I’m writing this report on the 9:28 First Great Western return trip from Swansea. It was recently announced that a £350m investment in electrification of this line will shave 20 minutes off the three and a half hour journey. Is such a huge spend really worth it for a relatively small incremental improvement? Then again it’s possible to spend £70m on a new midfield to discover it runs 20 minutes slower.
I arrived in Swansea late yesterday afternoon. It felt like I’d been recruited as an extra for Gavin and Stacey. The snow was falling heavily despite my phone app assuring me it was clear and dry so I feared the worst that the game could be postponed. I checked in to the Marriott first and as I stood at reception our favourite physio Eva Carneiro appeared beside me. We exchanged pleasantries and I discovered that the team stayed here the previous night and were currently having their pre-match. Quite what the pre-match entails I’m uncertain but I have to assume it was a large portion of lasagne washed down with several glasses of full-bodied red.
Arriving at the stadium it was a relief to discover the pitch was green despite a thick blanket of snow outside. The Liberty is one of the nicer stadiums I’ve visited. Sure it’s a modern steel structure like all the other pre-fabs but they’ve given it a bit more character, wider row width and a decent gradient for a clearer view. All the staff were exceedingly friendly too.
Despite the weather there was a reasonable turnout at our end. A few spaces in the home stands which questions the validity of adding an extra 10,000 at the end of this season.
I guess I have to talk about the game. This was like playing at home in Swansea. The aptly named two-goal Ivanovic had ensured that his generosity at the Bridge would enable the Swans to park the bus creating a challenge similar to QPR or Southampton.
We huffed and puffed and had lots of meaningless possession but never really looked like scoring. Mata has looked a bit knackered recently and last night seemed particularly lightweight.
Oscar was stuck once again out wide disbelieving that he sacrificed life on the Copacabana for a night in Swansea in the freezing snow.
Hazard made a few good runs but he makes the habit of losing the ball and then standing aghast with hands on hips; is he just a rich man’s Adel Taarabt?
The surprising and disappointing aspect was that there was no siege. Two goals down you’d think at some point we’d cast caution aside and have a ten minute period of heavy threat. But it was not to be. If we could have got one goal with a reasonable amount of time remaining the home team might have started to panic like sheep hearing the truck rumbling up a Welsh farm lane but instead they were never given cause to panic.
The Swans were doing a fair bit of time-wasting, which is their right, but second half one of their ballboys held on to the ball by the corner flag before gently tossing the ball back about 30 yards short of Cech. He received derision from our fans but this was just a precursor to a similar event to follow. A ballboy on the other side of our goal held on to the ball and refused to give it back. Hazard in his frustration tried to kick the ball out of his hands and the ballboy threw himself prostrate. Hazard was wrong. He should have held his hands out to the ballboy gesturing for him to give him the ball. If he refused Hazard should have made a (pointless) appeal to the ref or linesman. However it is also inappropriate for ballboys to engage in time-wasting. This is the job of the players and the professional players union will be lodging a serious complaint that ballboys are encroaching on their jobs. Who could have foreseen that the mild-mannered Hazard would be reviled by Swansea fans in similar fashion to our feelings for Stephen Hunt?
To cap it all the Swansea player most outraged about this incident was Ashley Williams, recently accused of the attempted murder of Robin Van Persie.
Transition. Isn’t this just Management Consultant speak for “you’ll be a bit bollocks for an indeterminate period”.
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “It has taken more than 100 years but, finally, Swansea City know what it is like to reach a major final. They will play Bradford City at Wembley on 24 February while Chelsea, and Eden Hazard in particular, will reflect on another ignominious chapter in the story of a difficult season.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “On a night of highs and lows, Hymns and Arias, Swansea City deservedly reached the first major cup final in their long history. Football itself reached a depressing first: a ballboy being kicked by a professional footballer for time-wasting. In an extraordinary and deeply embarrassing incident, Eden Hazard reacted initially with frustration and then with total folly when ballboy Charlie Morgan, the son of a Swansea director, refused to release the ball with 13 minutes remaining and Swansea protecting their first-leg lead. Morgan was clearly time-wasting, lying on the ball as if this were an Ospreys game at the Liberty.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “In the end, the night was dominated by the red card for Eden Hazard, dismissed by Chris Foy for kicking a ballboy in a desperate attempt to retrieve the ball from underneath the teenager. Just when life at Chelsea feels like it cannot get any more preposterous, another kid got caught in the crossfire and all hell broke loose. The boy in question was evidently time-wasting and – if it the Twitter profile for him that was quickly circulated after the game is correct it was not the first time he has done so – but when it becomes acceptable to kick a ballboy then English football really has lost the plot.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “There will be no early visit to Wembley this season as Chelsea were eliminated from the Capital One Cup after a goalless draw in Wales. The Blues had it all to do after a home defeat two weeks ago, and although we pressured Swansea for periods, only rarely did we look like overturning the deficit, and were dealt a late blow when Eden Hazard was dismissed following an altercation with a ballboy.”
(Image courtesy of CPFC BBS.)