The peculiarities of the Christmas programme mean that many people end up with their body clocks thrown out of kilter. The Christmas break was followed by the weekend – was yesterday Saturday or was it Sunday? The full football programme made it feel like a Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t – a feeling that has been exacerbated by having a full week off work. Yesterday’s chosen match was between Lewes and Kettering Town in the Blue Square Premier.
A quick check of the BBC website confirmed that the match appeared to be on, and the close proximity of The Dripping Pan to my own home in Brighton meant that this would be, for me, effectively a home match. No need to leave the house until two o’clock in the afternoon. An hour before I was due to leave, I made a quick trip to the shops to pick up some provisions, and nothing in my centrally heated flat had prepared me for how damn cold it was. I got home and my inner sceptic persuaded me to check the Lewes website to see if the game was still on. It wasn’t.
I’m not, of course, deserving of your sympathy in this respect. As it turned out, I spent a very agreeable afternoon watching Blackburn Rovers play Manchester City in the pub. Your sympathies are probably best placed with the travelling Kettering supporters, who were greeted at the end of their long journey down from Northamptonshire by the news that their journey had been a waste of time. There has been, all things considered, comparatively little complaining about this. In their current financial straits, Lewes FC certainly don’t stand to gain anything from having to call the match off. But how has it come to pass that a match can still be called off after dozens, if not hundreds of people have started making a long journey?
The answer to this question is that when deciding whether to call a match off, a difficult balancing act has to be maintained between the interests of supporters and the safety of the players. Yesterday, Lewes followed the book in terms of how to deal with pitch inspections. The club’s groundsman carried out his own inspection at 9.00 yesterday morning, and didn’t feel that the ground would be playable. A local referee was called and carried out a secondary pitch inspection later in the morning. He also felt that the pitch was not playable but the match referee insisted on seeing the pitch for himself, resulting in the match eventually being called off at 1.10, less than two hours before kick-off.
The Kettering manager Mark Cooper was extremely unhappy with the decision, but to blame Lewes Football Club would, on this occasion, be misplaced. Having said all of that, however, the suspicion remains that clubs don’t always do everything possible in order to ensure that matches go ahead. Undersoil heating, the most effective form of ensuring that pitches are kept in a playable condition, is too expensive for clubs the size of Lewes, but covers can be put over pitches that can ward off the absolute worst effects of the weather, although they do not protect against extreme cold. It would certainly seem to make sense for all clubs to make the small investment in covers, if for no other reason than to provide reassurance that some measures are being taken to combat the weather.
The cancellation of Lewes’ match against Kettering yesterday afternoon was a minor irritation but, if one is looking for confirmation of how important it should be to clubs that they make every possible effort to ensure that matches go ahead, we need only look forward as far as New Years’ Day, when the Rooks entertain local rivals and fellow BSP relegation strugglers Eastbourne Borough at The Dripping Pan. This match is likely to attract their biggest crowd of the season, and its cancellation would be little short of a disaster for a club that remains strongly rumoured to be at the point of having to enter into administration. The rights and wrongs of how they came to be in this predicament in the first place are for another day – one will hope that the club realises the importance of ensuring that their match on New Years Day gets the go ahead to be played.