How many football matches were postponed over the festive period because of viruses and injuries? Quite a few is the answer. If you think that was bad, let us take you back to a time, 59 years ago to be precise, when football’s calendar was even more of a cancellation mess…
January 5th, 1963
The winter of the Big Freeze, 1962-63, was by far one of the coldest since records began in the United Kingdom. According to the CET record, which I am sure you know stands for Central English Temperature, only the winters of 83-84 and 39-40 were colder. That’s 1683-84 and 1739-40, these records go back a few years.
Naturally, this had a little bit of an impact on the football fixtures – and football fans across the nation were aghast as the FA Cup 3rd Round, scheduled for the 5th day of the new year was decimated. Just three out of the 32 ties went ahead – the last one standing finally being completed on March 11th.
Lincoln City vs Coventry City was the most affected – clocking up 15 reschedules before finally getting the game done. 14 other matches made 10 or more attempts to get the game on before it was finally played.
Incredibly, Bolton Wanderers (then a top team in the country) didn’t play a match between December 8th and February 16th.
Of course, this was long before the days of undersoil heating and matches being played on veritable carpets, no matter what the weather. All kinds of creative solutions were tried to get the matches on – flame throwers, tar burners and braziers (I admit, I have no idea what this last one is) were the order of the day but more often than not, just getting the pitch playable didn’t solve the issue of the terraces and getting to the ground.
The Football Pools was a big thing of the time and their pockets were getting hit – the Big Freeze saw the Pools Panel come into place for the very first time. Ted Drake, Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton and George Young – not the worst lineup you could imagine – were joined by former referee Arthur Ellis to judge what they felt a result would have been. Early VAR? Well, kind of.
Teams took the opportunity to head anywhere they could just to stay in shape. Jimmy Hill, always one for finding different ways to make football appealing and make a bit more cash out of it, took Coventry over to Ireland to play Wolves and Man United in front of bigger crowds then they might have got at home.
It even benefitted some clubs – Fulham were in a horrible rut before the freeze and once the thaw came they went on a fine unbeaten run and staved off relegation.
Others were not so lucky – Brighton’s attempts to get their pitch playable using a tarmacking firm saw their playing surface ruined and they ended up going down.
Brian Clough’s life changed during the freeze – Sunderland played Bury at a freezing Roker Park, in a game that nobody would have complained too much had it been called off. Sleet and snow made the pitch dangerous to say the least and when Clough was put through he collided with the Bury keeper and saw his knee injured so badly it finished his playing career.
Eventually, Middlesbrough got the better of Blackburn Rovers in a replay at Ayresome Park on March 11th, drawing a final line in the snow under that season’s 3rd Round ‘weekend’. 66 days of chaos were finally at an end.