Postponement farce shows women's football still has a LONG WAY to go

KATHRYN BATTE: Farcical Chelsea vs Liverpool postponement shows women’s football still has a LONG WAY to go… player safety should always be the priority, but the 22 professionals who stepped out on to the pitch were put at risk

  • Chelsea’s WSL home clash with Liverpool was abandoned after just six minutes 
  • The frozen pitch was deemed unsafe despite it passing a pre-match inspection
  • Women’s football has made huge progress in the last year, but this was a farce 

For all the progress women’s football has made in the last year, the farcical scenes at Kingsmeadow on Sunday demonstrated how far the game still has to go.

The Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Liverpool was allowed to kick-off despite it being clear the pitch was unsafe and dangerous. After six minutes, referee Neil Hair abandoned the game – but that decision came far too late.

Player safety should always be the priority but the 22 professionals who stepped on the pitch were put at risk.

The farcical Chelsea vs Liverpool postponement in the WSL on Sunday after just six minutes shows that despite all of its recent progress, women’s football still has a long way to go

The conditions of the pitch were deemed unsafe despite an inspection earlier in the day

Hair had deemed the pitch unplayable upon first inspection at 9.30am but there was optimism that the heat blowers and covers Chelsea had installed would make enough of a difference for the game to go ahead at 12.30pm.

Hair later decided the pitch was playable, despite there being ice on the touchline and in front of the dugouts. The inspection and removal of the covers delayed the warm-ups of both teams but kick-off was not put back to compensate.

There was understandably a desire on Chelsea’s part for the game to go ahead given they have a more hectic schedule caused by Champions League football. But the decision is not up to clubs or managers, it is the responsibility of the referee. On this occasion, he made the wrong choice.

Referee Neil Hair (centre) deemed the pitch playable before quickly calling off the WSL clash

Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert grazed her leg on the frozen pitch while putting in a tackle earlier on in the game

It was clear from the first whistle that the conditions were not acceptable. Players were slipping and sliding all over the place. Chelsea’s Niamh Charles fell over, tried to get up, then fell over again. There were seven instances of players falling before Hair stopped the game. The final action saw Erin Cuthbert take a heavy fall, at which point both captains raised concerns to the referee. Luckily, no players were seriously injured.

Officially, the pitch was deemed playable after the warm-ups but deteriorated once all of the covers and heaters had been removed and after six minutes, it was decided the surface was unsafe.

Hair is not an inexperienced official. He has taken charge of over 200 matches including 53 in League One and 54 in League Two. He surely knows when a pitch is playable and when it is not. But the idea that the surface deteriorated so dramatically in the six minutes between kick-off and the abandonment of the match is hard to believe and contradicts the assertion from Liverpool that the pitch was not playable at any point.

Ground staff used heat blowers and covers in an attempt to make sure the pitch was playable

Liverpool boss Matt Beard slammed the decision, saying the game ‘should never have started’

Liverpool boss Matt Beard insisted the surface was still dangerous during the warm-ups and captain Niamh Fahey raised concerns with the referee before kick-off. The club’s managing director Russ Fraser had also emailed the FA to put on record the club’s feeling that the pitch was not safe.

‘I did say to the referee that we had to move our warm-up because it wasn’t safe,’ Beard said.

‘I didn’t think it should have gone ahead. He [the referee] said it was safe. He said it was safe before he checked it with the covers.

‘It should never have started. Someone could have got hurt today, especially with the history of ACL’s [injuries] this year.’

This should serve as a learning curve for both the FA and referees. Player safety has to come first and decisions have to be made earlier.

Reds captain Niamh Fahey (above) also raised concerns with the referee before kick-off

The 22 players who stepped on the pitch were put at risk – safety should always be the priority

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes admitted the right decision had eventually been taken but went on to insist that undersoil heating should be installed at all WSL stadiums.

‘We have to say to ourselves that it’s time for undersoil heating,’ Hayes said. ‘We’ve got to take our game seriously. Yes, we can have our blowers and pitch tents but it’s not enough.

‘The game should never have started. Everyone wanted to get the game on but when you have got emotions of teams wanting or not wanting to play, that’s when you need a decision from above. The FA weren’t here – they need to be making the decision.’ 

Undersoil heating is not something you can install overnight and it is perhaps an unrealistic ambition given the WSL has only been fully professional just short of five years. But the fact is clubs could afford to install it if they wanted to. Hayes’ assertion that the game needs to be taken seriously should be directed at the owner of her football club, who has spent over £150 million on transfers for Graham Potter’s side.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes called for undersoil heating to be installed at WSL home stadiums

The most logical solution would be to move all winter games to men’s stadia when there is not a clash of fixtures. Yes, there are costs involved in opening up bigger grounds that are unlikely to sell out. But again, most clubs could afford to do this if they wished. If Chelsea want their women’s side to win the Champions League then they should do everything possible to benefit their schedule. Switching winter matches to Stamford Bridge would negate the possibility of a postponement due to cold weather.

The 40,000-seater stadium was not in use last weekend, as Liverpool striker Katie Stengel pointed out on Twitter.

A host of top flight players voiced their frustration on social media yesterday, insisting their game deserves better. They are not wrong. But while the Football Association and the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Board) have to do better in terms of decisions on whether games go ahead, clubs also need to do more to foresee possible issues around pitch maintenance during winter. 

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