Rotherham A - A Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 19 March 2023 By Paul Evans

Fifty-five years, four months and fourteen days, I make it that’s how long ago it is since Cardiff City had a match abandoned before today’s vital relegation battle at Rotherham’s New York Stadium fell victim to a downpour that lasted something like twenty minutes starting from around the time the first half ended.


On 4 November 1967, the game at Ninian Park against Millwall was abandoned because the pitch had become waterlogged after around half an hour had been played with the game still goalless. I’d just assumed that this would be the one and only time in my City supporting life that we’d have a match abandoned, as opposed to postponed, but I was wrong.

What makes the whole thing so frustrating is that City played well to be leading 1-0 at half time in a game played in dry, calm conditions which gave no clue as to what was coming. Indeed, when the stream I was watching came online again for the second half, the first picture I saw was a misty and murky landscape shot of the area outside the ground and I just assumed they were showing some other game as a mistake. However, the scene then changed to a shot from inside the ground which showed that there clearly had been a spectacular opening of the heavens during the interval and the rain was still absolutely hammering down.

Before going on to examine why this has the potential to become a controversy which could,  conceivably, end up in the courts if City were to be relegated by a margin of three points or less, I should say that the pitch was obviously unfit for play when referee Oliver Langford started the second half. For reasons best known to himself, he let play go on for about ninety seconds, spoke to both captains and, then, bafflingly, played on for another thirty seconds or so before leading the teams off the pitch, never to return!

After another few minutes, the rain eased and then stopped and Langford then came out again to look at the pitch, decided to have another look with both managers about a quarter of an hour later, rolled a ball about a bit and tried to bounce it, before walking off with a frustrated looking Sabri Lamouchi giving the biggest clue as to what the ref’s decision was going to be. For some reason, there was then a further delay of about five minutes until, accompanied by cheers from the home fans, it was announced the game was off.

That’s the bare bones of the story, but there are further considerations here. After the abandonment, Rotherham announced that there would be an EFL investigation into the circumstances behind the calling off of the game – this should not just turn out to be the whitewash it almost certainly will be.

Here are things that I know occurred because I saw them on the stream I watched and there are videos on Twitter confirming it.

  1. No more than four members of Rotherham’s staff were out on the pitch using a mixture of forks, brushes and squeegees trying to clear the pitch.
  2. Their efforts could be described, diplomatically, as half-hearted.
  3. One of the staff was pushing water back on to the pitch from the sidelines with his squeegee!

Furthermore, it’s been confirmed, with Twitter videos to back it up, that the sprinklers were turned on during the half time interval when it was emptying down! The end City were to be attacking in the second half appeared to be worst affected by the rain and the video posted on Twitter appears to show that it was the sprinkler at that end of the pitch which was turned on – although it’s hard to be 100 per cent sure of that this is correct, because the stands at both ends of the ground are virtually identical – either way, having a sprinkler operating on any part of the pitch during a downpour is, obviously, ludicrous.

It’s also been claimed on Rob Phillips’ phone in that Sabri Lamouchi was ordered by the EFL not to comment on the matter after the game (City’s website has put out a very short statement saying, incorrectly, that the game was postponed which ends with the cryptic remark that “Further details will follow in due course.”).

Meanwhile Rotherham manager Matt Taylor has had plenty to say as he defended his club against justified claims that the ground staff were hardly busting a gut to get the game played – Taylor also claims that the pitch was unsafe.

There have been criticisms of the drainage at Rotherham’s ground online, but I’m not convinced by such arguments. The New York Stadium opened in 2012 and, apart from one season (2014/15?), I don’t recall Rotherham ever building up a backlog of home games because of postponements and/or abandonments – the issue for me is that Rotherham could do nothing about the rain or the sheer volume of it that came down, but could they have worked harder to get the water off the pitch once the rain stopped?

As to what happens now, there are contradictory precedents out there as to what happens when it comes to replaying, or not, an abandoned match with the name of that great Scottish forward Dennis Law writ large in them.

First though, I should say that the abandoned City v Millwall match in 1967 was replayed in full about five weeks later and finished in a 2-2 draw. That was a simple, non controversial decision considering that the original game was scoreless when the decision to call it off was made, but imagine how Dennis Law and Manchester City must have felt in 1961 when their Fourth Round FA Cup tie at Luton was abandoned with them 6-2 up with Law having scored them all? Law found the net again in the replayed game, but it was Luton who progressed with a 3-1 win!

On the other hand, when Law, again playing for Manchester City, scored the goal at Old Trafford which relegated Manchester United in 1974 and home fans invaded the pitch forcing the game to be abandoned, the authorities decided that there was no need for a replay because there was only a few minutes left in the game. Similarly, when Blackpool fans protesting against the club owner forced an abandonment of their final game of the season in 2015, the match was not replayed (Blackpool were already relegated) and it was deemed to be a 0-0 draw.

Another instance of the authorities not bothering to replay a game was the notorious “Battle of Bramall Lane” in 2002 when Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United, down to eight men following three sending offs and with a couple of players not fit enough to continue, saw their game with West Brom abandoned with the Baggies 3-0 up. The rules state a game should be abandoned if a team only has seven players, or less and, at the time, there was speculation that Warnock deliberately tried to get the game called off – as it was, West Brom were awarded a 3-0 win and the game was never replayed.

I’ve been trying to find examples of games that have only been replayed for the period left in the match when it was abandoned with the score set at what it was when called off – this has happened in the past, but I couldn’t find an example of it.

If Rotherham were deemed to be guilty of trying to get the game abandoned, then you’d like to think we’d be awarded the points (I’d guess a legal challenge would follow from them if they then ended up going down on goal difference), but, realistically, that’s not going to happen and I think a forty two minute game starting with us 1-0 up is wishful thinking as well.

Matt Taylor has already decided that the game is going to start from scratch on some Tuesday night in April and I’m pretty sure he’s right in that opinion.

One final observation from me, being old enough to remember that abandoned game from the sixties means that I can recall things like Derby County winning the league title twice in the early to mid seventies despite having to play their home games on a quagmire of a pitch at the Baseball Ground. Although there was a part of the pitch yesterday which would have proved problematical when it came to taking corners, I’m positive that I saw TV highlights of Derby playing games at the Baseball Ground in worse conditions than those at Rotherham when the decision to call the game off was taken – Derby would never have been able to complete their fixtures every season if modern day criteria were applied as to whether the pitch was fit to play or not.

Similarly, I can recall the 71/72 season when some expensive, by the standards of the time, work during the summer to improve the Ninian Park pitch went wrong and so City ended up playing about three quarters of the season on a pitch that seemed to alternate between a mudheap or a desert such was the amount of sand which had to be dumped on it. There was one particular game against Sunderland during that season where I’m sure the pitch was in a worse state than Rotherham’s was yesterday when the game was called off. I can also remember games down the years played at Ninian Park where there were large puddles in the Grange End goalmouth (a game against Bury as recently as 2002 being a case in point) and yet all of them were completed. Unfortunately, the will did not seem to be there from Rotherham to get the match completed and this begs the obvious question of would we have seen a different attitude from them if they were 1-0 up, as opposed to 1-0 down?

As for the football that was played, it only adds to the frustration that we were playing as well as we have done in an away game in months and were worth more than a 1-0 lead.

The goal arrived as early as the fourth minute when Callum O’Dowda led a counter attack which saw the ball worked out to Mahlon Romeo whose deep cross was nodded back by fellow wing back O’Dowda into the path of Jaden Philogene who calmly side footed into an empty net from eight yards.

City remained in control without taking advantage of some promising counter attacking opportunities, but in the five minutes before half time they could have added to their lead on a couple of occasions. Firstly, Perry Ng’s free kick from twenty yards bounced off the crossbar and over and then when Sory Kaba did well to play sub Sheyi Ojo through. Ojo, on for Kion Etete who was having another fine match before being forced off with what hopefully is not a hamstring strain, saw his shot saved by Victor Johansson – Ojo should have scored, but the opportunity arrived no more than a minute or two after he came on and so he was hardly up to match speed.

Elsewhere, the bad news is that ex City man Danny Ward scored to give Huddersfield an unlikely 1-0 win at top six candidates Millwall and Wigan came from one down to get a good point at Watford. Birmingham look safe now after a win at QPR, but the home side are still really struggling. The best result for City came at Bloomfield Road where Blackpool were unable to build on their huge midweek win as they were thumped 4-1 by Coventry.

Mixed news at Under 18 and 21 levels. The Academy side were beaten 2-1 at Leckwith by Crewe with Cole Fleming getting the goal. Meanwhile, the under 21s followed up their 4-1 loss at Ipswich last Tuesday by beating the same opponents on Friday in an incident packed game at Leckwith.

A great free kick by Joel Bagan and then a good finish by Cameron Antwi sixty seconds later had us two up with just over twenty minutes played, only for Aiden MacNamara to be promptly shown a straight red card for a foul as last man. City were able to get to around the hour mark with their two goal lead intact, but a scruffy scrambled goal had the visitors back in it with half an hour to go..

City survived a few scares and there were a couple of fine saves by keeper Joe Thomas as Ipswich piled on the pressure, but then we broke well to enable substitute Cian Ashford to put us 3-1 up. A header from a corner got Ipswich back into it within a minute, but Ashford made sure of the win with a second goal in the closing minutes.

In the Highadmit South Wales Alliance Premier Division, Merthyr Saints won the battle at the foot of the table by coming out on top by the odd goal in seven at AFC Porth leaving the home team rooted to the bottom of the table with little or no hope of avoiding the drop now. In the First Division, Treherbert Boys and Girls Club edged out lowly AFC Whitchurch 3-2 at home to maintain their lead over the chasing pack.

Finally, there are still a few signed copies of my latest book “Tony Evans Walks on Water” available from the Trust Office (near Gate 5) on matchdays at the reduced price of £9 for Trust members.