Close the roof! England v Poland scrapped in farcical conditions
World Cup qualifier rescheduled for 4pm today – but there's no guarantee the Warsaw pitch will be dry in time
ENGLAND and Poland will try again this afternoon after last night's World Cup qualifier was postponed because of heavy rain. The match has been rescheduled for 4pm, which should leave the Polish authorities just enough time to drain the Kazimierz Gorski pitch of surface water.
Not that they should be in this position. When a £400m stadium has a roof, common sense suggests it might be a good idea to close it if rain begins to fall at lunchtime before a major evening match. It wasn't light rain, either - it fell in torrents throughout the day so that at kick-off time the pitch was clearly unplayable.
Nonetheless, Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi inspected the pitch at 8pm, throwing a ball across the sodden turf to see how far it rolled. About as far as the roof had moved in the previous seven hours was the answer.
The match should have been called off there and then, but it wasn't. FIFA ordered another inspection an hour later. Why? The rain was still falling, the roof was still static. Perhaps FIFA hoped their president Sepp Blatter was on the line to God ordering him to stop the rain.
To no one's surprise the match was officially called off at 9pm and it was later announced that the two teams would reconvene this afternoon.
Even then, England manager Roy Hodgson said this might be an optimistic scenario given what he'd seen inside the stadium. "I hope they will get it [the roof] closed as quickly as possible and start to do some work on the pitch because right now the pitch is in a very poor condition.," he said. "The water is now lying on the surface and it's going to need a bit of attention if it's going to be playable on Wednesday afternoon."
Neither Hodgson nor Club England managing director Adrian Bevington was prepared to publicly criticise the Polish FA for its decision to leave the roof open, but plenty of others were willing to do so. Ex-England manager turned BBC analyst Graham Taylor likened the scenes to a "Monty Python" sketch and said: "Both sets of supporters were treated disgracefully. If I was a fan I'd have booed."
Former Ireland and Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane labelled the referee "a clown" and said he should have made a decision about the roof three hours before the scheduled kick-off time.
Pressed on why they hadn't closed the roof when it was obvious the rain was going to be heavy and prolonged, a stadium spokeswoman said: "We're not able to make the decision to close the roof without the presence of the FIFA match delegate. He did not arrive until 7pm, by which time it was raining."
Even so if the roof had been closed at 7pm, and a small army of ground staff sent out to clear the surface match, it might have been possible to start the match at 9pm. But the spokeswoman said the roof can only be closed in certain climatic conditions.
"It takes 15 minutes to close the roof," she claimed. "But we cannot do it in temperatures below zero, in high wind or while it is wet. If we closed it while it was wet, the roof could fall. It'd be dangerous."
When news of the postponement was announced, Hodgson led his squad back to the team hotel, telling reporters: "We're disappointed. We prepared well for this start tonight, as no doubt the Poles have too, but now we've got to do it all over again and hopefully we'll be as prepared tomorrow as we were tonight."
At least the England players and staff won't be left out of pocket – unlike their supporters. Many of the 2,500 or so England fans who made the long trip to Warsaw flew home last night on scheduled flights having seen nothing more exciting than a referee rolling a ball across a waterlogged pitch. "There's nothing but respect for those fans who travelled," said Adrian Bevington.
It would be a nice touch if instead of just giving the fans their respect, the FA and their Polish counterparts offered them some sort of compensation.