Swansea City has now reached a major cup final after 101 years of trying after a goalless draw with Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium was enough to take the underdogs from Wales through on the strength of their upset 2–0 win at Stamford Bridge in the first leg on Jan. 9.
Amazingly, it is only 10 years since Swansea had to win on the last day of the season just to remain in the Football League. The club’s meteoric rise over the last decade must surely give encouragement to all teams in the lower divisions.
Events on the field of play were unfortunately overshadowed by a thoroughly unsavory incident involving Chelsea’s Belgian international playmaker Eden Hazard kicking a ball boy.
Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly professional display by Michael Laudrup’s side that was never seriously threatened by their more illustrious opponents who barely managed a shot on target until the 73rd minute.
Nathan Dyer might have won it for Swansea in injury time had Petr Cech not been alert and pulled off a fine diving save. It is worth noting that Swansea’s entire team cost less than what Chelsea paid Liverpool for Fernando Torres.
Hazard Loses the Plot
In the 78th minute, the ball went out of play between the Swansea goal and the corner flag. The ball boy went to retrieve the ball with Hazard hot on his heels.
Hazard tried to wrest the ball away from the boy who was reluctant to give it up. The boy went to ground with the ball underneath him. Hazard then delivered a sharp kick to the boy’s side in an ill-considered attempt to persuade him to release the ball, which the boy then did.
Hazard picked up the ball and ran back on to the field of play while players of both sides, including Chelsea skipper Frank Lampard, went to check on the ball boy who was clutching his midriff and writhing in apparent pain.
After due consultation, referee Chris Foy produced a red card and Hazard was sent off for “violent conduct.”
The incident is certain to be reviewed and a much more serious punishment is likely. The arrogant smirk on Hazard’s face that was recorded in close-up by the Setanta Sports camera, just before he was called over by the referee, will certainly not help the Belgian’s cause.
This was arguably one of the most despicable incidents ever seen at a first class football match. The ball boy was not guilty of serious time wasting, he was simply trying to do his job, which was to retrieve the ball and give it back to the Swansea keeper for the goal kick.
There was absolutely no excuse for such a frenzied reaction by Hazard. Some have even suggested that the boy exaggerated his injury, but the kick was nonetheless quite sharp, and if it caught one of the lower ribs would certainly have caused considerable pain.
Football fans will remember Eric Cantona being suspended eight months and fined £30,000 by Manchester United and the Football Association for the infamous kung fu kick on a spectator at Selhurst Park.
No one can excuse what Cantona did as he showed appalling indiscipline for a professional sportsman. But it can be pointed out that the spectator had been persistently screaming obscenities, several of which were apparently directed towards the Frenchman’s mother.
Hazard’s victim was not a hooligan but a completely innocent ball boy simply trying to do his job the best way he knew how. By comparison to the Cantona incident, Hazard’s punishment should be at least as severe as that meted out to the Manchester United great.
It may well be that as fans from around the country see the footage of the incident. Hazard will not be welcome at any stadium in the land and a chorus of jeers will greet him everywhere he plays if he remains in England.
It is a shame because he is a hugely talented player and, although his form has dipped slightly of late, the young Belgian was an absolute revelation in the early weeks of the season.
So, controversy aside, there is much for Swansea to celebrate. They are in a secure mid-table position in the Premier League and have enjoyed a wonderful run in this competition having also accounted for holders Liverpool in addition to Chelsea.
Who knows, Michael Laudrup may even claim the tag of underdogs come the final. The best the club has managed in its entire history is a pair of FA Cup semifinal defeats to Bolton Wanderers in 1926 and Preston North End in 1964, whereas Bradford did actually win that competition in 1911.
There are be no big clubs involved in this year’s final and so fans have something special to look forward to as this trophy will mean that much more to Swansea City and Bradford City.
It is, after all, the stuff of legend, and what makes the English domestic cup competitions so special.
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