Storm Ciara and her sibling Storm Dennis. It’s the climax of a very wet winter. Last year, we were exceptionally lucky, with very few postponements due to weather. This season has been a different story. It’s been commonplace to see games called off due to waterlogged pitches. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an artificial playing surface, or a professional groundsman setup, it’s likely that your pitch has succumbed to the weather.
But with warmer summers and wetter winters predicted to become commonplace, is it time for football’s authorities to show some common sense when bad weather is forecast?
Meteorology is more accurate than ever and gone are the days of Michael Fish reassuring us that a hurricane wasn’t on its way (technically, that was true – it was an extratropical cyclone). Forecasters can confidently predict bad weather many days and weeks in advance.
But some leagues and governing bodies haven’t quite caught up. And ultimately, it costs clubs and fans time and money.
Take Sunday side Wixams Wanderers, who reached the quarter-finals of the FA Sunday Cup. They found themselves in a farcical situation, just as Storm Dennis was due to swamp Britain with damaging winds and record rainfall. Despite amber weather warnings in place, the FA refused to allow them to call their game off until the pitch was actually unplayable. Wanderers had their opponents, Peterlee Catholic Club in mind, who faced a round trip of 468 miles even though everyone knew the rain would decimate any chance of playing.
The FA instructed Wanderers to find an alternative venue instead of postponing the game early. Trying to find a graded ground with an artificial surface at such short notice – not to mention the additional cost, is a ridiculous situation to put any club in, let alone a Sunday league side. Wanderers were unable to source a new venue and the inevitable postponement of the game came too late for Peterlee whose coach had already departed for the long trek south.
We’re not talking about professional clubs. Common sense appears to have flown out of the window and into the storm.
That’s not to say that some leagues are more proactive than others. The Combined Counties issued instruction that clubs could postpone matches if the rain was torrential and with the blessing of the match official. Other leagues have similar protocols in place where games can be called off without inspection.
In the age of communication, is it time to trust clubs to call games off with appropriate evidence? It’s easy to send a time-stamped video or photos to the league or the match officials well ahead of time. Morning pitch inspections, if you can find an appropriate level referee, can be unreliable (Leatherhead passed a 10am inspection only for the rain to fall and be called off at 2.30pm). I’m not suggesting that inspections should be abolished. There will be occasions where an official will need to check for themselves. But when the Met Office name a storm with severe warnings in place, and it’s totally obvious that the pitch is unplayable, common sense must prevail and allow clubs to take sensible action – because ultimately, it’s fans that lose out.
It’s times like these, that having an artificial pitch really plays a strong hand and we’re blessed to now have these options on a wet and windy February afternoon. It beats shopping!