Poland vs. England: FIFA Fiasco or Polish Plot?

Terry CarrollContributor IIIOctober 16, 2012

The Poland vs England football match was postponed this evening in conditions of pure farce. It is hard to apportion blame but based on the available information both FIFA and the Polish FA must take a long hard look in the mirror.

The last time England had a football match postponed was in 1979. Apart from wartime complications, it seems likely that the previous occasion was the England vs. Wales victory celebration match in 1919.

So tonight's situation is not only rare but in this day and age, with all the available technology, it seems beyond belief that it was postponed at all.

It will now be played tomorrow at 5 p.m. Polish time, assuming the waterlogged pitch has been dried sufficiently for players not to be put at risk.

How could this happen?

For a manful hour and three-quarters, the ITV team of presenters tried to keep viewers entertained and optimistic while frankly predicting that there was no chance of the match going ahead.

Apparently rain wasn't anticipated at all, let alone in the apocalyptic proportions that fell in the space of a few hours.

Some of you may recall that the Warsaw stadium was used for Euro 2012 matches this summer. And yes, the sharper witted of you will also recall that there is an all-weather roof on the stadium...and yes, again, it was closed a few times this summer!

So how, you might ask, in far worse weather conditions and advancing Autumn, did the roof come to be left open?

It seems the Polish FA didn't expect the rain to be so bad. Not only did they decided not to close the roof, but they also clearly knew that it could not be closed later if the rain and wind were too bad.

Now we are not in a position to offer the technological reasons why the roof could not be closed. Especially puzzling when Wimbledon is able to close the roof over Centre Court during inclement weather.

And yes again, the Warsaw roof apparently only takes 20 minutes to be closed. Furthermore, as a Polish FA spokeswoman explained, once it is closed there is a heating system that gets rid of all the water in 30 minutes!

Conspiracy theory

By now, some of you might well be speculating that just maybe the Poles didn't want the match played. Was this an exercise in brinkmanship with FIFA, with the Poles gambling that FIFA would order a reschedule until a later date?

Well actually there is some basis for this hypothesis. The Poles were already without their star player Blaszczykowski of Borussia Dortmund and first choice goalkeeper Szczesny from Arsenal.

They had also dropped two points against Montenegro, so they needed nothing less than a win. So why not gamble on the worst possible, but playable, ground conditions to inhibit England's playing style and level the odds between the teams.

If this was their hope, it has backfired badly. You can understand Roy Hodgson being most reluctant to send his players onto a pitch that could tear hamstrings or result in crunch sliding tackles. You can also imagine the grinding of teeth at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane if the match had gone ahead.

So even before the match was called off there was a complete contrast between the teams. The England players were already changed into tracksuits for the return to their hotel but the Polish players were still stripped to play.

There was also a very specific reason for this behaviour. Some of the Poles are due to be playing matches this Friday for their club sides, including in Germany. If there was any chance of the match being postponed until tomorrow that would give them only two days to travel home and prepare for their club matches.

So no wonder that the stadium and Polish FA officials held the blind belief that the match could somehow miraculously be played.

What were FIFA doing meanwhile?

It is hard to know or understand. They will surely be triply embarrassed. 

First, one of their leading European referees was seen broadcast across the world not just once, but twice, lobbing the ball into the air only to see it plop in one puddle after another. And later failing to kick it more than a couple of yards through deep puddles.

And all this to satisfy himself, the Polish officials and no doubt his masters, that the game was utterly unplayable. But that decision could have been made more than an hour earlier.

Secondly, it seems likely that FIFA allowed themselves to be persuaded earlier that it wasn't necessary to close the roof over the stadium.

Finally, either they conspired with the Polish FA to orchestrate a farce while not only a TV audience of millions, but also 55,000 fans in the stadium were conned into believing there was still an outside possibility the game would go ahead. 

That is the only explanation for more than half of those fans, most of whom had travelled from all over Poland; some 2,300 of whom had spent hundreds of pounds each travelling form England, being still inside the stadium more than an hour after the scheduled kickoff.

Apparently,  both teams and the referee have to agree that the pitch is playable, but FIFA have absolute jurisdiction about when the postponed match is rescheduled to.

Again, were the Poles gambling that it could be moved to a later date, this year or even next summer, when their best players might be back?

If so this also backfired badly. FIFA will always try to get a match rescheduled within 24 hours of the postponement. Result? It will be played at 5 p.m. local time tomorrow.

That is less of a problem for England (whose players are due to play League matches on Saturday at the earliest) than for Poland, some of whom must play on Friday.

The Polish players are entitled to feel badly let down by their own FA. The England players may well have been staying overnight anyhow and simply have to get themselves back up for the match. Roy Hodgson has already indicated he will play exactly the same team.

But surely the Poles will be angrily wanting to know why their own FA didn't get the roof closed earlier so that the match could go ahead on time.

A complete farce

We live in an age where stadiums have roofs, under-pitch heating and only the most extreme Arctic conditions cause postponements at top European clubs (like the lighting sabotage at a recent Real Madrid match).

Yet, we have the spectacle of a FIFA managed international being needlessly postponed at one of the showpiece stadiums used for Euro 2012. Furthermore,it is one of the relatively few stadiums in Europe equipped with a roof to cope with inclement weather.

Questions will be asked from Sepp Blatter all the way down. Fans have wasted millions of pounds getting to a match they must now travel home from unplayed.

The only ball they saw kicked was by an embarrassed referee.

The only sport they saw was two idiot supporters doing belly flops into the penalty area.

If it really is the Polish FA that are to blame for this farce, presumably there could even be fines. 

Furthermore, if Poland go on to lose the match tomorrow afternoon very few people will look beyond the incompetence of officials to organise a simple match in a hi-tech stadium as the reason.

If they then go on to fail in their qualification for  the World Cup, any recrimination will be heaped on top of their embarrassing failure to progress in the Euro 2012 tournament they hosted on their own soil.

This would be even more embarrassing if they failed to qualify while their co-hosts at Euro 2012 were to go forward alongside England.


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