Monday 28 January 2013
As the United Kingdom comes under the first icy grip of winter this season, the Premier League is hopeful this weekend’s fixtures in the English top flight will remain unaffected by the conditions.
Clubs have, however, been reminded of the procedures they must follow regarding contact with the match referees and the early inspection of pitches. It is the match official and not the home club, who bears the responsibility of deciding the play-worthiness of a pitch.
"There are two main considerations when conducting a pitch inspection: player safety and the match as a spectacle"
So what precautions does a referee take to try to ensure a match goes ahead? Mike Riley, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited and a former FIFA-accredited referee, explained the criteria to premierleague.com.
“There are two main considerations to make when conducting a pitch inspection: player safety and the match as a spectacle,” Riley said. “A referee has to consider whether the playing conditions threaten the well-being of the players and whether they compromise the match as a spectacle for the fans.”
Whenever there is the slightest indication of a match being adversely affected by the weather, clubs are advised to contact the match referee at least 48 hours before kick-off to warn of the potential for poor conditions. In the Premier League an inspection will take place early on matchday to try to avoid wasted journeys for supporters.
“The first thing you do is speak to the groundsman,” said Riley. “He is the person best placed to understand exactly how his pitch behaves under certain conditions and the likelihood of a pitch deteriorating or otherwise.
“Then you conduct a pitch inspection, preferably in your match boots and with a match ball, and conduct as thorough an examination as possible on every area of the playing surface to try and ensure it is behaving as it should. If there is any room for doubt, such as the playing surface being frozen, for example, you find out from the groundsman whether there is anything he can do to solve the problem.”
"The goalkeeper couldn’t see 10 metres ahead and one player collided with another and broke his nose"
Unfortunately referees cannot always correctly predict what the weather or the temperature will be like an hour before kick-off, let alone six or seven, and a match official might be abandoned in mid-flow.
“On one occasion we were out on the pitch in shirtsleeves at 2pm and by ten past three we were in the midst of a blizzard,” Riley said. “The goalkeeper couldn’t see 10 metres ahead, the players couldn’t see their team-mates or where the ball was going and one player collided with an opponent and broke his nose.
“In that instance I had no option but to abandon on two counts because I could neither guarantee the safety of the players nor guarantee the match as a spectacle because the supporters couldn’t see what was going on.”
It is rare that a Barclays Premier League match will be postponed due to a frozen pitch as almost every top-flight club is equipped with undersoil heating (see rule K28 of the handbook). Indeed the decision to postpone a match can be made by other authorities with statutory powers (see rule L13 of the handbook).
In every instance the decision to postpone a match is never one that is taken lightly and it is only ever reached as a last resort.