Untimely endings

wsc302The UK’s governing bodies should follow Europe’s lead when it comes to abandoned matches, argues Charles Ducksbury

Two identical events in recent football matches in Scotland and Italy had entirely different outcomes. Visitors Hibernian led Motherwell 1-0 at half time in an SPL match in December. This was a surprise, as Motherwell are fighting for a European place while their opponents are embroiled in a relegation battle. After the teams failed to appear for the second half, supporters were asked to evacuate the stadium due to an electrical fire in one of the floodlights. The game was abandoned and rearranged for February, starting goalless, with a full 90 minutes to play. Motherwell won the “replay” 4-3.

A day after the Fir Park abandonment, Padova welcomed Torino in a top-of-the-table clash in Italy’s Serie B. That game also fell victim to the floodlights. They went out first just after half time, causing a small delay. Play resumed eventually, only for the lights to fail again, prompting another, longer delay. As before, the game restarted. Padova took the lead amid the confusion. Torino looked for an equaliser but the lights failed for a third and final time and the game was abandoned after 76 minutes. Unlike in the UK, the replayed game started from where it had been stopped, with the score at 1-0 with 14 minutes to play. Padova held on for three valuable points to boost their promotion bid.

It seems that the UK is the odd one out around the world when it comes to rearranging abandoned games. In Italy, Spain, Germany, Brazil and Argentina abandoned games are restarted from when the original game was called off. Real Madrid played a “seven-minute match” in 2004 after their home game with Real Sociedad was abandoned on 83 minutes after a bomb threat made by the Basque separatist group ETA. The 1-1 scoreline was carried over, giving Zinedine Zidane enough time to score a penalty to win the game for Real Madrid.

Barnsley were victims of the Football League rules in November 2009. They were leading hosts Plymouth 4-1 with 25 minutes to go, when referee Gavin Ward called time due to a waterlogged pitch. Some 150 fans had braved the 600-mile round trip in treacherous conditions at some expense, yet it counted for nothing. The rematch in April 2010 finished goalless.

Despite being the scorn of football fans worldwide, abandoned games have inadvertently created history. Against Juventus in the 1970-71 Fairs Cup final, Leeds United became the first side to win a European trophy on away goals thanks to an abandonment. The first leg in Turin was called off at 0-0 due to a waterlogged pitch. In the replayed game two days later, the visitors netted two key away goals in a 2-2 draw. A 1-1 scoreline at Elland Road a week later meant Leeds won the cup due to the two goals in the replayed game in Italy.

Further afield, it is widely accepted that a game in 1961 between Juventus and Inter was a key factor in escalating a rivalry which is now one of the biggest grudge games in Europe. In a battle of the top two, visitors Inter were awarded a 2-0 win because of crowd trouble, a result that saw them close in on Juventus. By the penultimate round of games, they had pulled level. The decision to award Inter the points was then overturned. A replay was ordered just hours before Inter kicked-off in Catania. Demoralised at suddenly being two points down, they were beaten 2-0 and lost the title to Juventus that same day. In protest at the Italian FA’s decision, the Nerazzurri sent their youth team to Juventus and promptly lost 9-1.

It is not just weather or bad lighting that causes abandonments. Recent events around the globe include linesmen being hit by umbrellas and toilet roll in Mallorca and Uruguay respectively, and a goalkeeper being attacked by an opposition fan in Amsterdam. Usually in these instances, the various bodies punish the team whose fans caused the attacks, although Ajax’s game with AZ was replayed with 20,000 children as the only spectators.
In the interests of fairness, it would be nice to think the UK’s various governing bodies would change their rules to benefit sides who see their leads wiped out thanks to abandoned matches. But since when has football ever been fair?

From WSC 302 April 2012