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Hugh MacDonald: on Pat Nevin, Eden Hazard, a very wealthy ballboy...and Joey Barton

NO regrets.

Charlie Morgan was the ball boy in the middle of the controversy in Swansea, taking a kick in the midriff from Eden Hazard
Charlie Morgan was the ball boy in the middle of the controversy in Swansea, taking a kick in the midriff from Eden Hazard

This epithet might not apply to Eden Hazard, who was fulsomely apologetic after being sent off for kicking a ball boy at Swansea on Wednesday. But it does apply to Pat Nevin, the former Scotland internationalist and TV commentator, and to Chris Foy, the referee.

The official sent off the Chelsea playmaker in the Capital One Cup semi-final at the Liberty Stadium after he kicked out at a ball boy who was lying on the ball. "It is a straightforward decision if the referee has interpreted the incident as a case of violent conduct," said John Fleming, head of refereeing development at the Scottish Football Association.

He cited law 123. It states in part: "He [the player] is also guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against a team-mate, spectator, match official or any other person. Violent conduct may occur either on the field of play or outside its boundaries whether the ball is in play or not."

Fleming, who has been involved in refereeing at all levels for 28 years, conceded he had never witnessed such an incident or read about one in a referee's report. "I have seen players trying to pull the ball from the arms of a supporter or a ball boy but I have never had to send off a player for any such incident," he said.

Nevin, meanwhile, was being assailed through social media yesterday after he criticised the ball boy for both delaying play and for "over-reacting" after the incident with Hazard. "I was very, very disappointed with how the ball boy acted," Nevin said. "He must have been watching footballers with the way he rolled around and pretended to be injured."

Yesterday, en route to Scotland after covering the game for Chelsea TV, Nevin said he had no regrets about criticising the ball boy rather than the player. "I could not care less," he said of the reaction to his comments. "The ball boy is there for one reason: to return the ball. He hampered a player's efforts to keep the game going."

"I am not surprised the referee sent Hazard off, just disappointed. I look at the Twitter furore at my comments as inevitable but I am not bothered. I am paid to give my view and I gave it."

Nevin pointed out that it had become "very common" for ball boys to play a part in the tempo of the game by either returning the ball quickly or delaying the return, whatever suited the home team. This theory was given further credence by Charlie Morgan, the ball boy at Swansea, tweeting before the tie: "The king of all ball boys is back making his final appearance #needed #for #timewasting."

The 17-year-old is the son of Martin Morgan, said to be the 32nd richest person in Wales and a director of Swansea City. Police interviewed the teenager after the match before deciding to take no further action while Hazard is waiting to see what punishment he will receive from the Football Association.

Ball boys have increasingly become part of the flow of a game with some coaches making specific requests of them. This can have unintended consequences. Scotland's management wanted an upbeat tempo to the World Cup qualifier against Italy in November 2007 but a quick throwback by a ball boy led to Italy taking the lead in their 2-1 victory.

FIFA and UEFA both use the "multi-ball" system whereby the nearest ball boy to play supplies a ball immediately. The Football League discontinued this system after complaints from managers and it is not used in Scotland.

The incident at Swansea had an amicable aftermath with a spokesman confirming that Chelsea had invited Morgan, who has been a ball boy at Swansea's Liberty Stadium for six years, into their dressing room. The spokesman added: "The ball boy has shaken hands with Eden Hazard."

In the best traditions of a football controversy, the last word should be left to the game's Voice of Reason, Joey Barton. He criticised the teenager and said Hazard should have "kicked him harder".

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