Six postponements for Cup tie that suffered in big freeze of '63
DERBY County beat the wintry weather to stage their biggest home game of the season against neighbours Nottingham Forest last Saturday.
The undersoil heating made the Pride Park pitch playable, snow was cleared from the car parks and pavements around the stadium and surfaces gritted to assist access for a sell-out 33,000 crowd.
Fourteen fixtures in League One and Two were postponed and non-League football took a big hit as the weather disrupted the programme but not to the extent it did during the harsh winter of 50 years ago.
Football was virtually put on ice between late December 1962 and March 1963 as ferocious blizzards, drifting snow that reached 25 feet and regular freezing temperatures made it the worst winter in football history.
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There were a total of more than 400 postponements.
Derby went without a game for six weeks and their FA Cup third round tie against Peterborough United was called off six times before eventually, at the seventh attempt, the fixture went ahead and the Rams won 2-0 at the Baseball Ground thanks to two goals from Barry Hutchinson.
The snowy saga started on January 4, the day before the tie was scheduled.
Nottingham referee Bob Stoakes held an 11am inspection at the Baseball Ground and found the pitch covered in two inches of snow but a slight thaw was leaving a lot of water around.
He elected to drive on to Crewe to inspect Alexandra's pitch, where he was due to handle a Fourth Division game against Barrow the next day. He returned to Derby for a further inspection of the Baseball Ground at 4pm and called the match off.
Stoakes was making the decision to save a journey for Les Hamer, the Horwich referee who had charge of the Rams' Cup tie.
The tie was rescheduled for January 9 but another pitch inspection the day before was a formality. Manager Tim Ward said he considered the pitch worse and far more dangerous than when the tie was postponed a few days earlier.
A hot-air machine was brought in, a space heater used by Ford and Weston Ltd, the Derby contractors, for the quick drying out of buildings in the winter.
The machine could throw out enough heat to defrost an area of 60ft by 40ft. The idea was to thaw out the pitch section by section using two or three of the machines. Immediately a section is defrosted the area was covered with straw.
All the efforts could not prevent the tie being postponed for a third time on January 16.
Derby's players had to train in the gymnasium at the Baseball Ground and do some road running because the Sinfin Lane training ground was frozen. They did manage to train on a pitch at the Racecourse by permission of the Parks' Superintendent.
"We are most indebted to him. The pitches are fit to train on and for practice game purposes," said Ward.
The next attempt to play the tie was on January 21, by which time Ward had received several suggested solutions to the pitch problem from fans and local firms alike.
He was now contemplating the possibility of putting braziers on the pitch to try to thaw out a surface that was described as "hopelessly hard".
"It's only a thought," said Ward, "and we would need about 150 braziers burning for at least a couple of days to hope to have any effect."
It was typical of the problem that faced clubs as football remained in the icy grip of the severe winter conditions. The search was on for an answer in the bid to stage matches but the weather held the upper hand.
Coventry City, managed by Jimmy Hill, went to play friendly matches in Ireland, including against Manchester United in Dublin, a game that attracted a 20,000 crowd.
Even more imaginative was Halifax Town's decision to turn their ground into a public ice rink and charge admission.
One benefit from the enforced break was that a number of Derby players returned from injury, including defender Les Moore and right-half Ron Webster, who had recovered from a fractured collar bone. Ward, however, was wary of playing both players given the frozen ground conditions.
Rescheduled again, this time for January 26, the Peterborough tie was postponed for a fifth time because the pitch was still frozen hard beneath its snow blanket.
By this time, the Rams had also had four League fixtures postponed – Walsall home and away, Portsmouth at home and Preston away. The backlog was daunting and the Reserves had not played since December 15.
Four inches of snow now lay on the pitch and the Rams made no effort to remove it for fear of leaving the surface bare to further frost.
To keep the players' fitness levels topped up they played practice matches against Forest at the Racecourse.
The next date pencilled in for the Cup tie was Wednesday, January 30.
A welcome thaw improved the chances of the game finally being played. "There is a thin covering of snow on the surface and the pitch is in quite good condition," said manager Ward.
But the weather was the winner again.
The temperature plummeted from early evening and as a trainload of Peterborough supporters spilled out of Derby Station and as the Peterborough players climbed off their coach outside the Baseball Ground, a pitch inspection was being held.
The game was called off again 45 minutes before kick-off because the playing surface was frozen.
Both managers agreed the referee made the right decision.
Peterborough manager Jack Fairbrother's main sympathy was for the 4,000 Posh fans who had travelled.
Ward echoed the thoughts, and added: "I feel sorry, too, for our staff and the workmen who made such a wonderful effort to make the pitch playable."
Another snowfall forced Derby's next League game at home to Plymouth Argyle on February 2 to be postponed but the Peterborough Cup tie finally went ahead two days later.
The long wait was over but other clubs faced longer waits before they could play their third round ties.
The game between Lincoln City and Coventry City was postponed 14 times before Coventry beat Lincoln 5-1 on March 6.
Half of the 32 ties fell victim to the weather 10 times or more and the third round took 66 days to complete.
All outdoor sport suffered. Rugby Union and Rugby League fixtures were wiped out on a weekly basis and horse racing in England was hit hard. Ninety four National Hunt meetings were cancelled.
But football was the highest-profile casualty and the disruption resulted in the Pools Panel being formed. A panel sat and gave results for the postponed games.
The season was extended. Derby played their final match on May 18 and the FA Cup final was eventually played on May 25, when Manchester United beat Leicester City.