9th December 2017: The heavy snowfall arrived as forecast. This brought with it a new administrative challenge for me as Match Secretary for Chasetown – my first experience of a pitch inspection. I read up on the League procedures and was confident I was prepared for what was required as I set off for the ground at 9am to meet with the match referee. I had all the necessary paperwork (it’s quite exciting as it involves a bit of drawing) and knew what needed to be done in the event of a postponement. As I walked to the ground in my new winter boots (fleecy on the inside, good grip on the sole, waterproofing TBC), my pace not slowed by the snow underfoot, I thought to myself: “This is nice snow.” Down Church Street there were a couple of kids walking like penguins in the road, clearly overdramatising the situation, and a woman walking a little dog who had a perplexed look on his face, heightened every time one of his paws made contact with the strange, white, cold, wet stuff on the pavement. The dog walker and I exchanged greetings (people say hello in the street round here, it’s like being in the north) and I said: “He needs some little boots!”.
On arrival at the ground there were a few hands on deck sweeping the entrances to make them safe and there were a few people on the pitch clearing snow. There was some progress down the nearside touchline, revealing that the pitch markings had faded; and there was a patch of grass visible a few metres square on the pitch, where it was apparent that the ground itself had not frozen and was soft.
The referee and one of his assistants arrived for the pitch inspection. He was making noises about the game being potentially playable, so I queried: “Do you mean on the snow or with the pitch cleared?” I wondered did we even have any orange balls? The ref clarified that, if the game was to go ahead, the pitch would have to be cleared of snow. I looked out at the white expanse of land and suddenly the pitch appeared so much bigger than any pitch had looked ever before (had it grown?!). I gulped. That wasn’t the answer I had been hoping for. “Do you think it’s achievable to clear the pitch?” he enquired. Chairman Mick Joiner quickly replied: “I work in the building trade – I KNOW it’s achievable.” With those inspirational words, we immediately grabbed our snow shovels (on offer at a local shop before we bought them all) and got to work. The ref – also inspired by our Chairman – said: “Have you got any spare shovels? We’ll give you a hand for a bit.” And off they got to work.
Word was spread via the club website, the league and social media that bodies, shovels and brooms were required at The Scholars Ground and the call to arms (shovels) was answered in numbers! In addition to the Chairman, the ref and linesman, fans came down to help (including a number who were worse for wear after a night out) – and Chasetown midfielder (and farmer) Will Whieldon also answered the call, bringing along the farming fraternity in their numbers to help out. I swear I even saw a dog at one point! It was so heartwarming to be part of this community, all working together, encouraging each other, working together as a team with the goal of preparing the pitch for a game of football. We didn’t stop to think – we were so inspired and so focussed on our target – there was a job to be done and we just got on with it.
The ref and linesman put a shift in then had to leave to prepare for the match. They said they would return at 12.30 with their shovels. Aware of how important it was for tangible progress to have been made by that point (not least because our opponents, Stamford, were already on their way), as noon approached (and big flakes of snow were falling from a sky that looked full of it) we had not reached the halfway line and the picture was a beginning to look quite bleak. BUT – no time to be worrying about that, let’s crack on and shovel some more snow!
True to his word, the ref returned – now with both his assistants – and they got straight to work with their shovels. There was already much banter on the pitch by this stage and of course the match officials were never going to be exempt from that. I felt it was a bit harsh for the ref to be heckled (albeit gently) before the match had even kicked off when he was shovelling snow off our pitch to help us! I tried to lighten the mood by suggesting that this was our attempt at mixing up the pre-match hospitality: “Makes a change from a cup of tea and biscuits, eh?”
Once the halfway line was breached, things seemed to speed up. There had been a couple of men working on the other half already and the task no longer appeared insurmountable. “We’re going to do this!” I said to our Programme Editor, Lauren, whose face was as pink as her top by this stage, but still she carried on shovelling for the cause.
By half past one the job was almost complete and I downed my shovel to attend to my matchday duties. But not before I had a bacon and egg butty and a can of Rio from the burger van! I didn’t even know they did breakfast butties but they do and I can heartily recommend them! I had done four hours shovelling snow on an empty stomach (remember I was only popping down to the ground for the experience of witnessing a pitch inspection and to do the match postponement admin) – and I was ravenous! Rarely for me, I managed to avoid getting egg in my hair. This was quite possibly because the sandwich went in whole…
So…matchday duties? What were they again? Not at all used to physical exertion, my brain had now turned to mush. I’d done the pre-match hospitality on the pitch. Ah yes – teamsheets! I managed to get those prepared and distributed (thankfully I have now done so many so as for this to become second nature on a match day).
Someone pointed out that my ‘desk’ (in front of my match day seat) was wet as a result of the snow, so I grabbed my emergency tea-towel as I passed the kitchen and went to grab a quick cup of tea in hospitality before kick-off. Whilst earlier on I was quite warm, frantically shovelling snow under the morning sun without my coat on (refusing a cup of tea at one stage because I was simply too hot), I now realised that actually this was the coldest match of the season so far by some margin – thermal underwear notwithstanding – and I needed a brew to get me through the first half.
At 2.58pm I made my way to my seat and dried off my desk with the tea towel I had carried with me into hospitality. “Ah! I wondered why you were carrying a tea towel around with you!” said the FA representative seated next to me. I laughed: “Yes, it’s not my nu nu comfort blanket! Now could you pass it back to me please?” I laid it out in front of me (as is my pre-match ritual in damp conditions) and placed my teamsheet, pen and phone on it (the phone by now rendered useless as apparently it doesn’t like the cold).
And so, dear reader, the match was played, the pitch having been cleared of snow by 2pm and the lines redrawn ready for battle at 3pm. From my seat pitchside, looking out onto the green field of play, I honestly wondered for a minute whether I had only imagined the snow from earlier. I certainly wasn’t feeling quite right in the head (or body) by this point and the whole experience was feeling quite surreal! Pitch-clearing legend Will Whieldon was named in the starting line-up and went on to play the full 90 minutes, looking no more tired than he usually does during a match. Ah the exuberance of youth!
Relaxing with a brew and a mince pie after the match, back in hospitality with the match officials, they recollected the events of the day. The assistant who had not been present at the morning’s pitch inspection recounted his surprise upon being asked by the referee to be ready a bit earlier than expected and “come in your tracksuit – we’ll be clearing snow off the pitch”. But you know he came and did it regardless, just as we all did. This had proved quite an experience for all concerned and we came away with a story to tell. Most importantly, it was a heartwarming example of a community – a football family – uniting and working together as a team in the name of football. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped.
I was asked at one point why I had bothered spending four hours shovelling snow. Because people need football on a Saturday afternoon. Because Mick Joiner, Chasetown Chairman, shovel in hand himself for an hour already, said it could be done and I wanted to do it for him, for Chasetown, for the community – because he and Chasetown Football Club have inspired me to believe. Today epitomised why I choose to be at Chasetown. This is a remarkable club where remarkable things happen. And I believe again.