OPINION: Hartlepool United's match postponed FA Cup first round match at Yeovil Town was handled appallingly

Hartlepool United’s FA Cup first round trip to Yeovil Town didn’t go to plan, at all.

Sunday, 10th November 2019, 11:45 am
The officials check out the pitch at Huish Park (photo: HUFC)
The officials check out the pitch at Huish Park (photo: HUFC)

After making the 330-mile trip down to Somerset, the match was first cast into doubt early on Saturday afternoon when Yeovil confirmed that a pitch inspection would be taking place at Huish Park from around 1:30pm.

There had been a spell of heavy rainfall which led to the inspection announcement at the fairly late time of 12:37 – just two hours and 23 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time.

Yeovil had tweeted earlier that no pitch inspection was planned, but the worsening weather conditions forced their hand.

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By the time the inspection announcement was made, Yeovil was mild and dry. Those who were yet to see the pitch at Huish Park were probably slightly bemused as to why a pitch inspection would take place so late in the day with the sun beating down.

The more cynical individuals out there would think perhaps a bit of gamesmanship was at play given the importance of the fixture and a £36,000 prize for the winner. Anything that could potentially put Pools off and give the home side the edge.

But upon arrival, it quickly became apparent why a pitch inspection was arranged. The pitch was heavily saturated, the dugouts were ankle deep with water and some areas of the pitch were visibly boggy.

The United players arrived at the ground at around 1pm in decent spirits despite the pitch inspection news. Some joked that the game was off to those who were yet to set foot on the pitch themselves, there never seemed to be a serious concern that the game wouldn’t go ahead.

The Hartlepool United players on the pitch at Huish Park moments before the match was postponed.

“I’d play on that no bother,” said an upbeat Luke James as he left the field following a brief inspection for himself.

“I’ve played on a lot worse,” Pools legend Antony Sweeney commented while manager to be Dave Challinor added: “It’s not that bad is it?”

Despite Sweeney set to be in caretaker charge for the match, Challinor certainly looked the part kitted out in full Hartlepool United attire and discussing things with his new coaching staff.

The mood was reasonably positive until the match officials arrived to inspect the pitch at 1:20pm. For the most part, the pitch was soggy but playable, the ball moved well enough across the surface.

But when things were tested out inside one of the penalty areas, the doubt started to set in from the players and staff as they watched on. The referee threw the match ball into the air only for it to stick to the surface rather than bounce on impact.

A very audible and worried ‘oooh’ was made by several of those watching on as the game now looked in serious doubt.

Still, the inspection continued with no other areas looking to have any serious issues.

Then after a quick return to the problem area, the referee made the abrupt call to postpone the match on the spot: “It’s off.”

Was it the correct decision? Well, that’s a tricky one.

Was the pitch playable at 1:25pm when the referee made the decision to call the match off? Probably not.

But was there still at least 95-minutes to try and sort out a very small problem area of the pitch in sunny conditions at Huish Park? Absolutely.

It was the glaring lack of effort to even try and get the game on with both weather and time on side that just doesn’t sit right.

Calling the game off has to be an absolute last resort, especially if the team are physically at the ground. You may call a game off prematurely to avoid the risk of disappointing a team and travelling fans who were set to travel.

But when the team and fans are already there, absolutely everything needs to be done to try and get the game to go ahead as planned.

Upon arrival at Huish Park, no one was on the pitch trying to fix the issues with its ‘unplayability’, no rollers, covers or pitchforks were visible that could have helped ease the issue somewhat.

Obviously these things could have already been tried and it’s important to stress that Yeovil aren’t at fault here as they’ll have to reimburse Pools’ travel costs anyway.

Pools had travelled down on Friday and stayed overnight for their troubles. Some Pools fans wouldn’t have been so lucky.

In fairness, the Pools players and staff reacted as well as could be expected to the news. Sweeney was clearly disappointed but took the decision on the chin and got the players quickly back on the coach to head back to the north east.

The handling of the situation has left a lot to be desired with almost an acceptance that the game wasn’t going to go ahead.

Perhaps the game wouldn’t have gone ahead regardless and perhaps it was the right call, but we’ll never know as the decision was made far to quickly with no attempt to try and fix the problem once Pools had arrived.

Even more frustratingly, Westland Sports’ home match one mile away went ahead as planned.

If nothing else, this will just add a little bit of extra spice when the sides meet for the rescheduled fixture this coming Tuesday evening!