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News & Comment

Football matches called off due to poor weather as rain and snow batters England


Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Russia has fallen foul of the weather for the second time in 24 hours, with hostile conditions rendering Windsor Park unplayable.

The Group F clash was initially due to take place last night but heavy snow and plummetting temperatures in Belfast saw the fixture postponed after three inspections by Norwegian referee Tom Hagen and the FIFA delegation.

A revised kick-off time of 3pm today was set but with no let-up from the elements the referee decided to cancel the fixture, which will now need to be fitted in elsewhere in the limited international calendar.

Conditions in the Northern Irish capital were arguably even worse last night, with city centre power cuts adding to the problems.

Officials, including representatives from both associations, met again at 10am and the decision was made an hour later.

Today's domestic football programme was also suffering at the hands of the weather this morning as a number of matches were called off.

With large parts of the country hit by the snow, Sheffield United set the trend when they were forced to abandon their fourth-versus-second npower League One clash against Brentford.

Following that, Shrewsbury's meeting with Oldham was postponed, while in League Two the games at Rotherham (v Exeter), Burton (v Wycombe), Chesterfield (v Plymouth), Crawley (v Crewe) and Port Vale (v Aldershot) all went the same way.

Rochdale's meeting with Southend was the next to fall foul of the elements, with the club citing safety concerns on their official Twitter feed.

North of the border games between Elgin and Clyde and Annan and Queen's Park were wiped out.

Elsewhere in South Yorkshire, the race meeting at Doncaster was abandoned for the same reason.

The fixture was due to feature the first major event of the flat season, the William Hill Lincoln, but clerk of the course Roderick Duncan called off the card following a 6am inspection.

He said: "We have had about two to three inches of snow overnight and it's still falling now.

"Daytime temperatures are forecast to stay at or below freezing and further snow is forecast today.

"The meeting will now switch to next Saturday (March 30) after contingency plans to transfer the meeting were agreed on Thursday."

The meeting at Newbury was the next to go, with the fixture abandoned because of snow.

Clerk of the course Richard Osgood found the track fit to race on first inspection this morning, but called a further check for 10am as snow was starting to fall.

He reported the snow to be falling heavily and the course unraceable.

Osgood said: "We have had to call it off. We've taken a lot more snow than we expected and it's still coming down now."All we can see right now is snow and the course is unraceable."

Tomorrow's race meeting at Wincanton, though, was given the go-ahead.

"We have just showers forecast today and tomorrow now and we are not planning any further inspections," said clerk of the course Barry Johnson.

"However, we will be keeping an eye on the weather as it is snowing at Newbury and while that is not forecast to get as far as us, we will be monitoring the weather."

Super League side London had good news, though, saying their home game with Hull would go ahead, with the visitors have stalled their journey at Tibshelf services as they awaited an update on a sodden pitch.

In Northern Ireland, IFA head of communications Geoff Wilson told Press Association Sport: "We are very disappointed the game has had to be postponed again and every effort was made to ensure the game went ahead today.

"Unfortunately that has not been possible. When the snow was lifted it became apparent that cold temperatures had led to ice forming on the pitch and the safety of players was an issue.

"We will now have to sit down with our counterparts from the Russian Federations and decide when we can stage the fixture."

While those behind the scenes will attempt to find a mutually acceptable window for that match, the attention of manager Michael O'Neill and his players will turn to Tuesday's clash against Israel.

That game would surely have been cast into doubt had any match been possible this weekend - with Windsor Park highly unlikely to cope with two games in four days.

As for Russia, they will depart Northern Ireland this afternoon for London, where they are due to play Brazil in a glamour friendly at Stamford Bridge.

The IFA may come under some criticism for failing to arrange for covers to be made available at the ground, though staff members did do their best to battle the elements.

Dozens of employees, up to an including IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson, were shovelling snow from the pitch yesterday and efforts were under way to get fans involved just minutes before Hagen and his team confirmed the game would not be going ahead.

A statement issued via social media read: "Calling all NI fans...please come to Windsor Park and help clear snow from the pitch.

"Bring shovels. Game is still in doubt however the referee wants to assess the whole pitch."

Subsequent messages through the same outlets then told supporters to stand down.

A subsequent message added: "We realise that the request for help was quickly followed by the official postponement, but it was the referee's decision due to the ice."