FOLLOWING the postponement of last night's fixture with Dorking Wanderers in the Vanarama National League at The J. Davidson Stadium, I want to address our fans directly about that, and also give you some broader context on the playing surface at the ground.
We are all extremely disappointed about the postponement last night. Having been on the end of a less than ideal process as the away team a few weeks ago, we had reviewed our approach to potential postponements, but the reality is we were faced with a very unfortunate sequence of events with the weather today.
We sincerely apologise to the Dorking fans who had already set off, with some who had made it as far as Altrincham. And while we did offer free food to all the Wanderers fans who got as far as the stadium tonight, we would like to refund all Dorking fans for their matchday tickets and offer those away fans who had already bought tickets free entry to the rearranged game.
I also want to pay tribute to the officials and staff at Dorking. Over the last 36 hours we liaised very closely with them, along with the National League, with the match officials and with other local referees.
While Dorking would have liked the game to be called off (if it were going to be) before they set out yesterday morning, the pitch was playable through Monday and into Tuesday morning. An initial check from a respected local referee at 11am yesterday confirmed that the pitch was playable at that time. Although rain was forecast no referee would call off a game simply on the prospect of future rain, and we therefore arranged for the match referee to carry out an inspection at 5pm.
In addition, we had extensively Verti-drained the pitch the day before and applied a couple of specialist treatments that had certainly contributed to the pitch being playable at the morning inspection. However, continuous rain through the day meant that when the match referee arrived to carry out a pitch inspection at 5pm, water had not sufficiently drained from all parts of the pitch, leaving some parts unplayable, and the referee therefore called the game off.
I had been in continuous contact with Marc White, the Dorking Wanderers Chief Executive over the last 24 hours and he appreciated that we had been proactive and done everything we could. Marc added “this morning this was an innocuous situation where everything pointed to the game being on, but the unprecedented weather saw an unexpected postponement. All we can ask from the host club is clear and unambiguous dialogue and Altrincham certainly gave us that.” The match referee also praised the way we had tried to manage the situation.
Which brings us to our comms with all of you, our supporters, which I know has disappointed some of you. Rather than put out hypothetical comms during the day “eg – the match will be on if the rain holds off” we wanted to wait for the clarity of the pitch inspection at 5pm. And given the match referee has complete authority to determine whether a game is playable or not we had to wait for that.
We apologise we weren’t able to confirm the call-off earlier, but this was a situation not dissimilar to the Bromley postponement last season: a playable pitch made unplayable but continuous rain in the hours before kick-off. And indeed, we were not the only game off for a waterlogged pitch – Walsall and Burton in the EFL., plus Cambridge having their game abandoned during the first half. It seems
clear that extreme weather conditions will continue to impact football over the coming seasons.
Our playing surface
We are aware that we have had a level of postponed games that is beyond what we (or you) expected this season. It is also clear that the state of the pitch in general is not as it should be. And we know we are currently without a full-time groundsman in role. However, we have engaged two superb groundsmen on an interim basis who are working in tandem to drive a pitch improvement programme to get us to the end of the season. And in that time we will carry out a thorough review of what we will need to overhaul during the close season, with active support from the companies we worked with in 2021.
A Phil Parkinson team needs the best possible playing surface, and we have worked hard over the last few seasons to satisfy this criterion. But we always have to balance the budget across all lines of our business. And we were especially sensitive to the needs of the team in January, coming through the month with a strengthened squad, as Alex Newby joined us permanently.
We have invested in building one of the most exciting squads in the National League, but we know we must make progress with the pitch and more broadly in the stadium as a whole. We now need to determine what the balance will be in coming seasons, between on and off the pitch (and indeed the pitch itself) and ensure that we can achieve the level of investment needed to make this happen.
While yesterday was disappointing for all of us, Alty are in the strongest position we have been in a generation. And we have the ambition to move forward from here.
However, we know we have some very big challenges ahead of us, and some potentially tough decisions to make. I recognise the frustration caused by the weather, but ask that you continue to have faith, look how far we have come and give us all the support we need to get us to the next level.
With you behind us, we have every confidence we will succeed.