... The games that never were

Bad weather in Europe has led to sev­eral matches be­ing post­poned. But it isn’t only the weather that plays havoc with the fix­ture list. From burn­ing toi­let pa­per to wild boar, wel­come to...

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

FOOT­BALL is a sport where the ball never stops rolling, ir­re­spec­tive of cir­cum­stances or weather con­di­tions. Not so. Some­times matches do have to be called off, mainly ow­ing to ter­ri­ble weather, but ev­ery so of­ten slightly more un­usual fac­tors come into play.

We start our re­view of cur­tailed com­pe­ti­tions and missed matches by tak­ing a look back at the Ger­man ti­tle-de­cid­ing match be­tween Hanau 93 and Viktoria Berlin in 1894. The Hanau play­ers were un­able to muster enough money to travel to the cap­i­tal, thereby hand­ing the cham­pi­onship to Viktoria by de­fault. A cen­tury later, the two teams, now lan­guish­ing in the coun­try’s re­gional, am­a­teur di­vi­sions, de­cided to re-open this page of sport­ing his­tory by play­ing the match that never was, 113 years af­ter the fact.

And so it came to pass that in 2007 the 1894 Ger­man Cham­pi­onship was fi­nally de­cided, but on the pitch this time. Statis­ti­cians will note that the two teams faced each other over two legs, us­ing the same heavy, leather balls from the late 19th cen­tury, and that Viktoria again emerged vic­to­ri­ous (3-0, 1-1).

A change of cen­tury pro­vided no let-up in un­usual ad­min­is­tra­tive prob­lems be­set­ting the beau­ti­ful game. Also in 2007, Fifa was forced to can­cel the 2010 World Cup qual­i­fier be­tween New Zealand and Fiji, fol­low­ing the New Zealand gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to grant a visa to Fiji goal- keeper Simione Ta­man­isau.

To main­tain the in­tegrity of the com­pe­ti­tion in the Ocea­nia zone, Fifa made the de­ci­sion to call off the en­counter, which would fi­nally take place in Novem­ber 2008.

Rather than a visa, it was pa­pers of a very dif­fer­ent kind that led to the aban­don­ment of the Dutch league match be­tween Gronin­gen and Ajax Am­s­ter­dam in April 2008.

Fired up by the prospect of wel­com­ing one of the Ere­di­visie’s giants to their ground, the Gronin­gen sup­port­ers threw co­pi­ous rolls of toi­let pa­per on to the pitch. Un­for­tu­nately, some had the bright idea to light them be­fore­hand, lead­ing to fires break­ing out and caus­ing smoke in­hala­tion prob­lems for play­ers and fans alike.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the match was called off and resched­uled for a later date.

This was noth­ing es­pe­cially new to the Ajax sup­port­ers, as a month ear­lier they had en­dured the can­cel­la­tion of one their match against great ri­vals PSV Eind­hoven, who were league leaders at the time.

The rea­son was one of se­cu­rity, but not the kind at times as­so­ci­ated with this fix­ture. In­stead, the Dutch po­lice hap­pened to be on strike that par­tic­u­lar day.

In an odd co­in­ci­dence, a po­lice-re­lated de­ci­sion dur­ing the very same week led to the can­cel­la­tion of a full pro­gramme of matches in Zim­babwe, so that the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions could pro­ceed without dis­trac- tions. While foot­ball can stir pas­sions among its fans, it at times has to take a back seat when other na­tional pri­or­i­ties arise.

This was never clearer than the week­end fol­low­ing the events of Septem­ber 11, 2001, when the sched­uled fix­tures in Ma­jor League Soc­cer and in many other leagues across the world were called off as a mark of re­spect.

In the same vein, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 led to the post­pone­ment of the English Premier League match be­tween New­cas­tle and Liver­pool, as well as the Crewe-Port Vale match in the divi­sion be­low. Madonna, Beck­ham and boars More re­cently, the French Ligue 1 match be­tween Mar­seille and Lille, due to be played at the Stade Velo­drome in Au­gust 2009, had to be moved to Mont­pel­lier.

The rea­son? A stage erected for a Madonna con­cert had col­lapsed, leav­ing Mar­seille’s ma­te­rial world out of com­mis­sion.

And then there was the friendly ar­ranged in Aus­tralia be­tween Los An­ge­les Galaxy and Queens­land Roar (now Bris­bane Roar) in Novem­ber of 2008. As David Beck­ham had in­jured him­self in the week lead­ing up to the match and was not com­pletely cer­tain to make an ap­pear­ance, the match was sim­ply can­celled.

But the pro­fes­sional game does not have a mo­nop­oly on calloffs. In the quirky world of am­a­teur foot­ball, the rea­sons be­hind matches be­ing aban­doned or post­poned be­come more orig­i­nal and un­usual. In March 2008, an English re­gional league match in Glouces­ter­shire had to be called off, but nei­ther the weather, a ref­eree strike, nor a flu epi­demic was the cause of the can­cel­la­tion.

Soud­ley were due to host Charfield at their Recre­ation Ground, whose pitch had been re­turfed just a few months be­fore. But when the Soud­ley team ar­rived on the morn­ing of the match, they were met with a scene of dev­as­ta­tion, their home pitch hav­ing been com­pletely ru­ined. The cul­prits of this wan­ton act of van­dal­ism were never pros­e­cuted, be­cause they were wild boar.

Aside from the weather and wild an­i­mals, health pre­cau­tions are a rel­a­tively wide­spread rea­son for call­ing off matches. The re­cent H1N1 flu epi­demic forced French foot­ball au­thor­i­ties to post­pone the ea­gerly awaited match be­tween Mar­seille and Paris Saint-Ger­main, as well as the match in­volv­ing Monaco and Mont­pel­lier.

A sim­i­lar prob­lem arose in the Czech Cham­pi­onship, where Teplice had to pull out of their match with Viktoria Plzen, as they only had 10 fit play­ers left in their squad.

That in­ci­dent brings to mind the SARS epi­demic in 2003 that caused the can­cel­la­tion of nu­mer­ous matches through­out the world of foot­ball. That year, a whole tour­na­ment was af­fected – namely the Women’s World Cup, which had to be abruptly moved in its en­tirety from China to the US. – Fifa.com

ENOUGH HORS­ING AROUND: Fans in­vade the pitch at a 2002 Wor­thing­ton Cup third round match be­tween Sh­effield United and Leeds United at Sh­effield in Eng­land. While English soc­cer fans may be used to see­ing some strange things over the years, horses on the pitch re­mains an odd oc­curence.

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