Those of you who regularly digest my musings will know I find international match breaks profoundly tedious and frustrating so a week which ends with one (and rarely, the family Wilks were all due to go to Doncaster), preceded by a hugely disappointing postponement (on several levels) would be bad enough without an early booking for a trip to Scotland before the fixture was beggared about with rendering me unable to get to the Bradford City home game next Thursday evening.
Shrewsbury’s midweek failure to take maximum points off Northampton – not a situation we are unfamiliar with – lifted the slight mist of apprehension which their win whilst we were inactive on Saturday precipitated and while nobody really believes that anyone is going to take maximum points from nine or thirteen games or whatever, our destiny is at least for a couple of days and highly theoretically “in our own hands” as they say.
Of course it always has been really, although as has been calculated by those far more obsessed with such stats than me, someone could end up third in League One with a record number of points for a team missing out on automatic promotion.
At least we know that we go up if we win every game yet there’s still a way we could actually go up without getting another point and drawing three play-off matches. As we all know, it will be something in between
Travelling supporters had plenty of time to do their calculations coming home from Gillingham, where, scandalously, the match was called off unacceptably late after many had arrived perfectly safely to snow-free streets with the pitch (evidently) perfectly playable.
I’ve heard many theories about why the game was called off – and the official statement from Gillingham certainly raised more questions than any answers it supplied – but the essential kernel of the cause of widespread chagrin among Rovers’ fans is this: there can’t possibly have been any material change or deterioration between say, 8am or 9am (a reasonable if not ideal time to call the game off, Friday afternoon would have been better) and 11.30am in the state of the playing conditions or, what seems to have been the greater problem, in the state of the temporary “18th green at the Open” unroofed structure which was designated to accommodate the 1000 plus Rovers fans who had bought tickets augmented by many who intended turning up and paying at the gate.
I suppose Gillingham have every right not to build a permanent stand if they are close to agreeing a deal to erect a new ground as they say and we’ve seen temporary accommodation before – Bristol Rovers at Twerton Park sat us in such a distinctly inhospitable construct and cover over away fans’ heads everywhere is a relatively recent and luxurious concept.
But with Rovers always likely to bring a bigger contingent than they are accustomed to, if there was any hope of accommodating them properly surely some shovelling and salting needed doing on Friday and early on Saturday, never mind appealing for a handful of volunteers to get the covers off. It was a crucial clash with the League One leaders and their smattering of international footballers, not Lowerhouse Seconds versus a Fulwood and Broughton XI in a pre-season cricket friendly.
Gillingham’s statement read: “Following an inspection by the match referee, despite the pitch being potentially playable, the amount of snow that has fallen has caused a health and safety concern for all supporters.
“In addition more severe weather is expected before 3pm and the club wanted to make a decision at the earliest possible opportunity to inconvenience as few people as possible.”
Gillingham added that Blackburn said in a statement that, “whilst the pitch was playable, heavy snowfall had caused a health and safety concern for supporters inside the stadium.”
Although some Rovers fans have pointed out that there were puddles on the approach to the stand, and deduced that any snow covering the seats, stairs and boards could well have melted, Kent Online’s photographs of the stand taken by Andy Jones purport to show the structure still snow-bound after the postponement. Fair enough.
But if they were covered with no prospect of being cleared at close to noon, they were covered on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning too. It was completely in contradiction of the avowed intention “to inconvenience as few people as possible” to leave the decision until Lancastrians were in the environs or very much on the way.
My pal John’s theory is that the powers that be – and just who has the power in this case is debatable, host club, council safety jobsworths, ref, whoever – had panicked about the amber weather warning which proved inaccurate as Medway remained snow free all afternoon.
“I just think they thought they’d have 1500 away supporters stranded in the area who they couldn’t get rid of if roads were blocked and trains cancelled, “ he said, “but that warning was in place from Friday onwards.”
Mystery surrounds the referee Trevor Kettle’s part in proceedings too. It seems he didn’t arrive at Priestfield until 11am, which seems a dereliction of duty and responsibility. That neither he or a local qualified ref was on hand earlier was amateurish in extremis.
I spoke to the EFL’s press officer, Rob Meaden, for his observations but although he was as helpful and obliging as he could be, he was totally unaware of the circumstances – most media lazily and wrongly attributed the postponement to “Pitch frozen” – until I explained them to him. I’ve asked him to look into it and sent him a few pertinent questions but at time of going to press not received a reply. Hopefully he’s making a few phone calls.
The EFL were, of course, fully aware of Neil Warnock’s incendiary remarks given with all his Iago-like sneering innuendo, live on air to Sky Sports News not long after the Derby v Cardiff Championship match was called off in similarly mysterious circumstances on Sunday.
There’s going to be a bit of an investigation into that. Attention seeking sometimes works.
It’s just not Rovers’, or Mowbray’s, style to manipulate a situation to mix anyone a bottle like that and I personally think that’s a more dignified and measured stance but Rovers wonderful travelling legion deserve a better explanation than they’ve had…and at least the offer of a free bus to Kent on the revised date of 10 April.
There were some poignant tales. One fan had flown in from the USA, a bunch of Dutch lads turned up and I read a perfectly reasoned and sensible account by one expat fellow who had also travelled from the Netherlands with his son, monitoring every forecast and warning and listening out for news of any problem, took a late tunnel crossing to Folkestone and emerged at the other end to the crushing news.
Their only consolation was the chance to stock up on English crumpets and tins of mushy peas in a local Sainsburys before forking out £35 for the privilege of returning on an earlier than scheduled crossing.
Some made it back on the coaches to boost the gate at Accrington Stanley. They’d get a warmer welcome than the Accy Branch of Rovers Supporters did in 1980 when we rolled up at Ayresome Park after a postponement – “Just one in the whole of England and Scotland today, at St James Park…” read James Alexander Gordon on the radio the instant we parked up in Newcastle. The Boro fans were unimpressed by our presence on their manor for the alternative entertainment of their First Division clash with Aston Villa. My wife, then 16, and her mate Andrea refused to squander their weekly Rovers spending money on such a frippery and sat on the bus from 2.30pm till five as we endured an uncomfortable afternoon being scowled at menacingly by Teesiders.
What it all now means is at the very business end of the season, we face a month of April in which we play seven games in 26 days, five of them away from home. That’s a tough three and a bit weeks for anyone. Wigan fans may think it’s just a bit of karma after we all assured ourselves that their busy schedule would hamper them.
It’s imperative that our internationals return for the Thursday game fresh and fit. Surely Scotland’s new manager Alex McLeish knows all he needs to know about Charlie Mulgrew without asking him to play in Budapest on Tuesday?
Sorry I won’t be with you on Thursday, our daughters will be though. Hopefully Wigan or Shrewsbury might have had another stumble before we welcome Simon Grayson and his team.
I did manage a bit of football on Tuesday night as I emerged from hibernation after a few months to return to Leyland and see the Under-23s beat Southampton 1-0, a scrappy game getting scrappier before Jack Evans produced a stunning winner in the dying minutes.
Nobody particularly sparkled although centre-half Tyler Magloire did well.
Greatest disappointment of course is that we won’t be seeing Harry Chapman again anytime soon, possibly not ever in our shirt, after the unfortunate recurrence of his hamstring injury just minutes into his comeback game at Villa. Similar problems did for Adam Henley’s career in English football so we hope it was maybe just a week or two too soon for Harry rather than an insurmountable weakness.
Harry was certainly as exciting a young player and prospect as we’ve seen since Duffer burst onto the scene and I’m sure we all wish him nothing but well as he goes back to square one and attempts to start over, wherever he ends up.
The little starman’s energy and verve certainly injected a little bit of sassy and outrageous glam-rock into what was looking like a dull, plodding meat-and potatoes blues-rock kind of season when even the likes of Dack and Graham hadn’t quite kicked in.
Hang onto yourself, Harry.
(Dutch Rovers fans contemplate a fruitless voyage)