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  • Writer's pictureBy Paul Lagan at Kingsmeadow Stadium

Chelsea skipper Eriksson believes there should be inquiry into match abandoned after six minutes

Ref Neil Hair, with ball, calls off the game. Picture: Paul Lagan

By Paul Lagan at Kingsmeadow Stadium

They were still selling match tickets to fans as the players walked off the frozen pitch six minutes after the scheduled 12.30pm kick-off as Chelsea's WSL encounter against Liverpool was abandoned.

Long queues had already formed from those already with tickets who had waited for a couple of hours with increasing frustration to get in.

They were not allowed in as normal because a covering was on the pitch and the strappings holding it down were attached to the base of the punters’ seats.

It was estimated it would take an hour to remove the covering. I was reliably informed it would only be 30 minutes.

That was the only correct decision made at Kingsmeadow on Sunday.

When word reached them, that the game was off, many still came into the ground - why?, Because they wanted to see for themselves the whole debacle.

Sunday morning was cold. The day before, the game at Sutton United, just a couple of miles away was lost to the freezing conditions. They called their game of early.

And also a couple of miles away and 24 hours before they were due to play, AFC Wimbledon have just called off their league match against Walsall.

Chelsea’s match was the first of the year back at Kingsmeadow, it was going to be live on the BBC. Sponsors were handing out free T-shirts to fans, there was a sense of excitement, but then it all went wrong.

There was a pitch inspection at 9.30am. Presumably referee Neil Hair and his officials went under the bellowing covering and decided that the game could go ahead as scheduled at 12.30pm.

Closer to kick-off time, the covering was rolled off the pitch and the players came out for their so-called warm-up.

Quite how they were supposed to do so professionally and safety as swathes of canvas rolled past them was anyone’s guess.

Players were slipping, the ball skidding around, the freezing fog started to engulf the stadium, there was a sense of gloom descending too.

I had a quick word with Liverpool manager Matt Beard who told me the game should not go ahead.

But the rules are that it’s the referee’s decision, not the managers, and yet Hair decided that conditions were still okay for a 12.30pm start.

Chelsea and Liverpool players walk off the pitch as the game is called off after six minutes Picture: Paul Lagan

Six minutes into the game, and with players falling over, unable to turn on the pitch, sliding like Olympic skaters without the style or grace, Hair called the two skippers together and informed them that the pitch was unplayable and that he was abandoning the game.

A spokesman for the WSL firmly put the blame on Hair. He said: “We worked hard with the clubs and the match officials to safely play the Barclay’s Women’s Super League fixture between Chelsea and Liverpool as scheduled.

“Following inspections before the match, the pitch was deemed to be playable by the matchday referee.

“However, shortly after kick off, the referee made the decision to abandon the match in order to protect the safety of the players, which is paramount.

Groundstaff try to get rid of the surface ice as the covers are taken off. Picture by Paul Lagan

“We sincerely apologise to all fans who travelled to the match. The fixture will be rescheduled in due course.”

Chelsea club captain Magda Eriksson believes there should be an inquiry into the debacle

She said to Capital Football: “As players we try to be ready and mentally prepare for the game as normal.

“But it was quite obvious as soon as the whistle blew that it was impossible to play the game. It should have been dealt with in a better way and hopefully people will look into this process and something like this will never happen again.

“Absolutely there should be an inquiry. It's not being handled in the right way, and when you do something wrong, or make a mistake, you always have to look back and see what you could have done better.

“I don't like to speculate where the pressure came to put the game on. I have no idea. as players we try to be professional and loyal to what we have been told. But when the game started, playing at full intensity, we saw that the players couldn’t change direction or do what they wanted.

“We were told there was going to be a pitch inspection at 9.30am and we were just on standby for more information. We were then told to come to Kingsmeadow the game is on at 12.30pm.

“In the warm up, it was certainly frozen in certain places. We try to make the best of the condition. We played on a waterlogged pitch at Brighton a couple of months ago, it was not ideal but we got on with it. Unfortunately today the decision was made way too late.

“I’m sorry for all the fans who travelled here.”

Asked if the game would have been cancelled earlier if it was not live on TV, she said: "Once again, I won't speculate about that.”

And that’s the nub of the situation. Hair made the decision to not call off the game at the 9.30am pitch inspection. He did not call off the game when the covers were removed. Yet he called it off six minutes after starting the match.

Managers, players, even the groundstaff I spoke to felt the game should not have been played and called off earlier.


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