Chelsea-Liverpool frozen pitch farce is unacceptable for WSL gamers and followers


England has been chilly this month. This should not be breaking information for anybody; it’s, in spite of everything, January in northern Europe. We’re a 3rd of the best way by the winter, and most of us have already had our “dog on polished hardwood floors” moments making an attempt to get to the outlets, our rubber soles failing to get a lot buy on the icy pavement.

But for individuals who tuned in Sunday aspiring to feast upon Chelsea‘s conflict with Liverpool, they might have been stunned to see the gamers slipping and crashing on the frozen Kingsmeadow pitch. Effectively, for barely lower than 5 minutes at the least.

After Liverpool winger Shanice van de Sanden had seen her scuffed shot gathered by goalkeeper Zećira Mušović, and Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert was sluggish to select herself up after a tough fall whereas making an attempt to get herself in entrance of the hassle, referee Neil Hair blew his whistle. The match clock learn 4:53 when he signalled the 2 captains over — their dialog didn’t final lengthy earlier than he walked over to the 2 coaches after which the match supervisor.

There was confusion within the commentary field and at Kingsmeadow earlier than the boos started to ring out: sport over.

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Offering the color commentary for the BBC, former England and Everton goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis recounted a narrative from her enjoying days, and of what appears to be a web page from the 2009-10 Nationwide League Cup remaining held in early February in Rochdale: “I remember playing in a league cup final [about] 10 years ago, and it was a TV game and, at that time, there weren’t many TV games. They basically made us play. [The pitch] was sharp, it was rock hard, it was hard to keep your feet — it was dangerous ultimately.”

BBC have denied any affect on the match going forward, telling The Athletic, “There was no pressure applied by the BBC to get the game played. The safety of the players is always paramount.”

There’s a sure coincidence round the truth that each video games picked for broadcast Sunday (Brighton vs. Arsenal, slated to kick off at 6:45 p.m. native time, being the opposite) appeared to have very prolonged pitch inspections whereas Spurs vs. Leicester Metropolis (not picked for broadcast) was known as off the day earlier than.

Certainly, the pitch inspection at Crawley City, the place Brighton play most of their residence video games, took so lengthy that the match wasn’t declared postponed till 4:11 p.m. — almost two hours after the inspection was speculated to have began at 2:30 p.m. Calling the sport so late within the day was additionally an insult: many followers had already began their journeys to the southern floor, together with a robust contingent from the Arsenal Ladies Supporters Membership who hunkered down in a pub a half-mile from the bottom.

Had the Chelsea-Liverpool sport merely been known as off following the preliminary pitch inspection at 9:30 a.m. when it was, based on some sources, deemed unplayable, we might merely be ruing the chilly climate and possibly speaking concerning the influence of local weather change or floating the thought of under-pitch heating in the WSL. Nonetheless, watching two groups within the high tier, together with the present champions, making an attempt to maintain their steadiness on an ice rink for 293 seconds earlier than the referee stopped the farce, has accelerated the problem of the enjoying surfaces within the league.

That is, after all, not the primary time a conflict between the Blues and the Reds has sparked debate concerning the high quality of pitches within the WSL — their conflict at Prenton Park in December 2019 went viral because of the same quantity of concern.

That day, the muddy pitch in Birkenhead drew the ire of Chelsea boss Emma Hayes who blasted it as a “stain on the club.” Photos of Cuthbert kneeling on a boggy pitch, package and flesh doused with runny mud, circulated amongst girls’s soccer followers and gamers for weeks. This time, it is a video supercut of gamers struggling (and failing) to maintain their footing on the frozen pitch with Niamh Charles the unfortunate spotlight, the Chelsea defender unable to scamper again to her ft after sliding onto the unyielding floor.

After the match, Hayes known as for under-pitch heating throughout the league, however there’s nothing to cease Chelsea, who personal their Kingsmeadow residence, from putting in one. (Except, after all, they’re being blocked by the powers that be.)

Groups like Arsenal and Brighton, who don’t personal their regular-league properties — Borehamwood and Crawley, respectively — should not as lucky given that they are tenants, even when they’ve the cash to spend on such. Certainly, solely Chelsea, Leicester Metropolis, Manchester Metropolis and Studying personal their typical residence grounds. With the Foxes and Royals utilizing the boys’s stadiums for his or her video games, the standard of their pitches is never introduced into query, however for everybody else, and the place non-league grounds have for thus lengthy been the norm for ladies’s groups in England, it’s a fixed bone of rivalry.

There may be the argument, after all, that if a membership cannot afford to put in under-pitch heating or, say, pay their gamers all through their pregnancies — Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir’s story has been one other tough lowlight this month — and even fulfil what we have now begun to deem as primary necessities, ought to they’ve a girls’s group within the first place? We all know that even amongst golf equipment with sufficient cash to bankroll their girls’s sides, there’s nonetheless an inclination to place in little greater than the naked minimal.

An issue seen and felt by the sport comes with the accelerated pace of improvement and development, not least in England the place from the 2018-19 season, all groups within the WSL have been full time. Whereas the boys’s sport grew organically, crossing bridges and lifting itself over hurdles when it reached them, there’s a diploma of quick ahead about girls’s soccer that sees cart being put earlier than horse. For instance, the WSL’s broadcast deal highlights the nation’s urge for food for the game, however with the grounds utilized by the 12 groups often being of a decrease high quality, there’s a disconnect, although actually not the one one, as many golf equipment fail on the fundamentals like applicable medical care.

But with photos of Charles & Co. skidding throughout the Kingsmeadow pitch like Bambi getting used to his legs contemporary within the thoughts, a number of gamers — each in WSL and elsewhere — have used social media to state that what occurred Sunday wasn’t adequate and that it isn’t proper for a league that positions itself as the most effective to nonetheless see so many video games known as off due to the weather.

But it surely’s not that Chelsea vs. Liverpool was known as off, even, however reasonably that it was ever began within the first place. The timeline of occasions main as much as kickoff is muddled and contradictory, and the pithy assertion from the FA that took over three hours to even be delivered furthers the anger and raises the query of simply who was making an attempt to drive the sport to happen.

In response to Liverpool supervisor Matt Beard, he spoke to the referee earlier than kickoff saying he thought the pitch was unplayable — the Reds even needed to relocate their prematch warm-up to a special a part of the pitch that wasn’t within the shade. Moreover, Liverpool managing director Russ Fraser even emailed the FA to document the membership’s considerations at the potential for the fixture going forward.

Because the coach mentioned on to the BBC after the sport was suspended, “Whoever made the decision for the game to be on has put players at risk today.”

With the clock ticking down to six:45 p.m., when Brighton had been on account of kick off towards Arsenal, there was a fear we’d see related scenes with a match being pressured to happen. It would not even have been the primary time this season {that a} Brighton residence sport was performed on a questionable sodden enjoying floor. Nonetheless, widespread sense prevailed and the match was postponed.

Not solely do the scenes from Kingsmeadow on Sunday in addition to Crawley earlier within the season make the league appear to be a joke, devaluing the product, however additionally they put gamers in danger. As Beard mentioned yesterday, the pitch could not “take a stud” within the warm-up, therefore the farcical scenes {of professional} footballers sliding across the stable grass. Fortunately, save for a number of bruises, no gamers sustained any accidents Sunday, however that does not excuse them being put in danger within the first place.

Though expensive under-soil heating won’t be the blanket reply for the league, one thing must be finished to make sure gamers aren’t being pressured to take to the pitch in harmful circumstances.

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