Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman caused a stir in the days before Christmas when he voiced his displeasure at the Football League’s decision to allow flood-ravaged Carlisle United to play home games at a neutral venue in an interview with BBC Lancashire. Tom Simmonds looks at why the complaint raises a wider issue in football…
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Coleman, who has since issued an apology to the people of Carlisle, insisted that his comments were only a small segment of a wider-ranging interview. However, his displeasure was clear for all to hear:
“I’m really upset about how the league’s handled the Carlisle affair. We are now games behind Carlisle. We’ve had two postponements and they’ve been allowed to play elsewhere, and I don’t think it’s right or fair.”
To Coleman’s credit, he did also state in the interview that he was talking solely about football, and was not commenting on the wider social implications of the flooding caused by Storm Desmond, which has wreaked havoc across Cumbria for the best part of a month now.
While that was a useful piece of clarification, it also brought into relief the fact that Coleman did not choose to address the widespread upheaval caused by the flooding, which was his real mistake. Carlisle’s players went out into the community at their own initiative in the aftermath of the floods, helping to clear properties and move furniture, with the blessing of manager Keith Curle. In losing sight of the bigger picture, Coleman made himself look sour and insular by comparison to Carlisle’s community-focussed actions.
However, Coleman did happen by a good point, albeit clumsily, with his statement, which has come to the fore in the days around Christmas, when severe flooding affected large swathes of other parts of northern England.
Looking solely through a footballing optic, the situation around fulfilling fixtures has now potentially become even trickier than the situation Coleman spoke about. A number of other northern cities and towns with smaller league and non-league clubs (i.e. York and Rochdale) have been affected by the Christmas floods, and with Storm Frank poised to unleash yet more misery at the time of writing, there is a real possibility more clubs will find themselves in a situation not dissimilar to Carlisle’s. Should these clubs not be able to make arrangements that the Border club have made to keep in step with the fixture list, Carlisle then become more open to being seen as the cause celebre that Coleman accused them of being before Christmas.
Given the severity and nature of the floods, and the increased frequency of heavy flooding in the north of England in recent years, there is a possibility that events of this type might be a symptom of long-term climate change. If this is the case, any proposed solution will be far more complex than clubs making ground improvements.
Lower division clubs in Scotland and English non-league clubs have had some success in cutting the number of postponed games in recent times by installing 3G pitches to avoid them becoming waterlogged or frozen. This is not an option for the top 92 English clubs. Not only would installing a 3G pitch be against Football League rules for them, but the material that the pitch is made of wouldn’t make a difference if a ground was underwater, a la Brunton Park.
Which brings us back to Carlisle, and the accommodations made for them in the face of these freakish natural occurrences. Rather than launch a bilious attack on them, you would rather hope that Coleman and those who agreed with him might see them as small indications that the football family does still look after its stricken at times. If these adverse weather conditions are to become more prevalent in years to come, the help that Carlisle have received might be seen as a viable stop-gap solution to an immediate problem, while the wider issue of improving the country’s flood defences is tackled by the powers that be.
Has your club been affected by the recent floods? What measures are being taken to address the damage? Are your club helping the wider community to cope with the effects of the floods?
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