Paul Newman: 'Sincil Blanc' sums up what big freeze does to small clubs
The Football League Column: In Leagues One and Two only three out of 24 games beat the bad weather
Monday 06 December 2010
The gap between football's haves and have-nots can be measured in many ways. Transfer fees, players' wages, the size of squads, attendances, positions in the table and even the cut of the chairman's suit can all demonstrate the gulf between rich and poor.
Saturday's League programme provided another barometer: the ability to cope with extreme weather conditions. In the Premier League only Blackpool were forced to call off their fixture. In the Championship five of the 12 scheduled matches were postponed. In Leagues One and Two just three out of 24 games beat the freeze.
Undersoil heating and pitch covers can make a surface playable and large ground staffs can make stadiums safe for spectators, but it is not so easy when you do not have many pairs of hands at your disposal. Getting a pitch fit for match day is also only one part of the challenge at many smaller clubs. For those without the luxury of indoor training centres the sort of snowfall that struck last week brings an additional headache: where are the players going to practise?
Some of Britain's heaviest snow last week fell in Lincoln. The city's popular Christmas market, which was due to run from last Thursday until yesterday, was cancelled for the first time in 28 years. At nearby Louth 60 vehicles had to be rescued by police and a local farmer when they got stuck in the snow.
For Lincoln City and their manager, Steve Tilson, it was a week of frustration. Tilson, who left Southend United earlier this season after more than seven years at Roots Hall, replaced Chris Sutton less than two months ago and has been desperate to spend time working with his team. The Red Imps lie 20th in the League Two table, just three points off a relegation place, though Tilson's arrival sparked a mini-revival that produced three wins in a row last month.
With the club's training ground at Carlton Boulevard under several inches of snow, Tilson had hoped his squad could work on the artificial 3G pitch which Lincoln share with a neighbouring sports college. However, after starting to clear the snow on Tuesday it became clear the operation might damage the playing surface.
Instead Tilson and his players went to a local gymnasium, where they were at least able to do some physical work. It proved to be their only training session of the week, which probably meant it was just as well that Saturday's match at Cheltenham was called off because of a frozen pitch.
"It took one of the players four hours to come in on Tuesday when it normally takes just an hour and 15 minutes," Tilson said. "We didn't try to get the players in for anything after that. It's just too dangerous. You can't put the players at risk by asking them to make journeys like that.
"It makes things very hard. We just asked the players to get down to their local gyms if they could to do some cardio-vascular work to keep them ticking over. There's just nowhere for us to go where we can work on any patterns of play or anything like that. It's tough, though you do appreciate that a lot of other clubs will be in the same boat."
At Lincoln's Sincil Bank home – or Sincil Blanc as the club's website called it – there were days when only three staff made it into work and the offices shut at 3pm. After 14 inches of snow fell on the pitch it would now take a huge effort to save tomorrow's FA Cup replay at home to Hereford United. A severe frost was forecast last night and the temperature is not expected to rise above freezing today.
"We're probably fortunate in that we've only got one scheduled League game at home between now and Christmas, though we've got to hope the weather will have improved by then," John Vickers, the club's media manager, said.
"Gate revenue is our main source of income. We're playing Bradford City here on New Year's Day and we'd expect to get a crowd of up to 6,000. If the match was called off and rearranged for midweek we might get half that number."
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