"420 Games postponed
Some of.England's 92 Football League clubs at last have in sight their first
serious prospect of play since December 22. A stocktaking shows that 420 Cup
and League games have been postponed in just under seven weeks, much the
most serious hold-up in the history of the game. It can be estimated that
the total liability of the 92 clubs is approximately £450,000, spread out in
the form of overdrafts and FA and directors' loans. All are relying on the
outstanding matches being played in warmer weather with income quickly
catching up with liability as the public swarms back, the hope being that
habit and interest will prove to be unbroken.
Probably this will happen, though no one can be certain. Meantime, have
clubs learned any lessons on making better preparation for future English
winters ? In one important instance it scarcely seems so. There is only
one proven method of ensuring that pitches remain playable throughout the
bitterest weather and that is by electrical wiring, as at Murrayfield. Yet
the Sports Turf Research Institute, at Bingley, Yorkshire, reports only a
handful of inquiries since the freeze-up began; in fact, no more than in a
normal season, and it is not expected that many of these will be pursued
once the weather turns milder.
At present no Football League clubs have their playing surfaces warmed by
this method, though Everton plan to re-lay their wires during the close
season. They first installed them in 1957, when reconstructing the ground,
but had to dig them up in 1960 when further drainage work became necessary.
Man people got the idea that they were not efficient, but Mr W. Dickinson,
Everton's secretary, says: " We were perfectly happy with them. The drainage
trouble had nothing to do with the wiring. It cost us about £16,000 to lay,
though the wires were the least expensive part of it. We already had one
sub-station for the floodlights, but this couldn't carry the load, and we
had to have another built. Now 80 per cent of our outlay has been taken care
of and we need only to buy new wires to lay next summer. We fully believe in
The Sports Turf Institute, to which many clubs subscribe, quotes £7,500 to
£10,000 as the price that most electrical contractors will now ask for the
job, which has been much simplified with the use of a machine laying the
wires from the surface. The running cost is about £2,400 a season. An outlay
of £16,000 is no more than most First Division clubs would pay fairly
readily for a first-team back.
Fulham put another side to the argument. "We have three or four
thousand season ticket-holders, a thousand or more of them over 50 years
old," says Mr F. R. Osborne, their general manager. " If we had electrical
wiring, and I don't think we can afford it, how many people would turn out
in a blizzard even though the pitch was playable ?
Everton in the North and Fulham in the South reflect a widely held attitude
that football will ride the crisis smoothly. "The clubs who are in trouble
are those who cleared their grounds and are playing now," says Mr Dickinson.
" The outstanding matches are not lost, and one simply can't talk in terms
of profit and loss. The income from them is only deferred, and crowds will
be much larger than they are at the moment."
Fulham can offer a breakdown of the figures, admit a bank overdraft
increased by £10,000 since December, and still be optimistic. Their weekly
wages bill is £1,200 for a staff of 50, including 40 professionals and
apprentices. Seven weeks of this makes a total of £8,400, to which must be
added £700 for their attempts to clear the ground. Laundry and other
incidentals put the total above £10,000. Their only income has been the
£1,200 share of receipts from the Cup game with West Ham.
They have been lucky in missing only two home games, against Bolton and West
Bromwich, and though three away matches have been postponed, against
Arsenal, Everton, and Manchester United, they have saved hotel and
travelling expenses of £600. Receipts from the matches against Bolton and
West Bromwich would have totalled £4,500 given normal crowds of 22,000 to
25,000, and half that, says Mr Osborne, if they had played in the present
Nor does Mr. Osborne accept the criticism, made among others by the League
president, Mr J. Richards, that some clubs have been tardy in trying to
clear their grounds. I don't know of a case where no effort has been made,
given the chance," says Mr Osborne. " It's all very well to say that heavy
snow should have been cleared immediately, before the ice formed, but after
two feet fell at Fulham it froze overnight. There was never any chance of
clearing it before it froze again. Here we have no protection. The wind
sweeps in from the river. Tottenham are better off: they have high stands
all round the ground. Brighton and Portsmouth have the salt from the sea air
to help keep the frost out. Other matches have been played that had no right
to go on.
Even a thaw will not see football entirely out of the wood, and any further
extension to the season will only aggravate the problem. Mr J. R. Escritt,
assistant director of the Sports Turf Research Institute, points out that
pitches normally are half bare by the end of April and in immediate need of
reseeding if they are to be made playable again by mid-August. Two and a
half months is considered the minimum period for the grass to grow strongly
again, and a hot, dry summer would seriously aggravate things. The answer,
according to Fulham, may be to sow before the season ends and risk a good
deal being kicked up, JOHN SAMUEL."
As reported in the Manchester Guardian booklet "The Long Winter 1962-63"