It’s not looking good for football, with no clear end in sight to the suspension of the game and with the peak of the Coronavirus in Europe still predicted to be at least a month away we can expect the run of postponed fixtures to go on for a while yet.
But many of our older supporters, including yours truly, will remember the football wipe out that occurred way back in the day when the stars were Dennis Law, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves. I am talking about 1963.
We had proper winters back then as many older folk will tell you, but ‘63 was something else! It was Britain’s coldest for well over 200 years, there was no let up, it just went on, and on and on!
That year the authorities weren’t called upon to suspend matches for a sustained period, ‘Mother Nature’ did it for them. Temperatures plunged to as low as -20 degrees centigrade. In football terms that means that a few Newcastle United supporters might even have worn coats, if they could have got to a game that is! What started as freezing fog just before Christmas soon turned into 14 inches of snow dumped all over the country. The big chill never eased up for the next three months.
Football was devastated. From the new year until March, hardly a game was played. It wasn’t for want of trying though, clubs tried everything to get matches on but despite the valiant efforts of ground staff and supporters it was impossible.
Once the enthusiastic attempts using brooms and shovels had proved useless some creative thinking came to the fore. Norwich City used flamethrowers on their pitch which, for about five seconds, proved incredibly effective in melting the ice, only for the air temperature to freeze it again once the flames had dispersed. Brighton’s efforts backfired somewhat when, in an effort to get their relegation threatened season back underway, a local builder offered to thaw the icy Goldstone Ground pitch with his tarmac-laying equipment. Unfortunately his actions destroyed the pitch and Brighton eventually got relegated from the old 3rd division to the 4th. How the fortunes of the seagulls have changed since that time!
Other teams simply gave up trying in the end. Halifax Town turned their pitch into a public ice rink!
Manchester United, after losing to Fulham on Boxing Day, did not play another competitive match until briefly returning to action with a 1-1 draw against Blackpool on 23rd February. Some games were called off multiple times. Birmingham versus Bury, for instance, had an amazing 14 postponements and an abandonment of their FA Cup 3rd round tie. When their match did eventually see the end of 90 minutes it, of course, resulted in a 3-3 stalemate and needed a replay two days later. Bury eventually went through to the 4th round, winning the replay 2-0 at home.
However when the weather finally turned, catch up they did with an incredible playing schedule that would have Jurgan Klopp bursting a blood vessel. Manchester United, going through a period of transition at the time, racked up 24 games in 12 weeks, just managing to stave off relegation but with a prestigious run to the FA Cup final as ample reward.
The league season was finally completed by the end of May with Everton winning the League Division 1 title, the equivalent of the Premiership for the benefit of our younger readers, with Tottenham Hotspur runners-up. Spurs, though, finished the season on a high by becoming the first British side to win a European trophy when bringing home the European Cup Winners Cup.
The FA Cup final at that time, typically held on the first Saturday of each May, was only delayed by three weeks, Manchester United claiming the famous trophy at the old Wembley Stadium by defeating Leicester City 3-1.
But what of non-league football ? Well a look back through the archives shows that by 26th December Horsham had played 15, exactly half, of their scheduled league fixtures .
And Horsham’s last opponent before the big freeze was none other than our near neighbours and friends Dorking. The two sides had met just four days earlier at Meadowbank Park, where Horsham had run out comfortable 3-0 winners, but the return fixture at Queen Street on Boxing Day was an altogether different outcome….the home team were thrashed 5-0!
The match report makes interesting reading. It tells that our opponents were clearly revved up for the match, wanting revenge, and had successfully adapted their tactics from the earlier defeat. The reporter hinted that perhaps the Horsham players had enjoyed their Christmas rather too well and, with playing resources stretched, skipper Den Stilwell had to play with a heavy cold. Bizarrely some confusion was caused by the opposition players’ numbers being mixed up in the programme and of course the muddy pitch was a bit of a leveller, while some strange refereeing decisions by Bromley’s Mr A Gordon certainly didn’t help Horsham at all! The small crowd became increasingly exasperated by the home sides inept display, as they stomped their feet in an effort to keep warm with the snow starting to fall in the second half.
It was to be the last game Horsham would play until some eight weeks later when at last the snow stopped falling. Their opponents on their return to action on 23rd February was Lewes in the 3rd round of the Sussex Senior Cup. It was a match they won comfortably, 4-1, thanks to the game getting the go ahead at Queen Street after the last of the snow and ice was removed from the pitch by the players and officials. It was also Horsham’s first match under the guidance of former Brighton & Hove Albion centre-half Jack Dugnolle, who had signed a three year contract to coach at Queen Street just a few weeks earlier.
It was the second time Dugnolle had held a coaching role at the Club, having brilliantly masterminded the Metropolitan League championship success while player-coach in 1951/52 ahead of such clubs as Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton & Hove Albion, Luton Town and Millwall.
With the next round of the cup competition taking priority, followed by a friendly, Horsham eventually resumed league action again with a visit to Wokingham Town on 16th March. Thereafter having completed an exacting run of 14 league games they finally ended their season on 25th May with a 3-2 away defeat at Slough Town.
The 1962/63 season turned out to be a mediocre one for Horsham. They finished in 12th place out of the 16 teams that formed the Corinthian League which disbanded at the end of that very season. Following the reorganisation Horsham, along with most of the other clubs, moved to division 1 of the Athenian League. Dagenham and Maidenhead, who finished 4th and 7th respectively, moved to the Premier Division as their grounds met the required standard, whilst the league champions Leatherhead had to make do with joining the others in the 1st Division.
Horsham struggled in their debut season in the Athenian league finishing second from bottom but retained their status. In the following season, 1964/65, a strengthened team finished in a respectable 4th position.
Since then of course there have inevitably been many ups and downs over the years for our club but we should all be proud of where we are today. Let’s all hope we can see off this dreadful Coronavirus soon and when things are settled once again we can get back to our football and the completion of another memorable season.
Article by Darryl Jacobs