Late postponement leaves Charlton fans seething in icy wastes

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The Independent Online

As snow sweeps across Britain, police have been going hoarse warning the public to travel only if the journey is strictly necessary, and for the true Charlton fan the 602-mile round-trip to Newcastle is of vital import. Unfortunately, at 7.20pm that fixture became last night's third Premiership match to be called off due to the weather.

Blackburn Rovers' match against Sunderland and Middlesbrough's game at Bolton fell victim to the adverse conditions, which also claimed 14 fixtures in the Football League.

Charlton fans leaving the A1 had believed all was well when the referee Mike Dean passed the pitch fit at 6.35pm, but the gridlocked, treacherously icy roads around St James' Park on their arrival signalled that problems lay ahead.

The playing surface was fine throughout the evening - Newcastle went out for an impromptu training session - but a dialogue between the club safety officer, police and Dean left the referee, who experienced the conditions first hand when walking from his hotel to the ground, with no choice but to stop the match from going ahead.

Dean said: "They could have taken the decision over but that's out of my hands. My jurisdiction is the green bit, and that was playable, it was no problem.

"When the safety says there's a problem outside, I can't say there isn't."

Charlton's fans, many of whom had been forced into driving and staying the night in the North-east due to the lack of a train late enough to return to London, illuminated radio phone-in switchboards.

Sunderland's woeful away form - they have lost seven of eight League matches on the road this season - escaped further examination at in-form Blackburn Rovers as the Ewood Park pitch was covered in a heavy frost and deemed unplayable.

The referee, Phil Dowd, inspected the pitch at 5pm and 5.30pm before calling a halt to proceedings before they had begun at 6.10pm.

Blackburn's managing director, Tom Finn, said that the club would carry out a "thorough investigation" into why the Ewood Park undersoil heating had failed. Sunderland's diehards were well into their 292-mile round trip. "We have never lost a home Premier League fixture to frost and we can only offer sincere apologies to all supporters, especially those who travelled down from the North-east," Finn said. "We now intend to carry out a full investigation of the heating system."

Sunderland fans may have caught up with their neighbours from Middlesbrough on the journey home, since the Boro faithful's trip to Lancashire was cancelled at 5pm.

Another faulty undersoil heating system was to blame, leaving parts of Bolton's Reebok Stadium pitch frozen solid.

Professor Derek Fraser, the chairman of the Independent Football Commission watchdog body, said clubs should not be held solely responsible. "We do have sympathy with fans travelling long distances only to learn the game has been called off... Unfortunately, the weather can be unpredictable."

Try telling that to the Torquay fans with a 500-mile round-trip to the postponed match at Stockport, or the poor Preston fan, whose 600 miles counted for nowt at Plymouth.

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