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Pitches fit or unfit? What are your thoughts


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League Chairman Dave Tomlinson believes it is now time for the FA to clarifythe

procedures that match officials should follow when calling games off. A number

of clubs have reported in recent weeks that games have been postponed when, in

the view of club officials, the pitch would have been playable. As a result,

there appears to be growing confusion surrounding the procedures which shouldbe

followed where match postponements are concerned. A number of the members ofthe

League Management Committee are former referees, three of whom - John Cowley,

Mike Darby, and Geoff Wilkinson - achieved Football League status as match

officials. Dave says the general view being expressed is that the FA needs to

take action to clarify what appear to be grey areas in the rules surrounding



Dave explained: "In the past few weeks alone, we have had three gamespostponed

by the match referee on his arrival at the ground, after the pitches inquestion

had passed morning inspections. Only last week the FA issued a new directive

with regard to postponements, which put particular emphasis on a number of

existing procedures which are in place. One of these is that, if a pitch has

passed a morning pitch inspection, the match referee should only postpone the

game on his arrival at the ground in what is deemed to be extremecircumstances,

and even then, the decision should only be taken after consultation with the

groundsman and other club officials. We had hoped that this new directive would

improve the situation, but on Saturday I turned up at a ground with my

colleagues John Deal and Geoff Wilkinson from the League Management Committee,

only to find that the game had been called off by the match referee shortly

after his arrival at the ground. As League Officers, we felt we had to support

the referee on the day, but we made a point of speaking to the referee to

discuss the decision with him, as the afternoon was fine and sunny, the pitch

was free from ice or frost and was not waterlogged. We pointed out that the

conditions would have been much the same at the time the morning inspection was

carried out in comparison to the time when the referee made his decision. We

also made the point that the new directive clearly stated that a match referee

should only call a game off in extreme circumstances, if a pitch has passed a

morning inspection. The referee, along with his two assistants, stated that

they had not received details of the new directive, which had been widely

circulated by the FA following a Contributory Leagues meeting on the 11th

February. This is clearly not their fault, and it is concerning that they are

being put in a position where they are making decisions about postponements

without being aware of the current rules that should be adhered to. At the end

of the day, a referee could be sued if anything untoward were to happen duringa

game, so he needs to be given as much support as possible when making a

decision. In turn, we as League officials need to be fully aware of what rules

the match officials are working to, in order that we can support them in making

what can be at times difficult decisions".


Dave was accompanied last weekend by League Development Officer GeoffWilkinson,

who believes that the decision to postpone a game must be made after playing

considerations have been taken into account. "It was disappointing onSaturday

that the officials did not even bother to try to kick a ball on the pitch,after

all, that is part of the directive for inspecting the playing surface. If I

could kick a ball in flat shoes across the centre circle in flat shoes, even at

my age, what should fit players be capable of doing? Also while we were there,

a gentleman who had a walking stick managed to walk to the centre circle and

back in flat shoes without any problems. Last week Vince Cable (the Liberal

Democrat MP and Treasury spokesman) when interviewed described the country as

going over zealous regarding health and safety. Yes, we have a responsibility

to ensure safety, but how many bad tackles, over the top, do we see on the

Premiership every week, and look at the surfaces they play on. Players very

rarely go over on ankles on soft grounds, the vast majority take place on hard

surfaces. The game is all about opinions, after all we watched a Premier League

game at Wigan on Sunday where the pitch was questionable to say theleast".


Registrations Secretary John Cowley remains involved in refereeing as a

referees' assessor at games from the Blue Square Premier down to Step 5 level.

He says that general guidelines to be followed by match officials when carrying

out pitch inspections have been in place for a number of years. "My

understanding of the way the procedure should work is that the pitch inspector

should liaise with the match referee. He is the one who decides over the phone,

from the information given, whether or not the game should go ahead. The match

referee, on arrival at the ground needs to consider the fact that everyone has

travelled because of the two decisions above made, and therefore every attempt

should be made to play the game, after ensuring that everyone has been fully

consulted. The groundsman will be the best to tell you how the pitch willreact,

once you have established that it doesn't matter how long it takes him to put

the pitch right afterwards - that is the groundsman's responsibility - but how

it will react on the day. The referee should see players kicking a ball on the

pitch, ask them what they feel are the danger areas if any, and get a feel for

whether or not they feel they could play. Then discuss their comments with the

managers/secretaries before making up his mind. A referee needs to makesure set

procedures are followed before he makes a decision, and when he does, he needs

to make sure it is an informed decision".


Dave Tomlinson says that the Management Committee believes that the criteriafor

carrying out pitch inspections needs to formalised, to ensure a more consistent

approach being applied by match officials. It seems clear that the decision

making process surrounding pitch inspections and the postponement of gamesneeds

to be looked at, even to the point of the referee having a checklist of actions

and checks to carry out. It seems that the current procedure is too vague and

open to individual interpretation, and it seems that many officials are being

far too over cautious when taking a decision to call a game off. If a match

official calls a game off, the club officials are left with the cost of unsold

food, drink, programmes and raffle tickets, to say nothing of the many tasks

that club volunteers will have carried out during the morning and the wasted

journeys that will have been undertaken by supporters and the opposition. You

could say that person who makes the decision to call a game off is the person

least inconvenienced by that decision. The League Management Committee exists

to represent the views of its member clubs, and to make appropriate

representation to the FA if we believe that decisions are being taken under FA

guidelines that are not in the best interests of our clubs. We are therefore

not prepared to sit back and listen to club officials telling us that theirgame

has been postponed for reason they believe are petty and spurious, without

trying to do something about it. However, we also want to be in a positionwhere

we can support match officials involved in making decisions about whether a

pitch is playable, and give them the support they deserve. The only way we can

do that is to have a clear set of guidelines that everyone agrees have been

adhered to when pitch inspections are carried out. We never appeared to have

these problems when the training and full control of referees was under the

control of individual leagues, and you do wonder if addressing these types of

training and guidance issues is now the responsibility of FA officials who have

too many other duties to perform at the same time. It is our belief that the FA

must act to remove some of the grey areas that exist in relation to pitch

inspections, and examine more closely both the instructions that are issued to

match officials, and the way that they are being implemented".


What do you think? Should we return to the days of pitches being mud baths in

winter, where the ball keeps getting stuck and passing football is impossible?

(For people of a certain age, think of Derby County's Baseball Ground on Match

Of The Day in the 1970s). Or are today's match officials getting it right by

insisting that pitches must be in good condition at all times?

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