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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Not-so-safety Hazard means the game’s integrity takes another kicking


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There just aren’t enough programmes on TV that include adults kicking children are there? Since the good old days of exploitation and corporal punishment were deemed “unacceptable”, we’ve slowly evolved into a culture in which little toe rags run around doing whatever the hell they please. Smashing windows, stealing crisps, writing acerbic well-observed blogs that lampoon modern culture whilst simultaneously moulding it, and most damning of all lying down on footballs! No wonder this country’s going to the dogs.

Thank heavens then for modern heroes like Eden Hazard, who took a stand against the grubby little blighters last week during Live Carling Cup – Swansea vs Chelsea and took football law into his own hands, unceremoniously kicking out at a young Swansea ballboy. Before I go on, I am well aware that the aforementioned victim of the heinous crime was not a child at all, but instead a 17-year old idiot. But for the purposes of this, I will be referring to him as a child due to the fact that it is exactly how he behaved. Not that Hazard acted much more maturely of course, but at least he’s got the excuse of having the over-inflated ego of a footballer who plays for Chelsea – an alibi that absolves responsibility of almost any offence, even gunning down a work experience kid.

The Hazard/ballboy clash has understandably been big news since it happened, with hundreds of column inches and Sky Sports News segments devoted to the relative rights and wrongs of the incident. We’ve subsequently learned more about the Swansea boy: son of a Club Director, heir to a fortune, bit of a numpty. But whatever the faults of this stunted adolescent, did he really deserve to be kicked, albeit slightly softly, by a man just five years older than him? Well yes. But deserving it doesn’t make it right, and I think we’re all pretty much agreed that the referee was correct to dismiss Hazard for his outburst.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think anybody came out of the sorry mess with any real credit. The kid did gain about 100,000 followers on Twitter, but that has to be balanced by the fact that 100,000 people are now going to be a little stupider for listening to the witterings of a vacuous teenager. Despite his transgression, Hazard will not accrue hardman notoriety in the tradition of Cantona and Keane because let’s face it, all he did was faintly graze a chubby little manchild. The only real winners were Swansea City, who despite employing ballboys with less intelligence than Jedward, have made it to a major domestic cup final so well done to them.

As it turns out, the whole ‘Hazard assaults child’ thing actually did tubby fun-repellent Rafa Benitez a huge favour. It overshadowed what was yet another shoddy outing for his beleaguered Chelsea team, and if I didn’t hold the sleaze-infested Club in such strident contempt, I might actually feel a smidgeon of sympathy for them. It is fairly ironic that the only player in the ranks that is remotely functioning at a competent level at the moment is the one they’re most keen to boot out of the door. It really is astounding that Frank Lampard is being so hurriedly shown the exit, particularly when veteran carthorse and all-round gobshite John Terry is allowed to fester away in the corner of Stamford Bridge like an old barrel of cheap lager. Still, Chelsea’s woes will no doubt continue until the omnipotent Roman Abramovich climbs down from his platinum-encrusted cloud, has a nose about his decaying playset and devises a sound plan for the future. Only then will greatness be restorable.

Away from the pantomime comedy of modern day football, we were treated to a far more sedate slice of wistful days gone by when Sky aired Sporting Heroes – Taylor/Denis Law, in which former England manager Graham Taylor sat down with his boyhood idol to reminisce over a lost age of muddy pitches, skint footballers and when the FA Cup still mattered. Sky had been building up the interview beforehand as if it was the biggest footballing interview since Gazza opened up to Piers Morgan a couple of years ago; and it was, only without the explosive revelations and any real excitement at all. In fact, while watching the hushed somnolent chat it was difficult to keep your eyes open, even for those involved as the venerable Denis Law appeared to drop off a couple of times.

Hopefully though you stayed with it as I did, because although it lacked any hard-hitting punch: the only sleepy exclusives being that the winter of 1962 was very cold, and Law’s iconic ‘sleeve celebration’ after scoring a goal was actually due to the fact he often had a runny nose; this intimate interview was a warm and fond journey back into a time Taylor and Law clearly miss. This resulted in a wonderfully understated and earnest trawl through Law’s heady career, encompassing his early days under Shankly at Huddersfield, spells at both Manchester clubs and time in Italy with Torino. All of which Law recalled with great affection and incredible clarity. Above all, this voyage to the past served to highlight the stark differences between the days of Law and today’s Twitter-obsessed game. It’s for better men than me to argue whether things were better then or now, but incidents like those we witnessed at the Liberty Stadium last week do much to convince me of the former, and it’s for the lawmakers of the game to ensure we guard against any future repeat of that sort of hazard.

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Chris Pettitt

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