John Russell writes about a wasted journey or two.
Thanks to a succession of mild winters postponements have become something of a rarity and abandoned games even rarer. Because the 26th December 1993 was a Sunday, Boxing Day was officially on the Monday. The weather was a bit nippy but as I approached New Street Station ready to disembark from the train I had no reason to suppose that I would be going back home again on the same train a few minutes later.
Out on the concourse the noisy clapper board suddenly sprung into life. My railway instincts took charge so I looked round merely to find out which train had been cancelled. Imagine my surprise when it gave out the message that the game at Villa Park that afternoon had been cancelled. Apart from congratulating us on winning the League Cup I had never known the station clapper board to display a non-railway message. Blindly trusting the accuracy of the message I did no more than turn tail and headed for home before the train too did an about turn, all the time wondering whether I had been too trusting. Ninety minutes later hurriedly turning the TV on, Ceefax was able to confirm the wisdom of my action.
But the real mystery was why the game had been postponed at all. Officially it was reported that it was because of a frozen pitch, which made the mid-morning cancellation a tad premature. There was no snow about and really it didn’t seem all that cold. Subsequent reports suggestion that the real reason was because the car park was frozen and that in what was then the early days of the now maligned Health and Safety the Villa didn’t want to take the risk of litigation by a few spectators.
There have been times when it was cynically suggested some games were postponed because few fans were likely to turn up to stand on opening terraces in the pouring rain. But the club had no incentive to this game because it was in fact scheduled to be something of a minor red letter day in the history of the club. The game was due to mark the official opening of the upper tier of the new Witton Road Stand.
Holders of a Villa Programme v Manchester City dated 27th December 1993 may like to know it was actually reissued when the game was actually played on the 18th April 1994.
Worse than getting to Birmingham and having to turn straight round again was venturing to Everton on 14th January 1961. The last few miles into Lime Street were in a Merseyside fog. Getting to Goodison Park was not easy for the bus driver. But it was a drifting fog, not a pea souper and Joe Mercer was incensed when the game was called off at 2 o’clock just as conditions were improving. I went into the club offices and persuaded a very reluctant secretary to open up the packet of programmes. Then I bought a dozen and sold them to fellow travellers. Anyone in possession of this programme probably got it from me and owns something of a rarity because unlike Villa a fresh programme was printed when the game came to be played on Wednesday 22nd March 1961.
The worst sequence of postponements came in 1963, especially when some parts of the country thawed out quicker than others. Fortunately most games were cancelled in good time to prevent any unnecessary journeys although the cup game at Bristol City became very much day to day. It was eventually played eleven days after the original date and the replay took another seven weeks to arrange. The temperature did not rise above freezing for the whole of February so at least we knew that Villa Park was something of a no-go area.