Football P - P The Weather: A Pseudo-Meteorological Study

Weather is a lot like football. It's a complex subject, often reduced to lazy clichés by those who don't understand it but really enjoy looking at it. Of course, we don't boo when it rains nor do we consider it a #nicetouch if the sun pops out at a convenient moment, but we do Instagram our snow and we'll always have a little gasp (yes, even you) when we hear thunder. Why are big, dark clouds always "ominous"? Erm, anyway...

The hope-filled opening day of the season apart, blazing sunshine does not constitute "perfect conditions" for any sane footballer. From bone-dry Sunday league pitches accommodating dehydrated huffers-and-puffers, right up to finely-tuned elite athletes being forced to drink lots take on fluids, British footballers are often seen to wilt in any significant heat.

World Cup USA '94 set a benchmark for thermoactivated football drama, with the red faces of dubious holders of Irish passports sharing centre-stage with a range of amusing baseball caps:

Pitchside thermometers suddenly pop up out of nowhere at these points, while the metric system goes out of the window - 100°F sounds much more dramatic than 37.8°C, after all.

Much more conducive to exciting football, rain is responsible for a suitably plentiful supply of football clichés. Light rain makes for a greasy pitch (or playing surface, as it should be known whenever under particular scrutiny), upon which the ball is able to zip around. Goalkeepers must be tested by shots that "pick up pace" as they skid across the turf, thereby defying basic physics. Players wearing the wrong boots (sorry, footwear), however, will only be allowed to slip over (sorry, lose their footing) once before the co-commentator fulfils his obligation of sternly policing such matters, often involving a semi-tirade on the "state of these modern boots these days". 

Fig 1.0 - the cold, wet Wednesday night in Stoke.

Heavier downpours edge proceedings closer to farce. Farcical conditions (much like an early red card) are a fatal threat to the game as a spectacle. If the heavens open sufficiently before kick-off, an anxious wait is required while the referee completes his emphatic routine of dropping the ball onto the sodden turf while a committee of sighing/chuckling* club officials (*delete according to fixture congestion) congregate in the centre-circle. While the finer details about the potential risks of sanctioning a game in such conditions are rarely explored - drowning, presumably, isn't one of them -  it is unanimously agreed that the safety of the players is paramount.

It all sounds so violent in the winter months. The Big Freeze annually plays havoc with the fixture list - and frequently decimates it - as matches fall victim to (or fall foul of) the cold snap taking hold up and down the country.

Fig 2.0 - the rarely-seen orange ball (beloved of Actua Soccer enthusiasts). 

Heartwarming moments remain, such as the sight of the orange ball (greeted with the same amount of delight as when a goalkeeper goes up for a corner) or the lauding of local volunteers and ground staff - again, the job of the patronising co-commentator - as they do everything to get this game on. Unfortunately, though, it's not the playing surface that's the problem - it's those damned, "treacherous" roads around the ground (or the approach roads, if it's modern, out-of-town Lego stadiums in question.)

Even if the game is allowed to go ahead, the problems aren't over. The low winter sun, the stealthiest and least-documented of modern football's dilemmas, makes life difficult for cap-averse goalkeepers and spoilt armchair fans alike.

Stay safe out there, you hardy souls.


Rich said...

Last week David Pleat was ploughing his usual co-commetary furrow when they asked him whether snow on the pitch affected the game in any material way.

He said, "No, not in any way. You may see players stopping to remove it from their studs, otherwise it will affect their footing, and as it lies players and the referee have to take it into account when making tackles as they could go in too hard and slide through and commit a foul. So, no, not really."

I don't quite know what he thinks an actual material effect is, short of the players stopping to build snowmen.

Also in the Stoke game the commentator referred to the two kids outside the ground who chucked a snowball right into the stadium, made a snow platform and watched the game through the gap between the stands. It was a moment which had absolutely everything. #magicofthecup

Rich said...

Also, England is the only country in the world where it rains and is cold, confounding foreign players and their devilish warm weather skills. It also rains more in Manchester than anywhere else. Clearly then, any football endeavour in Manchester involving foreign players cannot succeed.

Dan Ashley said...

Playing in the snow with a white ball is fun - about 1 min 30 seconds in.