Winter bites into new year action

Mercury moves in opposite directions for England's premier sportsmen
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The Independent Online
Nearly a quarter of a million football supporters in England will have to find something else to do today after the cold and snow bit deep into the New Year's Day programme.

Two Premiership games have already been postponed - Leicester's match against Tottenham and Derby's fixture with Sheffield Wednesday. The Nationwide League programme has been severely disrupted, as has the Scottish League. Motherwell's match against Kilmarnock became the first Premier Division casualty north of the border and in the Second Division only Livingston's match with Berwick remains.

Derby's game was called off on police advice, with manager Jim Smith saying: "There is no problem with the pitch but the approach roads to the ground are treacherous. It was in the interest of the fans to call the game off."

The Nationwide League top-of-the-table game between Sheffield United and Wolves was one of a number of matches in the First Division that has fallen victim. West Brom fans, however, are being given the chance to watch the home game against Tranmere Rovers for free if they help to clear a snow-covered Hawthorns. Supporters are being asked to bring along shovels, snowboards and brushes from 9am as the pitch covers and most of the surrounds are under a blanket of snow.

On the day that Coventry City announced that they are planning to install a new pounds 300,000 undersoil heating system this summer, the flood of postponements is bound to fuel the debate about a winter break. John Barnwell, chief executive of the League Managers Association, said: "People say it is time to grasp the nettle and consider a winter break. But I don't think the situation is as clear cut as it was years ago.

"Many football clubs are now plcs and, when you're a corporate business, you are affected by market forces. The Christmas period is a big money- spinner. I doubt if the finance experts at the big clubs, who have a major voice, would like to give up that revenue. The feeling among our members is that there should be some kind of a break."

One of the most attractive rugby union fixtures in Wales, Llanelli's match against Italy, has been called off. In rugby league, the friendlies between Dewsbury and Batley and Keighley and Huddersfield have been re- arranged for Sunday.

Of the seven race meetings scheduled for today, only Southwell's all- weather track has escaped, so far.

Fixtures, page 16