|Posted on January 23, 2013 at 6:05 PM||comments (0)|
One of the wettest years on record has forced the postponement of many games this season, and now Winter has taken hold and matches have been falling like nine pins. Not that the recent cold snap was all that bad; snowfall in 2010/11 was much worse and hit much earlier. It seems a culture has been created in recent years that the slightest dusting of snow has the ambulance-chasing claims companies rubbing their hands with glee.
In times gone by, an orange ball and some blue paint would have seen a match go ahead, Today, the slightest frost and the pitch is declared frozen and therefore unsafe and unplayable. It also seems that the smallest puddle in an unrepaired divot is enough to get a referee to declare a match off.
I wonder whether it is just the litigious age in which we live that has created this over-cautious culture in football, or if there is any other reason. Certainly, professional footballers are far more pampered these days than their predecessors of 20 years ago. There is a widening disconnect between those at the highest level and the real world. What else has changed? Football boots today are very different from those twenty years ago. Standard modern boots more closely resemble astroturf boots of old. The result is that grip in the wet has been sacrificed in favour of pace on a dry surface. They are designed for the perfectly manicured bowling greens of the Premier League and are next to useless on the soggy potato fields further down the pyramid.
Unless a club is lucky enough to have an all-weather surface at its disposal, it will inevitably be the victim of frequent postponements as the effects of climate change begin to be felt. In that case a solution must be found. Maintaining a pyramid structure and moving non-league to the Summer is not practical, so what else can be done?
Firstly, the midweeks after FA Cup and FA Vase matches are often sacrificed to accommodate replays. For most clubs participating in the preliminary rounds, the gates are no greater than league matches and rarely mean much profit. I'm all in favour of the tradition of cup replays, but if the early rounds had to be settled on the day, it would ensure that most of the league games could be played. Speaking of cups; is it really necessary to have two league cup competitions? Despite winning the First Division Trophy two seasons back, I'm still not convinced that clubs would miss it if it wasn't there. And if the League Cup was the only show in town, it would be a more prestigious event. Again, having all ties settled on the day will free up space in the schedule for the now inevitable fixture backlog.
The second prong of the attack would be a more realistic appraisal of the playability of pitches. Most clubs at this level are staffed entirely by volunteers and have very little money to spend on extravagant weather mitigation techniques. Pitch covers and undersoil heating are beyond the means of most, and even basic maintenance equipment is expensive. Officials have to accept that billiard table surfaces are just not possible. Referees postpone games in order to prevent injury, but in reality they can be storing up worse problems for the future. Professionals are never asked to play a game within 48 hours of the conclusion of the previous game, yet due to fixture backlogs, some at our level are asked to play twice within 24 hours. In my opinion, this is asking for trouble, especially at the business end of the season when fatigue is a major factor in injuries. If the April end to the season is not negotiable, care must be taken to ensure such situations do not arise.
Whilst on the subject of common sense, I would also question the wisdom of the current fee structure for referees. Whilst I would not call the integrity of the officials into question, the present system does little to encourage referees to play a full 90 minutes, Getting half the fee just for turning up is little incentive to actually commence a game on a cold, wet November night. And having full match fee in the event of abondonment is little incentive to continue the match if it has started and the weather is not the best. Especially as the match will have to be rescheduled and an additional payment will become available. Meanwhile the club, having done its best to get the game on, is forced to waste food, printing and power- only to have to do it all again another time. At the same time, the club has to pay expenses twice and although it doesn't have to refund spectators, they are not going to be happy paying twice to watch the same match. This disparity needs to be addressed, but is best avoided by allowing games to be played at the first time of asking.
In conclusion, topload the season, cutting out unnecessary fixtures; and be more realistic about pitch quality. The only other options are plastic pitches for all or become a Summer sport. I have the strangest feeling that we will have more seasons like this before it's all sorted out. Still, that's football.
COME ON COLLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!