Riley Explains Postponements
It doesn't happen often in the Premier League or Championship thesedays, but League's 1 & 2 still suffer the odd postponement owing to the weather and Mike Riley has attempted to explain to fans who those decisions are taken.
Former referee and now Managing Director of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) Mike Riley spoke to PremierLeague.com about the procedures that have to be followed when the weather conditions could possibly force a postponement and he confirmed that with the festive period behind us and the icier New Year here, clubs have already been reminded about the process - as have referees.
Of course it's not the responsibility of the home club when making a decision to postpone a game, that falls squarely on the Match Day Referee in most cases and Riley explains their decision is led by the state of the pitch mainly.
'There are two main considerations to make when conducting a pitch inspection: player safety and the match as a spectacle. A referee has to consider whether the playing conditions threaten the well-being of the players and whether they compromise the match as a spectacle for the fans.'
Key to that process Riley explains is the referee leaning on the groundsman's knowledge of 'their' pitch as they are obviously best placed to know how it will perform and react to given whether conditions and that process begins at least 48 hours prior to kick off with clubs contacting the referee for discussions if there's a threat of poor conditions on a match day and to arrange an early inspection in case a quick postponement can be made to save fans travelling.
'The first thing a referee does is speak to the groundsman. He is the person best placed to understand exactly how his pitch behaves under certain conditions and the likelihood of a pitch deteriorating or otherwise. Then you conduct a pitch inspection, preferably in your match boots and with a match ball, and conduct as thorough an examination as possible on every area of the playing surface to try and ensure it is behaving as it should. If there is any room for doubt, such as the playing surface being frozen, for example, you find out from the groundsman whether there is anything he can do to solve the problem.'
Riley went on to say that it obviously isn't clear cut sometimes early on in a day though as conditions can change rapidly, so it's only when it's obvious conditions won't improve enough for a game that postponements are made that early.
'On one occasion in April we were out on the pitch in shirtsleeves at 2pm and by ten past three we were in the midst of a snow blizzard. The goalkeeper couldn`t see 10 metres ahead, the players couldn`t see their team-mates or where the ball was going and one player collided with an opponent and I think he broke his nose. In that instance I had no option but to abandon on two counts: a) I could neither guarantee the safety of the players nor b) guarantee the match as a spectacle because the supporters couldn't see what was going on.'
There's also safety of fans to consider in their journeys, and travelling around the stadium areas itself.
Riley went on to say that when there are concerns about a game going ahead the referee will also hold talks with a clubs' Match Manager who will then liase directly with the Premier League Match Centre to get the message out quickly to fans so they hopefully can be saved any inconvenience.
However it's also not always the call of the referee, as a ground's Safety Officer can effectively call the match off and go above their head when it comes to fan safety inside a stadium in particular and the same call can be made by a Safety Advisory Group when they have received information from the police about conditions around a stadium.
So far this year there have been few postponements across the football pyramid and Riley insists the decision to call a game off is a last resort but sometimes it is the right thing to do even though fans can be hugely inconvenienced and left out of pocket financially.