Winter is here at last, delivering a carpet of snow and with it an irresistible rush of nostalgia for anyone able to remember when a mere blizzard wasn’t enough to ruin the weekend’s football programme. If the pitch wasn’t frozen solid enough to send a vibration up the pitchfork handle and rattle the groundsman’s dentures, it was match on. Kids, this is true – the same rules applied to PE at school: evil bastards like Mr Marriage at Stamford Road Boys would send the shivering mites out into the cold and force them to compete. Those with notes excusing them from games were plunged into barrels of icy water and left there until they thawed out after Easter. It was all part of growing up.
Footballers were expected to just get on with it. The only concession to the icy weather was an orange ball, which stood out well against both playing surface and the skin of a generation of players whose idea of a winter tan was the upholstery in their Ford Granada. Snow was removed from the pitch only as far as a shovel could throw it, leading to bumpy frozen mounds just beyond the white line and an extra reason for wingers to be nervous. Of course it was all horribly uncomfortable, but at a time when domestic central heating was still a relative luxury, not such a shock to the system as it would be today.
Postponements due to snow were allowed but only if the away team’s bus couldn’t get to within 12 miles (reasonable walking distance) of the ground. In those circumstances, the Pools Panel were called into action. This was a bit like the judges on Saturday night TV today, but less bitchy. And probably better dialogue. The old style version of Alesha, favouring sheepskin rather than sequins, would decide that Preston v Millwall was a home win, whilst the pipe smoking counterpart of Bruno (St Bruno?) would consider Rotherham v Crewe and – with a grunt rather than a wildly camp flourish – hold up a card showing 2. This stood for goalless draw but everyone knew that it was code for away win, which the panel were usually too kind to explicitly predict.
Nowadays of course, things are much different. All the top clubs have undersoil heating, thermal seats, warm air piped up the trouser legs and patio burners in the car parks, whilst all other games are called off if a single snowflake has fallen on the roof of the London Weather Centre, for fear of someone slipping over or feeling a bit chilly. The players too have different standards, donning extra lycra, tights and gloves – and that’s just to get from the coach to the changing room. Some of the foreign ones have contracts that say they only play during British Summer Time. And yet you never see a referee swaddled up in extra clothing, despite the fact they are so much more elderly and thus more likely to feel the cold....
So there we have it: modern players are all pussies and things were better in the past.
How it used to be - 5 minutes till kick off