1962: THE BIG FREEZE

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Recent mild winters, improved pitches and under-soil heating have virtually eliminated the threat of widespread disruption of the football programme, but three days before Christmas in 1962 the prevailing, comparatively warm, winds from across the Atlantic changed to biting gusts from the North-east.

By the New Year almost the whole of northern Europe was under snow and in Britain football's biggest disruption had begun. Some matches continued to be played but on pitches that were largely frozen and often only soft in the few square yards warmed by hot-air machines. Even those games that were allowed to go on were played on pitches surrounded by banks of snow, and often matches were put off because the terraces were more like glaciers. The intense cold made everyone irritable, not least t he frustrated players.

This frozen season was eventually to become one of special significance. It was the term in which Tottenham became the first British team to win a European trophy (the Cup-Winners' Cup) but also the one in which many regretted that in the depths of this bleak winter the Spurs groundstaff managed to clear the pitch sufficiently to allow the FA Cup third-round tie against Burnley to go ahead. Burnley were the team Spurs had beaten in the previous season's Cup final. It is recalled as one of the most savage games played at White Hart Lane. Revenge and the chill of the day became an iced cocktail.

Spurs lost 3-0 and Danny Blanchflower was one of those who said the pitch and numbing conditions contributed to the most aggressive game of his whole career. Perhaps, though, it prepared Spurs for their Cup- winners' Cup-tie in Bratislava which was played in the snow. Although they lost 2-0, they won the return leg 6-0 and eventually beat Atletico Madrid in the final. Over most of Europe Christmas Day had been white. In England the first severe frost had come on 22 December and the first frost-free night was not until 5 March. For much of the time football was more or less out of the question, especially around Christmas. Over the whole icy period over 400 league and cup games in England, Wales and Scotland were postponed and the English season had to be extended to the end of May. On one day alone (9 February), 57 English and Scottish league games were called off, and only seven were completed.

Some FA Cup matches were postponed time and again. The non-League, part-timers Gravesend and Northfleet, from Kent, who in spite of being used as an unofficial nursery club by Arsenal had never progressed beyond the first round, were drawn away to Carlisle United in the third round. The tie was postponed six times, by which time it was known that the winners would meet Sunderland. Gravesend won at Carlisle but lost in a replay to Sunderland.

For professional players the long freeze was a time of boredom. Few clubs had indoor facilities and training grounds were frozen. Hot-air blowers and braziers were hired, but without much success. Jimmy Armfield, then at Blackpool, recalls that he and the club's goalkeeper, Tony Waiters, would try to get the pitch ready for the next game and keep fit at the same time by skating from one end of the Bloomfield Road pitch to the other.

When in March most of the country thought the freeze would never end, clubs began to get desperate. Groundsmen were convinced that their pitches would take years to recover and people came up with ever more eccentric ideas to allow their teams to resume playing. The most bizarre was that of the Doncaster Rovers trainer Wally Ardron who wrote to Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester asking how it was that Polar bears never seemed to have difficulty standing up on ice. Could it be, he asked, that the fur around their feet had some special property that stopped them slipping. If so, he said, could he have some to glue on to his players' boots. Belle Vue thought he was joking.

Comments