The weather played havoc with the fixtures at all levels of the game over the weekend leaving players, fans and match officials frustrated that their weekly dose of football was cancelled.

It also made life difficult for many referees, having to make those treacherous journeys to and from the grounds, often to make inspections to determine if the game can go ahead.

I can recall during my active career receiving several late Friday night telephone calls, requesting a 7am Saturday morning inspection.

One such call came from Grimsby Town then in the Football League Division Two.
Sheffield, where I lived, had already received a light covering of snow so I made a call to a local hotel in Cleethorpes booked a room and set off driving the seventy miles without seeing any other car.

No motorways then so it meant driving carefully to ensure that I safely reached my destination.

I was at the ground at 6.30am on Saturday morning and to my amazement walking through the unlocked door at the back of the stadium I saw the groundsman working on the pitch.

It was covered in snow a couple of inches thick and it looked an easy task for me to liaise with the Football League office and to inform them the game would not be going ahead.

I was greeted however by a warm handshake from Groundsman Frank Bridge, a real character and someone I got to know well over several years of officiating at the same ground.

He informed me that Crystal Palace their opponents had travelled up to Cleethorpes by train and were in a local hotel aptly named The Lifeboat.

Frank offered to make me a pot of tea and suggested that I hang around whilst he took a closer look at his pitch.

I was amazed when Frank said to me that he thought that he could get the match on. He put up a convincing argument.

We started rolling out oil drums punched with holes and then getting fires started in each one of them with the aid of Frank’s special bottle of liquid that smelled a little bit like petrol.

He had about a dozen oil drums which were placed around each penalty area and you could see them having a positive effect on turning the snow to water.

I made contact with Crystal Palace and the Football League to advise them that an inspection on the state of the pitch would be made at 10am and that there might be a small chance of the game going ahead.

The secretary of Crystal Palace said that he and the manager would like to be in attendance when any decision would be made.

He advised me that the travelling away supporters would mainly be travelling by train leaving London at 10.30am.

Frank Bridge amazed me by stating very early that morning, that when the tide changed, the temperature would rise and he was certain the game would go ahead.

Frankly I thought he was mad and so did Crystal Palace when I spoke to them on the phone, remember they were in a hotel less than a mile from the ground.

At 9am the Club Secretary of Grimsby Town put a call out for volunteers and around one hundred turned up and were given the task of clearing areas near the turnstiles and some standing areas inside the stadium to ensure spectators were safe.

The local builders merchant J R Mitchell’s entire stock of shovels, brushes etc was delivered to the ground and immediately put to good use. I knew Mitchell’s well they were one of my distributors of Henderson Garage doors.

At 10am I took a ball out into the field and kicked it around for a few minutes. With both team managers joining me on the pitch along with Frank Bridge we were in agreement that the game could go ahead but we all knew that there was still a lot of work to do by Frank and his team of volunteers.

Five minutes before kick off I pressed the buzzer in my changing rooms to get the players out onto the pitch.

Yes I remember that day vividly and recognised how important the groundsman is in football. Frank was at the head of the tunnel leaning on a shovel looking shattered after putting in a great deal of physical effort.

He became a friend after that game and even after his retirement we would chat on the phone and when I refereed at Grimsby I would invite him along as my guest.

So this weekend I am sure that referees like Martin Atkinson who lives near Leeds will have made that difficult journey to Swansea City on Friday evening to ensure that he was close to the ground, if required to make an early inspection.

With under soil heating his task of determining that the game goes ahead is made easier. However he and his colleagues still had to endure a difficult drive to Wales. Martin produced another terrific performance and is having the best season of his career.

Incidentally I can remember calling a game off at Aston Villa because of a frozen pitch and being confronted by a chef asking me what he was going to do with several hundred steaks he had prepared.

When I suggested that mine was medium rare it was something I realised I should not have said. The chef was far from pleased.


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