MARTIN SMITH looks at the sporting world

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UNITED and Oldham aren’t talking about it, the lad’s certainly not talking about it and neither is Lee Croft.

But everyone else is.

Ballboy Gate - or should it be Almost A Fayt But It’ll Be Rayt Gate?

A grown man screaming into the face of a 14-year-old is never a very edifying sight.

In front of 18,000 people, TV cameras, Radio Five Live and the BBC’s World Service it’s even worse and it was all over the back pages and fans’ forums thereafter.

Though the police are investigating no-one is calling for a public inquiry, resignations are not expected and retsrospective action - referee’s report notwithstanding - is not believed to be imminent.

So what are we left with?

Two Silly Billys who ought to have had more sense - especially the player.

If you are a 14-year-old academy lad excited at being a ballboy and trying, albeit misguidedly to do the best by your team by delaying the opposition taking a throw in the dying moments of a game your team is winning 1-0, you have a semblance of an excuse.

If you are a 27-year-old professional footballer called Lee Croft you don’t.

You might be wound up and desperate to get the ball back in play - and so you should be - but you can’t scream in someone’s face and expect no-one to take any notice.

Pictures of that game and that incident were beamed all round the world by Sky TV and listeners from Totley to Tangiers will have built their own mental images from the radio commentary.

Most will dismiss it as more overblown football froth.

But there is a serious side to all this.

After the event there was a suggestion that racist remarks were used towards the lad, whose name United will understandably not release, by Lee Croft but no-one is quite sure where that suggestion came from.

The player denies using abusive langage, and thought the ballboy wasn’rt keen to shake hands at theie end United have said nothing about racist language either.

Two years ago I don’t think there would have been a ‘racist’ slant on this story.

We were winning the battle against the bigots and it would have been assumed - naively as it turned out - that footballers wouldn’t do that.

But after the John Terry and Luis Suarez ‘racism’ affairs we have a new agenda.

An agenda where every clash between black and white is in danger of being presented as a race row because that’s where we are at.

a Quite where the racist element inall this has come from is not so clear.

Perhaps if there’s a black person and a white person in a confrontation.

Oldham winger Lee Croft has denied allegations that he racially abused a Sheffield United ball boy at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

South Yorkshire Police confirmed it was looking into an allegation of racist abuse by an unnamed player following the League One match, which ended 1-1 after the visitors scored a 97th-minute equaliser.

But while admitting to “having a go” at the young ball boy in question and subsequently trying to apologise, Croft denied abusive language.

The 27-year-old was quoted as saying in the Daily Mirror: “He was wasting time, I ran over to get the ball and he kicked it away.

“I have had a go at him and that didn’t go down too well with the fans.

“Their fans told me to apologise so at the end of the match I ran over to him but he pushed my hand away, he didn’t want to know.

“I have done nothing wrong and there was no foul or abusive language. It is all finished.”

A statement for the League One club said: “The player has categorically denied the allegation. The club and his team-mates are fully supportive of him.

“The club will not be making further statements in relation to this matter.”