The glorious sunshine which has bathed Scotland for much of this week will be seen as strengthening the argument of those who favour a switch to summer football.
Fans, they’d claim, would far rather be sitting in shirt sleeves enjoying the heatwave than shivering through a Scottish winter with the persistent threat of cancellations or abandonments due to rain, snow or, on occasion, fog.
Such are the vagaries of the weather in this country, though, that even playing at the height of summer carries no promise of escaping the wrath of mother nature as Hibs discovered on their last visit to Stark’s Park, the venue for tonight’s final warm-up match as Pat Fenlon’s players put the finishing touches to their preparations for the beginning of their Europa League adventure in only six days.
A Tuesday evening trip across the Forth in mid-July to face Raith Rovers all seemed pretty straight forward four years ago, then as now, a pre-season friendly against opposition they’d rarely otherwise encounter. However, rather than enjoying a balmy evening in Fife, players and supporters found themselves enduring a violent thunderstorm, incessant rain becoming torrential as peals of thunder echoed around the area and bolts of lightning split the sky.
A power surge caused the floodlights to fail and although they began to flicker back on one-by-one, referee David Somers called the match off, citing the safety of players and fans alike, a decision which met with universal approval particularly when then Hibs star Jonaton Johansson revealed a Danish player had been struck by lightning while take part in a match earlier that week.
It wasn’t the sort of welcome home Kirkcaldy-born Lewis Stevenson had been expecting but as he looked forward to tonight’s match, the Easter Road club’s longest serving player admitted he had his fingers crossed there would be no repeat.
He said: “It obviously wasn’t the sort of weather you’d expect in the middle of summer. The rain just got heavier and heavier, you could hear the thunder all around the place and lots of lightning. We’d only just started the second half when the floodlights went out and the ref took us off.
“I think the intention then was to give it a few minutes to get an electrician to work on the lights, but then the ref decided to abandon the game all together. Obviously it was the right decision, the safety of everyone, players and spectators alike has to come first and I think that point was made when Jonaton told us about the player in Denmark who had been struck by lightning just a couple of days before. There’s no doubt the ref made the right call.”
The storm which gripped Fife that night was undoubtedly something of a freak occurrence but, as Stevenson pointed out, there’s no controlling the weather as Hibs again discovered two summers ago when, once more, torrential rain caused a friendly against English club Barnsley to be called off less than an hour before kick-off.
Referee Steve O’Reilly declared Easter Road unplayable having been told further heavy rain was forecast despite the ground by that time being bathed in sunshine, Hibs and their visitors repairing to the Edinburgh club’s training centre near Ormiston to play a closed-doors match.
Stevenson said: “It just shows how unpredictable our weather can be. You don’t expect matches to be cancelled or abandoned because of monsoon-like conditions at this time of year. Usually players are complaining of bone-hard pitches and blisters, but it does happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“The last thing anyone would want is a player to pick up a serious injury in a pre-season friendly because of a dodgy pitch.”
The irony of having spent a week training and playing in the south of Spain and in Portugal only to return to find Edinburgh basking in temperatures more akin to the Mediterranean wasn’t lost on Stevenson but, the little midfielder insisted, the trip had formed an important part of Fenlon’s preparations not only for the upcoming Europa League tie but the new season – both on and off the park.
Plenty of hard work was done while overseas and, Stevenson revealed, there had been no let-up this week. He said: “It’s always good to get away. We got a lot of stuff done on the training ground while in Spain, had two good games against Gibraltar and Nottingham Forest, and being together for a few days allows the new boys like Liam Craig, Owain Tudur Jones and Fraser Mullen to get to know the rest of us that little bit better and vice versa.
“You obviously know of them a bit having played against them, but now they are team-mates you want to see that togetherness, the team spirit, developing. It was a bit of a surprise to come back late Sunday to discover the weather was so good and although it’s been pretty hot here, it’s not as hot as it was in Spain and Portugal.
“But it was straight back into double sessions, getting that core fitness every player needs for the coming season.”
Tonight’s match will be another step in that direction with Stevenson admitting that he’s particularly keen to enjoy 90 minutes in his hometown and, hopefully, a touch of sunshine. He said: “I’ve been away from Kirkcaldy long enough now, but it’s always nice to go home.
“I was never very far away from Stark’s Park when I was a kid, but I didn’t get to see Raith too often when I was younger as I tended to be playing myself.
“But I did get along to a few games with some of my pals who still go to Stark’s Park and they’ll no doubt be there to hurl a bit of good-natured abuse at me. Obviously we’d like to get a win ahead of next Thursday’s game, but these matches are all about fitness.
“You have to remember we are doing much, much more training at this time of year than we’d do ahead of games during the season, so legs can feel a bit heavy while managers tend to chop and change the team not only from game-to-game but during each match.”