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Blame it on the ballgirl

Whatever happened to Gillian Maynard?

It’d be interesting to know what she made of Eden Hazard’s kick on Swansea ballboy Charlie Morgan because when Gillian was 16 she inadvertently set off a chain of events that resulted in Liverpool’s title drought and Blackburn Rovers winning the Premier League. Kind of.

It was January 5, 1991 when Kenny Dalglish’s champions visited Ewood Park to take on 1st division Blackburn in an FA Cup 3rd round tie. With 90 minutes on the clock Rovers were 1-0 up through Simon Garner, Kevin Moran and Glenn Hysen had been sent off (both controversially under the new ‘professional foul’ rule that had been brought in) and Liverpool won a throw-in deep into Blackburn territory.

Within a split second of the ball going out of play, teenage ballgirl Gillian Maynard threw it back to Steve Nicol who chucked it to Ray Houghton. Razor’s cross into the box hit Mark Atkins on the knee and he could only look on in horror as the ball rolled into the net.

Liverpool were jubilant, Rovers heartbroken, and on Match of the Day that night Jimmy Hill pointed the finger of blame at 16-year-old Gillian. Hill cast her as the villain, claiming she gave the ball back to Nicol too quickly and that caught the Rovers defence out.

His comments caused outrage – “She was doing her job properly and should be commended,” said Blackburn chairman Bill Fox – and an upset Gillian even phoned the club to see if she was going to be ditched, which she wasn’t. Liverpool’s 3-0 win in the Anfield replay can’t have made her feel any better but she should do now as you can argue she indirectly played a part in Rovers’ 1995 title win.

If Blackburn had knocked Liverpool out then the Reds wouldn’t have faced Brighton in the 4th  round or Everton in the 5th. If they hadn’t faced Everton then there would never have been that amazing 4-4 Merseyside derby at Goodison Park and Kenny Dalglish wouldn’t have resigned after it.

If Kenny had stayed at Anfield we’d have probably won the league again and he’d have never taken the Blackburn job eight months later or led Rovers to promotion in the play-offs. If Rovers hadn’t gone up and Kenny wasn’t there then Alan Shearer would never have moved to Ewood Park and Blackburn wouldn’t have won the Premier League.

Ok, so we’re being rather liberal with the word ‘if’ here, and admittedly there are another 10 zillion events which played a part, but it isn’t half funny how things can work out.

No-one could have predicted in January 1991 that Liverpool wouldn’t have been crowned champions again by 2013 and no-one could have envisaged Blackburn lifting the trophy in 1995.

Perhaps suggesting it was Gillian Maynard who changed both clubs’ course of history is stretching things a bit much, but small things – as Rafa Benitez might say – make a difference in football.

For instance, the turning point in Istanbul in 2005 is generally regarded as Didi Hamann’s half-time appearance or Steven Gerrard pulling the first goal back. Both were major factors but Vladimir Smicer getting the second, so soon after the first, was arguably THE crucial factor in terms of building momentum. It would never have happened if Kaka didn’t have an undone bootlace.

Instead of marking Hamann from John Arne Riise’s throw-in, the Brazilian was tying his lace. By the time he stood up Das Kaiser was on the ball and teeing up Vladi. Miracles do happen.

If that night was tough on the old emotions then imagine how the travelling Rovers fans in the Annie Road end felt on May 14, 1995, when Jamie Redknapp struck a last minute free-kick past Tim Flowers. The half-a-minute when they didn’t know if that goal had cost them their first league title since 1914 must have been the most agonising of their lives. Even worse than hearing Steve Kean had been appointed as manager.

It must have felt like seeing your lottery numbers come up on the screen and then realising you forgot to buy a ticket. Then came the news that Manchester United hadn’t won at West Ham and the anguish turned to joy (and not just in the Rovers end!).

All Gillian Maynard’s fault? Perhaps not, but she certainly had a hand in shaping Liverpool’s history. Maybe the Eden Hazard/Charlie Morgan incident will have a similar impact on Chelsea?

Chelsea are out of the title race. Out of the Champions League. Out of the Super Cup. Out of the World Club Challenge. Out of the League Cup. Have a manager the fans hate. An increasingly unpopular owner who is trying to get rid of a chubby club legend. A £50 million striker who can’t score goals. And now one of their star midfielders is facing a lengthy ban.

Chelsea are 3rd. 11 points ahead of Liverpool. But on the evidence of their two League Cup displays against Swansea, and without Hazard, it wouldn’t take much for them to get sucked back down into the battle for 4th, particularly if a team oozing in confidence after a comprehensive 5-0 win finally find the consistency they’ve been lacking thanks to the arrival of a new goalscoring striker.

Where did we get Daniel Sturridge from again? Selling him to Liverpool could yet turn out to be a kick in the balls rather than a kick in the ballboy for Chelsea FC...