room before kick-off to hand in the team-sheet and when the ref said, "Any more questions?" I said, "Yes, is there any chance of us getting the ball in the same time as their players do? The last two years it has been a disgrace. And if we can't have it as quickly as they get it, can we do away with the ballboys?"
Nothing changed so we complained again at half-time and the ballboys were withdrawn leaving players of both teams to fetch the ball themselves.
I was accused at Sheffield United of doing similar things but we never spoke to the ballboys. I can remember opposition managers screaming at the fourth official and at me about it. I'd just say "It's nowt to do with me." I don't think they believed it but it was true. The kids were just Sheffield United fans doing, as they saw it, their bit for the team.
That's what the kid at Swansea was doing, but like Reading it was a bit too obvious the way he dived on the ball and laid on it. I thought Hazard kicked the ball to get it free, but his momentum meant he also caught the lad and I think a three-game ban and a fine is fair enough. However, I don't think he hurt him. The way the lad writhed around was absolutely comical, it was as if he had been studying Didier Drogba. Then he went off holding his ribs. He deserved an Oscar.
Then you find out he was 17 years old and tweeted before the game he was going to time-waste, which is a shame because it tainted and overshadowed what was a magnificent achievement by Swansea's players over both legs. It reminded me of when I was at Queen's Park Rangers last season and we beat Wolves away 3-0. We played really well but two minutes before the end of the game Joey Barton had a set-to with Karl Henry.
All the papers were about the fracas and not the fantastic display which spoiled it for the rest of the players. It will have been the same for Swansea's players. They would have gone out, grabbed the papers, and seen lots of headlines and pictures of Hazard and the ballboys, but hardly any paying tribute to them.Reuse content