Rain renders England’s qualifier in Poland a farcical non event

On Friday evening the fact that England played World Cup Qualifier against San Marino was seen by some as farcical. Discussions of the possibility of a pre-qualifying tournament for teams such as San Marino, ranked rock bottom of the FIFA World Rankings, having never won a competitive fixture, were once again justifiably raised. If the match on Friday was preposterous, with England enjoying 86% of possession while San Marino packed all eleven men behind the ball, then Tuesday night’s  events in Warsaw were downright comical.

By 9:00pm local time, torrential rain and high winds had turned the surface of the £400 million pound national stadium to a waterlogged marsh, and, despite the referee and FIFA’s best efforts, the match was officially postponed at 10:05pm. Some might say that very few matches in the footballing world could have gone ahead after such weather, but when the fact that the national stadium in Warsaw has a state of the art retractable roof, presumably designed for use in precisely these circumstances, it is somewhat ridiculous that the match did not take place.

However, for all the farcical, frustrating events in Poland, there was undoubtedly a humorous silver lining to be found on the particularly dark rain-filled cloud that hung over the evening. Those that stuck by ITV’s coverage of the developments in Warsaw were rewarded by the excruciatingly painful, yet bizarrely entertaining efforts of Adrian Chiles and his panel of wise men to desperately keep the conversation and blokey ‘banter’ flowing until an official verdict had been reached as to whether the game would go ahead.

Tuning in to ITV at 8:15 one might have been dismayed at the lack of football being played, but such any expression of disappointment would surely have been transformed to a wry smirk as Roy Keane had to respond to Chiles’ query “What is the difference between heavy rain and a downpour?” without being able to physically ram the presenter’s head through the glass window behind him so he could decide for himself.

In addition, would it really have been more entertaining to watch England pass the ball sideways and backwards with all their usual vigour and upbeat tempo, than to witness a Polish man, clearly no stranger to a pie, gleefully sidestep a couple of hefty stewards before diving headlong into a five metre slide on his stomach across the marshy centre circle? I think not. Similarly, it is unlikely a more amusing refereeing performance will ever be seen again in an International match. Not since Graham Poll suddenly realised he couldn’t actually count has the man in black created so much mirth.

The long awaited pitch inspection at 8:00pm involved said official, Gianlucha Rochhi throwing a ball about a bit in the centre circle, and watching with apparent dismay as each time it fell to earth and remained unsurprisingly stationary. Mr Rochhi may has well have been hurling a medicine ball around the centre of the park, yet even those ironically cheering in the stands each time the ball thudded to the sodden turf could not fail to be amused when Rochhi returned forty five minutes later, simply to repeat the feat once again.

Silver linings aplenty then, but, while the ludicrous events in Poland provided mild irritation and cynical laughter for those watching at home, for the fans inside the stadium the evening was a much sourer, undoubtedly damper, occasion. The fact that the roof wasn’t closed hours beforehand is preposterous. Even if the Polish had brought out their best Michael Fish impersonator for the evening’s weather forecast, it was clear long before kick off that the deluge would not be brief.

It emerged last night that those with the big shiny remote control that could shut the roof were not able to act until given explicit permission without the presence of the FIFA match delegate.

The FIFA match delegate in question did not arrive in the national stadium until an hour before kick off, by which point the proverbial horse had bolted, leaving the stable door swinging due to thee high winds which swirled over Warsaw. The roof could not be shut in the rain, the rain did not stop, the match did not go ahead. The progression of events was so frustratingly simple to see, yet it took over an hour for the match to be officially postponed, much to the chagrin of those who had paid hefty sums to travel to the stadium.

For all involved this was an embarrassing affair, but, while the players could return to their hotel rooms, the FIFA officials could prepare for Wednesday, and those of us watching at home could simply switch the channel, for the supporters inside the stadium it was a lengthy, frankly insulting, shambles. Many fans will not be able to go to Wednesday’s game, and will be out of Poland and out of pocket by the time it kicks off. Because of a roof not being closed in bad weather, despite that being its sole purpose, thousands will miss the match. Without doubt, lessons must be learnt from such a disappointing fiasco of an evening. While we at home may have laughed at the farcical situation and switched over to The Great British Bake Off, for those who travelled to Warsaw, events on Tuesday will have left a decidedly sour taste in the mouth.

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Owen Morgan

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