Worst wet weather ever for local sport

Worst wet weather ever for local sport

A light-hearted picture to sum up recent weather
Fraser Watson in sunnier climes last Summer

Let’s be honest, it hasn't been fun for any of us.

Whether you are a player, coach administrator, referee, journalist, or simply a supporter involved in Pembrokeshire rugby or football during the period between the beginning of December and now has been as bleak as it has frustrating because horrendous weather has left pitches unplayable - with many teams having barely kicked (or caught) a ball in anger for more than two months!
Worst wet weather ever for local sport
A glance at the Division One football table shows that Hakin United have played just eight league games all season, while in rugby circles, Division Three West A side Pembroke have not managed a single match since December 5 and these are just two examples. The grim reality is that in both sports, league organisers and players alike will now have to endure a huge backlog of fixtures come the latter weeks of the season.

Last Saturday's latest washout again sparked debate on how to combat the problem of inclement weather and after inviting players to air their views via social media, here's my take, and some of your opinions, on the issues that need to be considered and if possible, addressed.

 No helping the weather!

Firstly, let's establish something - in Pembrokeshire, irrespective of the time of year, we are used to the occasional washout and yet what has transpired over these last few months has been a situation that not even the most cynical of local folk could have envisaged.

The rain was torrential throughout December, leaving many pitches still so saturated that when we finally did enjoy a break in the weather, they were still deemed unplayable – and the inclement conditions returned for the latter part of January, and there has been little respite in the early part of February either.
It is perhaps naive to simply put this down to a run of bad luck, but the truth is this has been an unusually wet winter.

Organisers and administrators are inevitably hammered from afar when a huge number of games are squeezed into a short space of time - but while there are many things within their control, the weather is not one of them.

 Get off the grass!

So the solution is an easy one, right - do away with fields, erect artificial high quality pitches throughout the county, and stage all local football and rugby on there without having to worry about a waterlogged surface.
It's nice in theory, severely more complicated in reality because of course the use of 3G/4G pitches is becoming more prominent nationwide - and it was significant that one Pembrokeshire team to play rugby on Saturday were the Schools 15s side, who took on their Cardiff Schools counterparts at the £40,000 state of the art Arms Park facility.

And few can deny there would be multiple plus points to having more 3G/4G or astroturf type pitches available here in our county.

Significantly fewer games and training sessions would be called off, and in football especially, youngsters could focus on touch and technique without the hindrance of puddles and mud – but the logistics of planning, not to mention the serious costs involved, make a scenario whereby multiple local clubs could have access to such a facility highly unlikely.

And there is of course, the argument that if a young player, whether it be in football or rugby, wants to make it to a high level he or she needs to be able to perform in a variety of conditions - not just those designed for comfort.

 Summer fun!

The 'can't we just move the season to the summer?' line is one many of us have jokingly used after a day indoors  after a postponed game.

However, suddenly the implications behind such a suggestion are being taken seriously, with some counties in England announcing their mini and junior football will now be scheduled between April and September.

Indeed, for youngsters this can be considered a more than viable solution.

They are far more likely to gain an enjoyable start to sport if played in sunshine, at a time of year where regular fixtures can be guaranteed to maintain interest.

In rugby, there may be safety issues with the hardened grounds, but while children are still playing at 'tag' rugby level, it is certainly a potential solution.

Would more switching to summer play  take off in our county?

And yet, at senior level, I can't help but think this idea will never take off in Pembrokeshire.
The inevitable clash with cricket fixtures, especially given some clubs use the same areas for their respective winter and summer sports, would cause chaos.

It would also spark anger amongst the many dual sportsmen and women in the county, who enjoy playing the round or oval ball in the winter, and then picking up a cricket bat in the summer.

And of course, from an entirely selfish point of view, it would make for some pretty blank sports pages in local papers during the winter months!

 Double dates?

I think we are all familiar with the following scenario.

A game is hastily called off on a Saturday morning, only for the sun to come out a few hours later, and the weather then proceeds to be fine throughout the following day so is it time to start setting Sunday's aside for reserve dates?

Our rugby sides of course play in leagues governed by the WRU, and some weekends are left free to give fixture secretaries the chance to re-arrange matches.

However, by in large, clubs are left to their own devices in this area, and more often than not, will only re-schedule at a time when they know they can field a strong XV. Forcing them to keep the following day in reserve, may alleviate that.

And in both football and rugby, such a rule would give ground staff an extra 24 hours to work on pitches that are perhaps 50/50 on a Saturday morning.

Of course, this proposal is not without its flaws, and more often than not, a pitch waterlogged on a Saturday is unlikely to recover by Sunday.

It would also cause issues for those who have specifically arranged work around a weekend fixture - and curtail the social aspect of local sport that many in our county enjoy.

But even if it was only enough to save the occasional game, surely that's better than weeks of not playing at all.

 Are we going soft?

Last month, I played rugby for St Davids in a 31-0 defeat at Pembroke Dock.

In truth, I hated every second of it. The weather was horrendous, the pitch was soaking and in a dire state, and standing out in the backline, I essentially froze for 80 minutes while barely touching the ball.

Furthermore, when both teams walked off afterwards, given the mud it was difficult to establish who was who but do I think the game should have been called off? Not at all.

We all like attractive and open rugby, or slick, passing football - but part of the beauty of team sports is adapting to tough conditions.

Indeed, the mark of a good team is often one prepared to trench through mud and win 6-3, or spend 90 minutes struggling to control a soaking ball before bundling home a late winner.

I know of local football games that have been called off this season because of strong winds, which in all honesty, borders on absurd.

Don't get me wrong, irrespective of the sport, if a surface is truly unplayable then little can be done - but there is scope for suggesting that we are now in an era where fixtures are called off all too readily.
After all, there is a distinct difference between heavy rain, and a waterlogged pitch.

 Your views?
Pembroke Secondary School: "3G/4G pitches required throughout. Or open up school and leisure centre astro pitches. They are expensive but it can be viable."
Iwan Izzard (Carew FC): "3/4G maybe, but not Astroturf.  I would rather play three games a week in the spring."
Darren Gilbert (formerly Pembroke RFC): "Just get out and play! It's only mud and water!"
Billy Vaughan (formerly Tenby FC): "Invest proper money into 4G pitches. Forget adults; it's the talented kids who are suffering."
Gordon Thomas (Western Telegraph Sports Editor): "Just get out and play. We are too soft these days."
Herbrandston FC: Spring or summer season? Although cricket would be a problem for ground-sharing clubs, so there would have to be compromise."
Dan Miners (Haverfordwest RFC): "Start seasons earlier and have a break in the middle."
Ben Jones (Solva FC): "It's an unusually wet winter. See what happens over the next two or three years before changing anything."
Huw Evans (Fishguard RFC): "Moving to summer will not work. A high % play rugby or football in winter and cricket in summer. Players would have to choose which would weaken one if not all sports. Is that what we want?"
Jack Christopher (Tenby FC): "At the end of the day Pembrokeshire league is a low level so if games get called off so be it."
Dene Hurlow (Tenby FC): "It comes down to money. I've played rugby and football and rugby clubs get more help at grassroots. Simple."
Peter Davies (formerly Neyland RFC): "Perhaps we need to start with midweek rugby and football in last three weeks of August and same in May."
Peter Fearn (Narberth FC): "How about local league associations, for example the West Wales FA, donate the fines collected to improving pitches."
Nick Squire (St Clears FC): "Invest in three 3G pitches in Haverfordwest/Pembroke/Milford. Two or three games on each pitch in a day, everyone plays.
Gareth Lawlor (Neyland RFC): Decision to call off rugby matches this season is made easier due to the scheduled March 5 finish, so plenty of time to re-arrange games. I wouldn't like to see any team go to full time playing on a 4G pitch, it takes away that edge to a game. I do think the WRU should look for an all-weather training facility in Pembs that could be used by all clubs.