Once again the inclement weather took its toll on local sporting fixtures and supporters across the Province left disappointed as games were called off.
The Triangle area was no exception with Coleraine’s Danske Bank Premiership game against Glenavon postponed to Tuesday 27th January. Championship sides Ballymoney United and Glebe Rangers found their matches against Coagh United and Banbridge had also fallen foul of the snow and ice leaving players, managers and fans equally frustrated.
Local supporters vented their frustration on social media sites so Times Sport spoke to former player, manager and local pundit Liam Beckett to get his thoughts.
“I would say quite few of the calls made were more than justified”, said Liam. “However, I am also in no doubt whatsoever that some questionable decisions were made as well, and the question many fans want answered is, WHY? Most of the top games being called ‘on’ or ‘off’ as a result of bad weather usually hinge on a pitch inspection, but even if the pitch is declared playable then we have the trusty health and safety brigade who are then apparently responsible for making a decision as to whether the immediate pitch surroundings, terracing, car park, paths and common areas are deemed safe for the fans and general public. I’m even informed we require a police report as well which to me sounds complicated.
“I’m not doubting that we need some form of health and safety procedures within our sport, but are they over protective when it comes to a game of football and where do we draw the line, and when are we finally ever going to speak up and say ‘enough is enough’? I feel we have become a sport which is far too ‘ready’ most of the time to take the easy way out with far too many of our ‘major’ decision makers always leaning towards the easy option.
“When I visit my good friend the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg, just one glance at the many framed pictures which adorn the walls of the great mans house clearly indicates and indeed highlights for me the vast difference in playing surfaces which he and his fellow players from that era encountered in their playing careers. Believe me they were not the ‘snooker table’ surfaces of today, that you see at Old Trafford, Maine Road, Highbury, Stamford Bridge,Villa Park or Anfield. Harry has action pictures of them all back then and quite frankly many of them resembled glorified ploughed fields in the winter time, yet all the great players of that era not only played on them but even more incredibly ‘starred’ on them as well.
“One evening a few years back the big man rang me to call down for a cuppa, he had a former ‘Busby Babe’ Albert Scanlon staying with him for a few days and wanted me to meet him, and to quote his exact words “Beckett, he’s your type of guy”. Harry as usual was spot on, Scanny was indeed my type of guy. I spent my best night in years just listening to the pair of them re-living their past and reminising of the good (and the bad) times.
“The one thing from that evening that will be forever etched in my memory was the sheer humility shown by Albert Scanlon, just like Harry, both plain simple down to earth honest to goodness men who were exceptionally good at what they did, but who still never forgot where they came from, now thats what i really call ‘class’.
“Much of the discussion that night centred around playing surfaces, and what is deemed unacceptable to play on nowadays in comparison to back then. During the evening Albert Scanlon was keen to stress to me that back in the day it was practically unheard of for games to be cancelled or posponed because of bad weather, he even told me they were supplied with little adaptors to fit to their boot studs which enabled them to play on ice covered pitches.
“Albert told me of one night when he played for Manchester United on one of the very rare occasions when a game had to be abandoned. It was during the first half and the fog was so bad you couldnt see the player next to you. But he went on to say that as all the players later relaxed in the communal bathtub, which was the norm back then, suddenly the dressing room door opened, it was the referee to say that the fog had lifted sufficiently for the game to re-start and so he wanted the players out of the bath, in their kits and back onto the pitch inside ten minutes. Can you for one moment hazard a guess at the response a referee would get nowadays if the exact same scenario was to occur! There’s no doubt the referee would get a ‘short shift’ in the process.
“I spoke with no less than three current regular Irish League footballers and one manager on Saturday and all of them agreed that they would much rather play the game on a ‘tricky’ surface rather than simply call it off without at least giving it a try. We cannot continue to call games off every time we encounter a little snow or ice, footballers are not china dolls and its highly unlikely they will break every time they fall down.
“Can anyone tell me what’s the difference in the ‘skinned knee’ you get from a sliding tackle on a perfectly dry artificial 3g or 4g surface to that which you may well obtain on a mixture of snow and ice? Personally O don’t think there’s any difference and both will sting a little once you get in the shower.
“However, I must point out one club who ‘bucked the trend’ on Saturday past and that was Portadown FC. Even though it was snowing in mid-Ulster just like virtually every where else, the ‘Ports’ groundsman Gary Mc Coo and his team of volunteers, aided by a trusty generator and a ‘leaf blower’, all got stuck in at 9am and worked tirelessly to ensure that the pitch, the car park, and all the common areas associated to the ground were cleared and treated so as their game with Ballymena United could go ahead.
“The pitch, although a little tricky on top, was perfectly playable and we got possibly the most exciting game of football any of us will witness this season. It was end to end football which incredibly ended in a 5 - 5 draw. Tremendous credit must therefore also go to both sets of players for their fitness levels and their sheer endeavour to entertain. It was a magnificent spectacle and arguably the best afternoons entertainment served up for years for all the hardy souls to took the trouble to turn up.
“I feel for more clubs should replicate the stance and effort made by all of those ‘never say die’ attitude people at Portadown if we are not to stand by quietly and let the health and safety brigade and others turn us all into a nation of life size cotton buds, or maybe I should just ask Harry to let them see some of his pictures, then they might well realise that a little snow and ice is maybe not such a bad thing after all!”