Tonight’s FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifying match between Poland and England has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Nothing wrong with that, in exceptional circumstances – and clearly the quite epic rain in Warsaw was exceptional – these things happen. And yet certain parties involved in tonight’s postponement have made a total pig’s ear of the battle against the downpour.
The National Stadium in Warsaw has a roof, which is the key fact in tonight’s disgraceful developments. We live in a world where weather forecasting is so accurate that it boggles my tiny brain, and the authorities in Poland knew the rain was on its way. The only reason not to have closed the roof would have been if both teams chose not to, and if the rain was not expected to be heavy. For a match of this magnitude, which such a distance traveled by the visiting team and supporters, even that isn’t easily justifiable.
If it’s going to rain, shut the roof. You know, just in case. What harm can it do?
The window of opportunity closed far more quickly. Quite understandably it is difficult to close the roof in heavy rain and high winds – I’m not an expert in such matters, but presumably there is a reason why it’s not fully automatic and that’s fair enough. But by the time ITV’s coverage began it was clear from the television pictures alone that the match would not go ahead. There was a pitch inspection at kick-off time, after which the postponement should (in my opinion) have been announced and the negotiations about a rearranged fixture should have begun.
FIFA regulations may have dictated what happened next, but it’s still ridiculous. With the roof unable to be closed, the rain continuing and the pitch still sodden, everyone waited. They gave it a chance, as if they were just looking for a giant plug under the pitch and simply had to yank it from its hole.
The game was finally called off the best part of an hour after the original kick-off time and the rearrangement announcement was mercifully swift. The match will now be played at 4pm UK time tomorrow.
The whole evening appears to have been a total shambles, and it is my view that questions must be asked of both FIFA and the Polish officials. Rain happens, but when there is a retractable roof on the stadium it is downright incompetent to not have it closed when inclement weather is forecast. Not all grounds can have a roof, but in a stadium that does there should never be a rain postponement. Right now, in the heat of the moment, I’m not a million miles from trying to argue that England should be awarded the win.
You can bet that one or two Premier League clubs had their lawyers primed, and the same clubs will be preparing the lost day as an excuse for defeat at the weekend. But the real losers – and isn’t this the case every single time something goes wrong in football? – are the supporters. Both English and Polish fans traveled enormous distances for this fixture, booked hotels and flights, and will now miss out. That’s the real issue.