Snow, cold and conspiracy theories ... the story of a Rotherham United postponement at New York Stadium

Snow, cold and conspiracy theories ... the story of a Rotherham United postponement at New York Stadium

By Paul Davis | 02/01/2021

Snow, cold and conspiracy theories ... the story of a Rotherham United postponement at New York Stadium
Managers Paul Warne and Neil Harris among the people on the pitch. Pictures by Jim Brailsford

 

A GAGGLE of bodies, wrapped up against the elements, were standing in the snow in the centre circle.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne was there in one of his trademark Millers bobble hats, so was Cardiff City boss Neil Harris, and the short, wiry frame of Tyne and Wear referee Geoff Eltringham was noticeable among them.

Dave Fellowes, head groundsman at AESSEAL New York Stadium and the man who walks 100 miles a week while tending its pitch, flitted in and out, perhaps keener than anyone to hear the verdict.

Suddenly, there were coronavirus handshakes - brief taps of each other's arm - between Warne and Harris and the meeting broke up.

From the press box, it was impossible to tell what had been decided.

"Dave," I shouted from 50-odd yards away, slightly impressed with myself at how loudly my voice boomed around the empty ground. "On or off?"

No words in reply, just an unmistakable signal: match off.

It had started snowing around two hours before the scheduled 3pm kick-off today. The fall hadn't lasted long but had been quite heavy - heavy enough to give Eltringham serious concerns.

Driving to the stadium, I'd thought at one point of turning back as the white stuff settled dangerously on main roads but the swirls had become sporadic rather than persistent by the time the postponement announcement was rushed out by the club around 2pm.

"Following a pitch inspection by today’s match referee and subsequent conversations with both managers, the decision has been taken to call off the game in the interest of player safety," a Rotherham statement read.

"A late flurry of snow and the forecast for the rest of the day were both key factors in the decision to postpone the fixture."

Fellowes immediately went back to his work of protecting the pitch.

Snow at New York

Twitter exploded. Of course it did. Conspiracy theories abounded. Many from fans of other clubs.

Rotherham were looking to wriggle out of the game to give their clan of Covid victims longer to recover, the Millers didn't want to play as it gave them more time to get their five long-term injury absentees fit.

You call that snow? That's not snow. It's not snowing where I live and I'm only 40 miles away. Just use a yellow ball. Why doesn't New York have under-soil heating? The covers were secretly taken off. A Mafia hitman was waiting on an grassy knoll to assassinate Millers skipper Richard Wood.

Actually, I might have made that last one up.

In truth, before the weather blew in, Rotherham had been keen to play. Midtable Cardiff had lost their last three matches and their momentum. This was seen as a good time to be facing them: no striker Kieffer Moore, no centre-half and captain Sean Morrison, a manager under a bit of pressure.

The second-from-bottom Millers had lost two games to coronavirus in the previous fortnight and, with all their Covid players back, didn't need another idle afternoon stalling their push for second-tier survival.

They now have another match in hand on the pack they're chasing but would have rather kept pace with their schedule than find themselves potentially compromised by an even more packed fixture list further down the line.

Rotherham had been in contact with Cardiff on Friday about the possibility of  a frozen surface but were confident at the time that the match would be able to go ahead.

It was Saturday's abrupt deluge and forecast for sub-zero temperatures during the game that did for them.

The pitch was tested between 1.30pm and 2pm, a tracksuited figure unconnected to either club kicking a ball across the grass and through the snow.

A yellow ball.

The 'game off' decision came from the ref. Not the Millers, not Cardiff, not anyone else, the ref.

Eltringham flagged up player safety as an issue and Warne, a manager who puts the welfare of his squad above all else,  was hardly in a position to argue.

After the announcement, I sat and shivered for five minutes and then packed away. The bottle of water provided by the club on my press-box desk was just starting to show the first signs of freezing.

As I walked towards the exit, club photographer Jim Brailsford was sitting alone on a portable seat on a West Stand concourse, his head deep in his laptop.

There were no match shots to circulate on this particular afternoon but images of the snow were required by club and media to paint the picture of a wasted winter's day.

Outside, Cardiff staff were trundling large steel containers of kit and equipment in the direction of the car-park at the rear of the South Stand away end as they and the players headed back to the coach.

I looked out for Rotherham old boy Will Vaulks, who was making his first return to New York after joining the Bluebirds in 2019, in the hope of waving a greeting but he was nowhere to be seen.

Fellowes, meanwhile, loves his pitch almost as much as he loves his family. It was going to be a long day for him. His work wasn't done.

My last look back before I'd departed had been towards the kop, a reporter wrapped in The North Face checking out the North Stand.

Fellowes and his crew were taking down the nets. The cold was really nipping and sheets of white were falling with force again.

I marvelled at the groundsman's hardiness.

Focused on his task. Boots heavier than the snow. Hiking socks. Shorts.




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