We looked good on Sunday, in my imagination at least. It felt like a good time to play them. Liverpool are formidable opponents but we have the talent to take them on plus invaluable momentum, whereas they are stuttering and uncertain. With the rearranged date likely to be at the end of March/early April, they may be mired in a Europa cup campaign but this is less about their problems and much more about the positives of our good form. I was burning to see how we faced up to the test of chasing a top place, away at Anfield.
Despite our preoccupation with the weather, trust the Brits to get the forecast wrong. The news was full of dire warnings about travel but ironically Sunday’s weather was better than expected. I spent the day whizzing around roads in the south-east that my radio was telling me were virtually impassable but it’s better that the match is postponed on the basis of the balance of probabilities than have those late postponements when loyal fans travel hundreds of miles only to find at 2.59pm on a Saturday that the game’s off.
On Saturday 5Live interviewed a senior partner from a large law firm (a proper one, not http://www.chasingambulances.com or ‘Whayhey You’re Hurt! PLC’) about personal safety and the liability issue. He said that basically it is indeed up to the individual whether or not they choose to attend a football match (or go shopping), that it is the individual’s responsibility to stay safe and that a club would not be liable if someone fell over outside the ground. Inside the ground, the club would be covered too, provided that they had stuck to the safety rules, but this was not an issue yesterday as the stadium was OK.
So this is about a police decision on crowd and public safety. They have to consider the worst scenario, e.g. someone in the crowd falls, others slip around them, pressure from people behind who don’t realise there is a problem….
There’s also the traffic issue – many of the problems on the roads in this cold spell have been caused by accidents that block the road. One of those on a busy route and thousands are stacked up behind.
In the end, this is little to do with a so-called PC approach to personal safety and everything to do with our total unpreparedness for bad weather. It’s also a function of our lousy transport system, where normal roads and public transport have to cope every two weeks or so with massive crowds.
In years gone by, postponements were a more common feature of watching Spurs not because of the travel arrangements but because of the state of our pitch, which for a few years was a notorious quagmire, cutting up in wet weather like a country field after the village ploughing competition. This is the real reason why the Perrymans and Pratts of the midfield had to roll up their sleeves and run forever, just to stay above the surface.
Walking down a wet High Road for a match in the seventies, which I’m sure was in fact against Liverpool, I reached the old Whitbread brewery before a few stragglers coming in the opposite direction suggested the match was off. But I had to press on and find out for myself, just to check. It was about 1.30pm, so not many there but still there was no official sign. Eventually enough people seemed to have the same message but I circled the entire ground in an adolescent fug of paranoia. The thought of leaving the ground and then reaching Ealing Broadway only to hear the half-tine score required detailed personal investigation in order to rule out this frankly far-fetched possibility.
Also around that time, although I confess that far back is a bit of a blur sometimes, a home fixture against Sheffield Wednesday at a fog-bound Lane was saved by issuing pass-out vouchers at the turnstile. The gates stayed shut until quite close to kick-off, then as we went through the vouchers entitled us to re-admission for the rearranged game, should today be called off if visibility worsened. I read afterwards that this saved the mach, which was completed, because otherwise the referee would have erred on the side of caution and called it off.
The only other time that I actually set off for a game that was then postponed was at the beginning of 1988-9, when the opening fixture against Coventry was called off at about 1pm because building work in the East Stand had not been completed in time for a safety certificate to be issued. This was a major cock-up and highly embarrassing: a top division team not having a safety certificate when it had all summer to finish the building. In the event we were fined three points, if memory serves, and although they were eventually reinstated, Venables’ team got off to a poor start and we were down the bottom in October, only to gradually pull round.
Finally, one game that did take place in the snow was in February 1969 versus Leeds. My mother had promised to take me but we had to wait until almost 1pm before the club confirmed it was on. No media information assault in those days. We kept ringing (turning the dial on the old phones, that’s why it’s called a dialling tone, kids) until the voice dispensed with all pleasantaries, said the magic words, “It’s on” and off we went on the 207.
The pitch was covered in snow, with the lines brushed clear, and the pitch was rock hard. Over forty thousand saw a 1-1 draw, the crowd swollen by neutrals attracted to the only top division match on in London that afternoon. It’s small details like that which highlight how much the nature of football has changed. It’s inconceivable in these tribal days where ludicrously expensive seats have to be booked months in advance that large numbers of fans would make the effort to watch another team play, just for the pleasure of seeing a game.