So arguably the biggest home game of the season has fallen victim to the weather. Despite measures being taken to get the game on, referee Peter Walton was not convinced that the pitch would thaw out in time for the late evening kick off tomorrow. Is this merely a case of force majeure, or could the club have done more to ensure the fixture did go ahead?
The immediate reaction from many onlookers has been to question why Blackpool, as a Premier League club, don’t have under-soil heating. I believe this is something of a red herring. Blackpool had barely even got to grips with being a Championship set-up, so after promotion through the play-offs, there was a lot of catching up to do behind the scenes. To the club’s credit, getting Bloomfield Road up to Premier League standards in little over three months was a fine achievement.
With so many regulations to meet, anything not compulsory had to wait. For the time being, under-soil heating is one such optional facility. Should ‘Pool stay up this season then there is every chance that under-soil heating will be installed in the close season, but with a stand to construct, media facilities to fit-out and a new pitch to lay, there was simply no time in the summer for the luxury of under-soil heating.
Actual measures taken
Postponements for frost is not a new phenomenon at Bloomfield Road. The chill last season caused two consecutive postponements against West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday. The club drew strong criticism then, amplified by the fact non-league neighbours Fleetwood Town were able to fulfil their fixtures after investing in frost protection covers Blackpool did not own themselves. In the wake of those two postponements, frost covers were purchased, and according to the club have been deployed since the middle of last week.
With temperatures plummeting this week hot air blowers were brought in on Thursday and used throughout the night in an attempt to preserve the condition of the pitch. However further overnight frost on Thursday night resulted in yet more blowers being required on Friday morning. It seems as though this wasn’t enough though, with an afternoon inspection putting pay to hopes of the match taking place.
Needless to say, many Blackpool fans have been dismayed by the outcome, citing embarrassment at the postponement. With the fixture due to be screened on ESPN, and with no other Premier League games postponed at the time of writing, the full glare of media attention will be on Blackpool’s inability to provide a pitch fit for purpose. ‘Pool have been looked down on in many quarters this season, and this latest news is only likely to add fuel to the fire for those who turn their nose up at the thought of Blackpool being a top flight side.
Fans of the scheduled opponents are also having their say, with one prominent blog deeming it “not good enough”. Frankly their comments border on the ridiculous at times, with the suggestion that the game being called off could cost Man United the title being perhaps the most outlandish. One point they make is hard to disagree with though – the inconvenience to fans. No doubt this fixture was one of the first most ‘Pool fans looked for at the start of the season, with many people arranging their plans around it at significant cost in some cases. It’s inevitable some people will now miss out on the re-arranged fixture.
Was enough done?
The fact I’m even writing this article now indicates that not enough was done to ensure the game went ahead. Even ignoring the absence of under-soil heating, it looks as if the club were not proactive enough and did not have suitable contingency plans in place. After last year’s problems with back-to-back games being called off in December, one would hope it would encourage plans for winter to be firmly in place, particularly with cost not being quite the issue it previously was now Blackpool is a Premier League club.
Then again, can the club really be held to account for the adverse weather conditions? Contrary to the beliefs of some of his critics, Karl Oyston does not control the weather and he would surely have wanted the game to go ahead. The cold weather has set in far earlier and harsher than in recent years, so to some extent these are extenuating circumstances. That said, it’s not as if winter is unforeseeable, and at the level the club now finds itself, it should be prepared for all potential situations, however unlikely they may seem.
With another freezing winter on the cards, ‘Pool must act now to ensure this postponement is a one-off. Under-soil heating is not an option until next season, so the club must find other ways to avoid forthcoming home games suffering the same fate. I’m willing to reluctantly let the club off the hook for this postponement, but everything possible must be done ahead of the Spurs game on 19th December. The current frost covers are inadequate and a more advanced system must be looked at, and not left too late, as the hot-air blowers were on this occasion.
Life in the Premier League can be unforgiving, and once more ‘Pool’s off-the-field activities have made things difficult for themselves by being reactive rather than proactive.