THERE have been some incredibly late football postponements over the past few days amidst frosty conditions.
Many fixtures were called off literally minutes before the scheduled kick-offs. In addition, Chelsea Women did actually begin their match against Liverpool before it was abandoned after only six minutes
Having personally checked the weather forecasts, it was patently obvious in advance these games didn’t stand a chance of taking place or being completed.
Another difficulty is that matches are called off far too easily in the modern era. Going back to when I was a kid in the 1970’s, games regularly took place on total mud-heaps.
Places like Chelsea, Derby County, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United in the old First Division had muck and grime playing surfaces but everyone simply got on with it.
The same readily applied in Non-League football circles. And if there was snow, an orange football was deployed!
"As the full-time whistle sounded, two men wearing long brown coats banged on our front door before taking the TV set away because my family hadn’t paid the rental fee"— Tony Incenzo - my 50th football season (@TonyIncenzo) January 26, 2023
Please read my latest @888sport Blog previewing the FA Cup 4th Round this week:https://t.co/G7CCjamHwz
Thankfully, modern technological developments mean football pitch maintenance has almost become a science.
Those muddy arenas are mostly a thing of the past. But it seems standards have progressed so much that fixtures are currently being postponed due to the slightest imperfections.
Let me give you an example. I drove four and a half hours to a Non-League venue to watch a cup tie having been repeatedly assured it would definitely go ahead. No early inspection was needed. The away team and their supporters made a similar journey which amounted to around 200 miles each way.
Anyway, the pitch looked in good nick to me when I arrived with an hour to spare. However it was called off shortly afterwards as the matchday referee wasn’t happy with a small section of one goalmouth.
I don’t want to name the home club or the referee. I certainly won’t attribute blame to anyone as I unequivocally promote football in a positive light. Nevertheless I just think the situation could have been avoided.
None of this is fair on spectators who may have taken time off work and travelled long distances at great personal expense during the current cost of living crisis. Therefore I believe new guidelines are needed for cases of inclement weather.
My suggestions are as follows:
In times of bad weather, an advance inspection must take place by a qualified referee before the away team and supporters set off.
This assessment should also fully take into account the weather forecast.
If there is any uncertainty whatsoever about the game taking place, call it off there and then.
No postponement should be authorised beyond this cut-off point unless there is a HUGE deterioration in the pitch which wasn’t envisaged by the earlier weather forecast.
Now I know referees will say they cannot postpone a game based on a weather forecast. They will also state their main concern is the safety of players and this may lead to late postponements.
So I feel the guidance needs to be changed to assist match officials and everyone else involved.
A few leagues are already active in this respect. They sensibly permit their clubs to postpone fixtures without bringing in a referee when the conditions are really bad.
For example, I spoke to South West Peninsula League secretary Phil Hiscox this week and he told me: “We have a severe weather protocol that allows the league to authorise postponements the day before games without need for a referee’s inspection.
“The protocol is triggered if we have… (1) Met Office severe weather warnings in place…(2) UK Highways or police advice against unnecessary journeys…(3) The prevailing weather is so bad that it is obvious.”
Maximum respect to the SWPL for helping their clubs, players, referees and supporters in this way. It is an understanding approach which should be adopted across the country.
To conclude, my message to the football world is…if there is any doubt, call the matches off early! They can be rearranged for later in the season.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*
FIRST PUBLISHED: 26th January 2023