Early call-offs ruled offside by clubs

Milton LindsayFurious footballers cried foul after an early call-off of games on Norwich City Council pitches robbed them of the chance of much-needed action at the weekend.Milton Lindsay

Furious footballers cried foul after an early call-off of games on Norwich City Council pitches robbed them of the chance of much-needed action at the weekend.

The decision to call off games on Eaton Park, Sloughbottom, Britannia Barracks and Mousehold Fountain pitches was announced on Thursday morning - leaving several hundred adult and youth footballers kicking their heels in frustration.

"As a league we are extremely disappointed that it was deemed fit to call the games off on Thursday, when by late on Friday the pitches were perfectly playable," said Norwich Sunday League secretary Ben Casey - who saw another nine matches added to the huge pile of unfulfilled fixtures.

The Norwich Business Houses and Norfolk Youth Combination were also hit by the decision. Other leagues which do not rely on council pitches had full or virtually full programmes. "We have always had a very good relationship with the Parks and Gardens department, but just cannot understand why this decision was taken so early.

"Myself and our fixture secretary Bernie Hardiman have been inundated with calls from clubs and players alike wanting to know why these games were postponed. We are now in a position where the backlog of fixtures is becoming serious," said Casey.

"The league now really needs clubs, whether they play on public or private pitches, to do everything they can to get their games played."

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Matt Ware, player/manager of Newsman Celtic, whose Eaton Park Sunday morning Division 3a game against the Otter was postponed described the call-off as "ridiculous."

He added: "It was a perfect day for football. It was an unbelievable decision to cancel matches three days before the games, especially as the weather forecast was hardly predicting the ice-age the council would have you believe. Fair enough if there's four inches of snow laying and sub-zero temperatures forecast, but that wasn't the case. I think an apology would be in order or at least an acknowledgement they got it wrong."

His team - in common with several others - has played just once since December 20, during a season which has already seen several weekends lost due to a combination of rock-hard grounds during an autumn drought, and snow and ice either side of Christmas.

Norman Wanderers chairman Clive Pilgrim had four of his club's youth fixtures and an adult match called off at Sloughbottom Park.

"I was a bit annoyed as I think the decision was premature. I think they were over-protective this week. I couldn't see why none of the games went ahead as the lines on the pitch were good enough to see. The bottom line is the boys just want to play football. A lot of the kids were upset. They just couldn't believe it."

Beleaguered Norwich Sunday League fixture secretary Bernie Hardiman said the number of postponed games on the league's books had now reached 280. Midweek matches later in the season are one option available to ease the crisis. Deciding championships, promotion and relegation on a points average remains a last resort. "I am disappointed that the games were called off far too early at the weekend," he said. "There ought to be more liaison between us as pitch hirers on behalf of the clubs and the pitch maintenance people who call games off."

Norwich City Council spokeswoman Sara Martinez said: "On Thursday morning, in discussion with our contractorCityCare, it was agreed to close our pitches and let clubs know of this decision in good time for them to inform their teams. This decision was given careful consideration and was based on the fact that the snow and frost covering the surfaces meant our contractor was unable to carry out necessary maintenance and pitch marking and that the forecast was indicating continued freezing conditions and snow showers. We do appreciate and share the frustrations teams have been experiencing this season with the poor weather conditions and hope we can continue to work with clubs to have a successful rest of the season."

� What do you think of the decision to call the matches off so early? Write to Letters, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk