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Inaction leaves games called off at the eleventh hour

If there’s one type of weather condition the British should be able to deal with, it’s rain and wind – except when there’s a threat to life warning attached.

There’s a storm coming…

Storm Ciara didn’t sneak up on the UK and take the country by surprise, there were plenty of warnings about the weather and impact to travel issued yesterday with forecasts of winds in excess of 60mph predicted across the entire country. The news and increased warnings lead the FA Women’s National League to call all matches this weekend off giving all those involved, ample warning.

It’s true that the lower down the pyramid you go, the less pitches are likely to hold up to increased rainfall and teams will be hit harder by extra travel costs incurred. Calling matches off before any team has set off for an away fixture certainly helps a in a cash-poor league. But what of the full-time and semi-professional top two tiers? They would be facing the same inclement weather, the same violent winds…

By Saturday night fans and members of the press intending to travel the next day watched as their trains were cancelled, flights and ferry crossings going down at the same rate. The message was clear: don’t travel unless it’s a necessity. Yet, the matches in the Championship and WSL were still all scheduled to go ahead, pitches would be inspected the next morning and decisions would be made as soon as possible on the day of the games.

Up and down the country, teams sat in hotels, they had already travelled and whether they played or not, they would be facing coach journeys back around the country in the torrential rain and fierce wind.

The fixtures fell like dominoes, first Coventry United vs Blackburn Rovers then another and another until the entire Championship was at a standstill as WSL postponements filtered through. Manchester United’s clash with Chelsea – due to kick off at 4.30pm and air on BT Sport – the last of the 11 to give up the ghost. Around the country, teams began their trips home as did any fans who had already started their travel and the Met Office had put out a “danger to life” warning for the severity of the storm.

Whilst it wouldn’t necessarily have been easy to predict every match getting called off, there would have been enough information for The Football Association to make the call yesterday before people travelled. It’s easy to imagine teams were desperate to make fixtures happen, the sell-out North London Derby and 20,000+ fans expected at Goodison Park enough for some to cross their fingers a little tighter.

It’s clear that safety was the main concern involved, each football match would have drawn a crowd of varying size, but it would have required the players to travel (even locally), the backroom staff on both sides, media personnel, officials and stewards. Even the most modest of matches would have asked 100s of people to travel, fans with a choice, players and those employed by the club without.

With 10 postponements over the two leagues so far this season, it’s understandable – with little space for the backlog of fixtures to be played – that, more than usual, the powers that be would try to make the matches happen today but ultimately the weather won. Yet there was an inevitability about watching one cancellation announcement follow another on Twitter this morning.

With teams who travelled out of pocket and fans (and teams) having to travel home in dangerous conditions we really have to ask, did it need to be this way? Maybe Ciara would have angrily swept over the country and caused postponements to some, but not all, of today’s matches but was it worth the risk? With every company telling people not to travel and to stay indoors for their own safety, would it not have been prudent for those in charge to have made the call yesterday, for the safety of all involved, and preemptively cancelled all of today’s WSL and Championship matches?

The cliché is that hindsight is 20/20, however there is little said about foresight.

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