The other evening, in the interests of research, I was flicking through some old “Roy Of The Rovers” annuals. In one of them, there was a four page photo-spread called “No-Man’s Land”, about the winter of the 1981-82 season, when a blanket of snow fell across Britain. What do I remember most vividly about that winter? Well, quite a few matches were called off. More often than not, the featured match on “Match Of The Day” involved Manchester City, because they were the only club with under-soil heating which actually worked. Quite a few matches, however, were played on pitches covered in snow. They just cleared the grass around the lines, dusted down the luminous orange ball, and made them get on with it. I distinctly remember a match played that winter between Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City that was played on a pitch that resembled Captain Scott’s base camp at the Antarctic. Forget about dogs on the pitch – it wouldn’t have been completely out a place if a penguin had waddled into the penalty area at some point in the second half.
Simliarly, the concept of the “frozen pitch” is a relatively new one. I have on DVD the highlights of a match between Aston Villa and Liverpool from about 1984, which was one of the first live league matches shown in Britain, and was played on a completely flat and completely frozen pitch. Ian Rush scored a magnificent hat-trick – largely because he was the only player on the pitch that had mastered the fact that the ball was bouncing three times as high as normal. I’m almost certainly alone in thinking that players should be sent out, regardless of the conditions. There’s no greater joy than a match played on a clearly water-logged pitch. Forget about all the cliches about things being a great leveller – there’s only one real leveller, and that’s a pitch covered in enormous puddles, that makes players slip and slide around like drunken ballerinas. The look of surprise on a player’s face when he kicks the ball into a puddle and it stops moving is an interesting insight into the intellect of the average professional footballer. They should send them out there in snorkels and flippers, and leave them to get on with it. There is a consensus within the modern game that nothing should detract from “the spectacle”. Nothing should detract from the homogenised, family-friendly, Sky Sports-approved version of football. You know what I mean. It’s the version that you see every single week of the year.
The thing is, though, it’s not what we all want. Sometimes, I want something un-photogenic, messy and chaotic. I get as much pleasure from seeing a football falling flat on his arse as I do from seeing a flowing ten pass move finished off with a volley into the top corner. There is this creeping orthodoxy within football, and I don’t much like it. I’d like to see a return to the days of frozen, snow covered pitches, with luminous orange balls and players scooting around with their knowledge of how a football reacts to gravity shot to pieces.
There is a 9am pitch inspection at St Albans, tomorrow morning. The pitch was under four inches of snow this afternoon, so I don’t see how they can play. Bearing this in mind, my friend Mr Poo and I will be attending AFC Wimbledon vs Bromley tomorrow afternoon – possibly in a state of advanced cognitive dysfunction. After all the yakking on about them that I’ve managed this week, I thought it would be interesting to see the way that the wind is blowing there. They’d bloody better not call it off.