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Jan 24, 2013

FA investigating ball boy incident

LONDON -- Just when it seemed Chelsea's reputation couldn't sink any lower, along comes "Ballboygate."

The Football Association's disciplinary body opened a fresh file on the English club Thursday after winger Eden Hazard was sent off for kicking a 17-year-old ball boy while attempting to retrieve the ball toward the end of a League Cup semifinal match against Swansea.

Professional Footballers' Association chairman Gordon Taylor told the BBC Thursday that Hazard should not have "taken the law into his own hands."

The Belgium winger has apologized to the ball boy -- and will not face criminal charges -- but will be handed a minimum three-match ban for violent conduct, depriving Chelsea of one of its top players.

Worse for the European champions, however, is having to face further accusations that its millionaire players are out of control, soon after the racism scandals involving John Terry, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel that blighted 2012.

"It is an extraordinary incident," former referee Dermot Gallagher said. "There's no defense for that. Someone said it was borne out of frustration but you have to accept it. It was an extreme, but you can't have that at a football match."

The incident sparked a flurry of activity on social networking sites and induced imaginative headlines in British newspapers, such as "Ed Case," "Occupational Hazard" and "Boots of Hazard." BBC radio has already been referring to it as "Ballboygate."

Many ex-professionals have reacted with sympathy for Hazard, who was attempting to get the ball back into play as quickly as possible with Chelsea needing two late goals to force extra time in the second leg. The match finished 0-0, with Swansea progressing to the final 2-0 on aggregate.

Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar wrote on Twitter: "I'm not saying it's the correct thing 2 do but when in the heat of the moment u just want the ball."

It is another saga that Chelsea could do without, with controversy seemingly hovering over the club on a permanent basis.

"I do not know what you expect from me," Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. "Do you think we are not disappointed with the situation, that we do not regret what happened?

"Do you want to change things? We cannot."

Chelsea probably wishes it could change a lot of things over the past 12 months, save its unexpected Champions League title in May.

The club was at the center of a major racism incident that gripped English soccer last year when Terry was banned for four matches for hurling a racial slur at an opponent during a league game. The case, which also involved Cole, took a year to be resolved.

In November, a complaint by Chelsea that one of its black players -- Mikel -- had been subjected to racist abuse by a referee during a game was dismissed by the FA. Mark Clattenburg, the referee in question, was removed from duty by the Premier League for four straight weekends and received unwanted media scrutiny.

At least Chelsea responded quickly to this latest incident, quickly putting up on its website an apology from Hazard. There are also reports the ball boy was welcomed into the changing room and treated well by Terry and Frank Lampard, Chelsea's two most senior players.

"Both parties have come together and we've got a mutual bond," Gallagher said. "That is brilliant for the future, but it doesn't escape the fact that the FA are duty bound to act."

Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin claimed he would have done the same as Hazard and branded Morgan's behavior as "disgraceful."

Nevin told BBC Radio Five Live: "I would have kicked the ball out from underneath the ball boy if he had been lying like that, 100 percent.

"I was very, very disappointed by the way the ball boy acted, and I say 'acted,'" said Nevin.

"He must have been watching footballers, the way he rolled around and pretended to be more injured.

"He only has one job and his job is to go and give the ball back, and what did he do? He keeps the ball. I have to say I was absolutely amazed this morning to find he is 17, not 12, not 13."

Marseille midfielder Joey Barton, on loan from QPR, also sided with Hazard, who is facing internal disciplinary action from Chelsea.

He tweeted: "Hazard only crime is he hasn't kicked him hard enough..."

Barton later posted a further tweet to clarify he was not condoning the kicking of ball boys.

Swansea vice-chairman Leigh Dineen, meanwhile, placed the blame squarely at the door of the Chelsea man and defended Morgan, who has become something of a Twitter celebrity, with his account now having upwards of 80,000 followers.

"The boy went to pick up the ball and he fell over. He didn't hold on to the ball for a minute; it happened over about 20 seconds," he said.

"Had it been 2-0 to Chelsea, I don't think Hazard would have been anywhere near the ball. But I don't think Hazard deliberately went to kick him.

"You can't kick out at anybody. I don't think you can do that. If it was done on the field of play, there would be plenty of questions to be answered."

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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