When football had orange balls

The big freeze has seen fixtures disappear quicker than a snowman in summer. Were all the postponements really necessary though? We think that many games could actually have gone ahead and yesterday The Sun asked FSF chair Malcolm Clarke to explain exactly why winter games are getting the cold shoulder…

ONCE upon a time, when men were men with balls of orange leather, it took more than a bit of snow to call off a football match. Yet this weekend seven Premier League games were called off, including one at a snow-free Upton Park despite undersoil heating leaving pitches playable.

All that was required back in the day was for willing supporters to arrive early to scrape the worst of the white stuff off the mud beneath, and in the 1950s the football authorities even came up with snow-foiling orange balls. And it was the players who supplied the much-in-demand grit. Players like West Ham's Geoff Hurst and Billy Bonds, getting stuck in to the Crystal Palace defence in a 1971 blizzard at Upton Park. No, these days it is outside influences which force the postponement of many games - to prevent any risk of accident to fans.

Here MALCOLM CLARKE, of the Football Supporters' Federation, bemoans the era of health and safety referees.

WINTER football used to mean wrapping up warm in your new Christmas scarf and gloves to watch 22 freezing blokes kicking a bright orange ball around a semi-frozen field.

Happy days indeed.

Nowadays, though, winter football seems to revolve around reading about games cancelled due to the icy roads and streets around the stadium - even if the pitch and stadium are in perfect condition.

We have heard from fans across the UK who have lost out because of cancelled games.

Fans already on their way having to turn back at the last minute, fans having to fork out small fortunes for another rail ticket, cursing their luck as they use up another precious day's holiday for rearranged games.

It's not only away fans who suffer. People travel from far and wide to watch their team's home games.

Imagine all that time and money wasted - and much of it could have been avoided. Supporters realise that this winter has been exceptional, with the worst snowfall since 1979.

But there is an increasing trend towards cancelling matches "just in case" something goes wrong.

Just in case someone slips and claims for compo from the council for that ungritted path a half-mile from the stadium.

Safety awareness is a good thing. Ultra-caution isn't.


Where do you draw the line between personal responsibility and the nanny state?

We are not suggesting every game could have gone ahead but many fans, like those at Crystal Palace, were left asking why their game had been called off when the local supermarket was allowed to open.

How many shopping centres were forced to close? Not many.

We have heard very little criticism aimed at clubs as fans understand it is often the local authorities, quangos and police who push these decisions through.

Most people realise clubs are desperate for games to go ahead - especially those that have spent millions on undersoil heating to avoid postponements.

Aside from the obvious problems that come with fixture congestion, clubs still have to pay player and staff wages whether games go ahead or not.

Maybe they should have sent their stars out on to the streets to earn their corn this week? Seeing Fabregas, Rooney or Torres out, shovel in hand, would make our day.

Imagine how many prawn sandwiches can pass their use-by-date before a team's next home game too. All money down the drain.

The problem is even worse for lower division and non-league clubs, who are much more reliant on gate receipts.

We would love to see the clubs, football authorities, Government and police come together for a winter summit to plan and ensure this doesn't become a yearly event.

Oh, and bring back orange balls while you're at it.

The Football Supporters' Federation represents the rights and views of more than 150,000 fans across England and Wales. Visit www.fsf.org.uk and join for free today.

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