SPL rules out a shutdown as 15 games are called off

SCOTTISH football nearly went into an unofficial winter shutdown as snow and sub-zero temperatures put paid to all but two senior games.

The wintry conditions, which also caused minor disruptions to the FA Cup in England, did not prevent Dundee United hosting Aberdeen and St Mirren facing Kilmarnock, the former surviving a 2pm pitch inspection. But they did for the other 15 scheduled senior matches, while only one match in the Highland League – Fraserburgh v Nairn – survived as the fixture card was largely placed on ice for the second successive week.

Authorities have cautioned that supporters travelling to Glasgow and Edinburgh today for the derbies at Celtic Park and Easter Road could face possible disruptions. Further snow is expected overnight and already a 10am pitch inspection is planned for Dens Park, where the First Division leaders are hoping to take on Airdrie United in a match-up switched from the Lanarkshire club's ground to give it a chance of going ahead this weekend.

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"We would urge any fans travelling to plan their journeys thoroughly and, in particular take extra time to reach the venues," a Strathclyde Police spokesman said.

Inevitably, the havoc has renewed calls for the Scottish game's governing bodies to consider recasting football as a summer sport or introducing a scheduled winter shut-down. Speaking on BBC Scotland yesterday, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster again ruled out any changes.

Doncaster insisted a winter break "could not be accommodated" with a 38-game top-flight programme, two domestic cups and a new UEFA rule preventing leagues from scheduling domestic games in the midweeks they reserve for Champions League or Europa League. He might have added that a further obstacle is the resistance of SPL clubs to playing midweek fixtures for fear of attendances being hit.

Fitting in a winter break would either require a reduction in the number of league games, he said, which in turn would mean a smaller top flight – which clubs would not vote for – or a 16-team upper tier that he claimed would dilute the quality of football at the top end – and which many teams would also vote against since it would deny them games against the Old Firm.

"The other question is when you would have a break because we have had games called off in November, December, January, February and March," Doncaster said.

He also dismissed calls for a summer season – a campaign running from March to November as in Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Russia – as a "red herring". "It would mean we would have the climax of our season when our weather was at its worst and would create problems every second summer when there was a World Cup or European Championship finals," he said. "No fewer than 22 of the 25 major leagues run from August and for us this has nothing to do with the Old Firm (playing lucrative summer friendlies]."

Doncaster said it was "a matter of regret" that supporters had been inconvenienced by late calls-offs but said this had to be accepted as a fact of life living in a country that suffers such inclement weather as Scotland. And he pointed out that the "specifics" relating to the postponements highlighted the difficulty in coming up with a cover-all solution.

The Motherwell and Hamilton game was called off because of burst pipes that put two stands out of commission, while a frozen pitch led to a 1.30pm postponement of the Falkirk and St Johnstone confrontation. In midweek, meanwhile, Celtic's trip to Kilmarnock was scuppered by police because they deemed there was a safety issue with the approach roads to the stadium. Doncaster said the Falkirk postponement caused the SPL "real concern" because of the rule covering undersoil heating and said it would take the matter up with the club.

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He added: "There have been lots of games called off because of the weather but in recent years there has only been an average of one game a season called off because of a frozen pitch."

Falkirk's general manager George Craig could only express his sympathy to the 1,500 St Johnstone fans who were en route when they heard the news that referee Stevie O'Reilly had declared the Westfield pitch unplayable. "I know how disappointed the St Johnstone fans are, as are ours," he said.

"My job was to come in here early in the morning and do as much as I could to get the game on and I did that. To be fair, the local referee was happy generally with the state of the pitch and he gave us a degree of comfort. I couldn't have done any more and there was nothing more that Falkirk could do. So I hope the St Johnstone fans will give us that, that we actually worked hard. Having said that I do apologise most sincerely to them."

Dunfermline's game against Raith Rovers in the First Division appeared as much a casualty of policing as conditions. "It's very frustrating," the East End Park club's chairman John Yorkston said. "The match was called off despite the park passing a 10am inspection. The players trained on it on Friday and the surroundings were fine.

"Unfortunately Fife Police decided the match could not go ahead after the Met Office forecast heavy snow."

It was a similar story as the Third Division match between Queen's Park and Albion Rovers at the national stadium bit the snow following a mid-morning storm on Glasgow's south side. "The pitch was in great condition, however on police advice the game was called off," a spokesperson at Hampden said. "There were concerns over the running track around the pitch and for access both on foot and in car. A lot of effort from a lot of people had gone in to get things right but the snow made their efforts turn out to be in vain."