United’s final fixture of 2020 lasted just eight minutes.
A fitting epitaph to a crazy year, some might say, as an already cold and unpredictable playing surface became too much for match referee Martin Coy to risk at Harrogate on Tuesday night with dipping temperatures bringing too much uncertainty to proceedings the longer the night went on.
Manager Chris Beech revealed what was said by the match official shortly after the decision had been made.
“He said the pitch isn’t safe for the players and, to be fair to him, he’s right,” he said. “With the best will in the world at 5 o’clock I got a phone call off Colin the kit man to get down here, because I travelled over separately to the lads.
“I was wanted here to help the referee make a decision on the game at a point when the snow had just come off the pitch. You could argue there was a half hour window there where you’re thinking it had a chance.
“At that stage we decided to do it. I let Simon [Weaver] lead, I didn’t say on or off, and I was happy to go with what the home team wanted. They seemed very energised to get the game on, so it was ‘let’s get in on then’ at that point.
“Over the following two hours the temperature dropped and the pitch got harder.”
“The actions of the players have made the referee make a stronger decision at a point where he’s under more pressure,” he continued. “In my opinion it’s got nothing to do with the score line because there were so many minutes left in the game.
“He’s made a strong decision when he’s found himself at the weakest point. I’ve been working in football a long time, while not playing football, and I did play in worse conditions at Carlisle actually, on New Year’s Day, when there were 10,000 fans there and I was with Hartlepool.
“Times have changed and player welfare has got to be respected, so you have to respect the referee’s decision at this point. It’s probably harder to make it now than it was a 5pm.
“It was probably far easier to let it slide once it started, but you can have major injury within that and his conscience has to live with that, so he has to do what he thinks is right.
“He’s done his best to get the game on for all of us and, as I keep saying, he’s made the right decisions for the right reasons and he’s had to be very brave as he did it.”
As to whether or not either team manager got a say in the call off, he commented: “No, my concentration was on getting the players to meet the first ball in the air, because if the ball hits the floor it’s hard to judge what happens with the pitch becoming as it’s become, unplayable.
“While the ball is in the air - that’s how they scored. They won a couple of headers and it was flicked on into space. They crossed it and they scored the goal while the ball was high. On the ground it’s pretty treacherous. The ref has made the right call, you could argue at the wrong time, but he’s tried his best to get a game on.
"We’ve tried our best to make sure we’re sportsmanlike to make it competitive and do what we’re meant to do here, and that’s to win a game, but it’s become what it is. It was the right thing to do.”
Looking at the uncertainty of the day as a whole, he said: “As part of the football league we have to do what we can to get games played.
“I’d be quite happy carrying on at 1-0 for them if the conditions were fair in terms of how you can play your football. Half their team were one hundred per cent coming up to me and saying we shouldn’t have started the game, but none of my team said that to me.
“The ref came over to the halfway line, I’m 10 yards away from him, and there was no indication from me or Gav to get a negative outcome here, not one bit.
“We have a lot thrown at us at this club and all we do is adjust and make sure we get ourselves into the best position to fight for our club, and that’s all we were doing tonight. The ref’s called it off and that’s it.
“It’s hard to take but understandable at the same time. I was fortunate that I could get to the ground early and at that point the supporters were here clearing the pitch and everybody was trying really hard to get the game on.
“When you take snow off it’s warmer, and I asked to get a ball out and you could see some dodgy bits within that. They said they would warm up in those areas to try to break it up. The ref was quite happy with that at that time, but of course the temperature dropped and the ground has become unplayable.”
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