A big, fat “Boo!” to the headmaster of the Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham. If there was any chance of being able to watch football in the snow again, it’s probably gone for good now.
While the fateful advice from the beak – “Don’t touch the snow” – has been widely ridiculed, it sums up how risk-averse we’ve become and is surely a contender for the title of the first satirical social history of the Health & Safety age, when some wag gets round to writing it.
No more will footballers skitter on white-covered parks and no more will fans chitter in the stands, with snowball fights the only alternative form of entertainment when the game gets too farcical.
The headmaster’s paranoia was that snowballs, in the wrong hands and with stones secreted in the middle, turn into dangerous missiles. Now, no one wants to see people get hurt. No one wants games to become a lottery. No one wants a dramatic upsurge in injuries through players losing their footing. And do any of us really want players – the better-off ones – to be prevented from enjoying a few days’ holiday in Dubai in the event of a repeat of the big freeze of 1963 and football stopping indefinitely? Okay, maybe we wouldn’t mind that.
But I feel sorry for fans who won’t be able to see a game in the snow, just as I feel sorry for supporters who’ll never have the chance to watch a match played on Christmas Day. Neither will happen again, far less a Christmas Day game while lovely white snowflakes fall. If you’ve sat through The Great Escape on TV too many times, if you’ve wanted to make a great escape of your own and burrow out of the over-heated house and far away from the festive cheer and squabbling, that would surely be the dream.
Obviously football is still played in snowy conditions. If the stuff hasn’t fallen before kick-off and therefore hasn’t hampered the crowd reaching the ground, then a match will only be abandoned if the referee can’t see the lines and – because spectators are fully considered now – you can’t see your shot-shy striker skewing another one out for a throw-in.
But games on pitches already blanketed in snow, with the fans having trudged through snow to bear witness to them, are Lowryesque images of football’s past.
In the wake of The “Beast from the East” they’ve been recycled on social media for a modern audience, the youngest of whom, used to PlayStation perfection, must have been left astonished. Bare brown surfaces were one thing, mudbaths another, but how on earth could games happen in snow? Well, they did. My first snowbound match was Hibernian vs Motherwell in 1969 and I’ve never forgotten it. The crowd was an impressive 13,467 although no one would have been congratulating themselves for battling the wintry elements to be at Easter Road.
Nowadays, TV reporters deliver pieces to camera from football grounds in extreme conditions and you almost sense they’re competing with each other over who’s the most drookit or gale-tossed. Back in the day, fans simply turned up without thanks or reward or often even a roof for shelter.
The game as November turned to December that year was both ludicrous and beautiful. Possibly it erred on the side of Keystone Cops slapstick but I have more vivid memories of the ice ballet of the two Peters, Marinello and Cormack, as the Hibees strove to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the old First Division following stunning wins at Ibrox and Parkhead. Motherwell, though, were good. Perhaps Tom Forsyth and Dixie Deans resembled rumbling gritting lorries next to the artful swishes of their opponents but they deserved a share of the points, John Goldthorp countering the Johnny Graham header, fluffed by Peter McCloy, which had put Hibs ahead.
Reports of the game described the pitch as being more suited to the Winter Olympics. Hibs had been keen for it to go ahead to maintain momentum, perhaps too keen. Manager Willie Macfarlane told his players they’d have to cope better in such conditions through the winter if they hoped to stay at the top of the league.
The snow melted and so did Hibs’ challenge but that match had been a treasured one of many firsts for this young football anorak. First cup of Bovril. First tracksuit bottoms (goalies only). First rubber studs, replaced at half-time as the surface froze by the first Adidas Sambas. I’m not even sure the ball was orange, but then we were tough.