Monday, 11 January 2010

Football out in the cold (and wet)

As expected, another raft of games has been called off across Britain this weekend, as a result of one of the coldest weather snaps in recent memory. But football has frequently had to deal with extreme conditions. Perhaps my favourite illustration of this is the famous photo from Dens Park in 1936, with Tommy Robertson pluckily preparing to take a corner for Dundee in what to all intents and purposes looks like a swimming pool! This is just a detail. In the original you can see that few of the supporters even have umbrellas, and there's not a white line in sight.

Of course there's no way a match would go ahead in anything like these conditions today. The mud baths of the 1960s and 1970s, when I grew up with the game, are also a thing of the past -- and rightly so. It often turned to farce. However, I have some sympathy with Arsene Wenger's recent complaints about us becoming an obsessively risk-averse society these days. But it's too easy to blame 'health and safety' indiscriminately, as football fans frequently do. It is legislation furthered by litigation, and by a litany of abuses, which has led us to err heavily on the side of caution (as when teams with under soil heating still have to postpone matches because of conditions around the ground and their duty of care towards supporters).

Maybe it does feel as if we have to go too far sometimes. But when that is the case it's often the result of over-zealous or unintelligent interpretations of the rules, rather than the rules themselves. The HSE also regularly responds to errors and misrepresentations about these issues in the tabloid media. Their prime role (and an important one, given our industrial history) is to prevent death, injury and avoidable ill-health to those at work and those affected by work activities. People moan about the restrictions and regulations, but if they slip and fall on the ice they may still look for the number of a personal injury lawyer to see if someone else can be made responsible. That's where the real contradiction lies.

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