Premier League: It wasn't always so simple to get games called off as past stars reveal

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The Premier League season has been thrown into disarray by the postponement of 22 games due to Covid and injury — but it was not always so easy to get a match called off.

JERMAINE JENAS

In the dressing room when Tottenham lost 2-1 at West Ham on the last day of the 2005-06 season to hand a Champions League place to Arsenal. Ten Spurs players went down with food poisoning on the morning of the game.

Jermaine Jenas was part of a Tottenham side chasing Champions League football in 2006

Jermaine Jenas was part of a Tottenham side chasing Champions League football in 2006

‘It was a scene of pure chaos. The lads were in absolute turmoil. On the morning of the game most of our players were in a very bad place.

‘Michael Carrick was one of the worst. Michael Dawson was bad too. Had it been in the middle of the season, something could have been done. But it was the last day when all the games had to kick off at the same time.

‘That was the hurdle the club ran into. It was, “Get on the coach and go and play”.

‘It was not a pretty journey — one in and one out of the toilet all the way and others slumped, exhausted, against the windows. We always knew we were going to struggle.

‘Afterwards I was sitting in a dressing room with a group of players who had had a fantastic season and been undone by food poisoning.

‘It was the worst dressing room moment I have ever had. A whole season’s work was gone.’ As told to cbssports.com.

But the Spurs stars were struck by illness on the final day of the season in defeat at West Ham

But the Spurs stars were struck by illness on the final day of the season in defeat at West Ham

DAVE BASSETT

Played for non-League Wimbledon in their incredible 69-game 1974-75 season. They won the Southern League and London Senior Cup and became the first non-League team to knock a top-flight side out of the FA Cup away from home in 55 years when they won 1-0 at Burnley.

‘Talk of modern-day fixture congestion makes me laugh. That season was chaos — we played 33 times between February 1 and the end of the season and had a squad of about 16 players.

‘We played 11 games in March and 12 in April. You don’t have to be a maths genius to work out that’s a game every two-and-a-half days and that was often on bad pitches in terrible conditions.

‘We actually asked if we could opt out of the London Senior Cup to try to ease the load and were told no! So we got on with it. The thing about footballers is that they just want to play, really.

‘That’s what makes the situation in the Premier League so ridiculous.

‘It’s not the players who want games postponed, it’s the coaches. Managers at the moment are just seeking an advantage and that is wrong.

‘In the 1970s games did get called off because of the weather, especially in non-League. That’s what happened to us. The games just piled up.’

Dave Basset is pictured with Wimbledon's stars in 1985 during his managerial days

Dave Basset is pictured with Wimbledon’s stars in 1985 during his managerial days

DAVID PLEAT

Took a full strength Luton team to play a benefit game four days before the biggest match in the club’s history. They had to win at relegation rivals Manchester City on the last day of the 1982-83 season to stay up — and they did.

‘We were having a bad end to the season. We lost 5-1 at home to Everton on the Saturday and then 3-0 at Manchester United on the Monday.

‘On the Tuesday we had agreed to play a testimonial at Watford. We could have pulled out — we certainly had the excuse — but we had made a commitment to Graham Taylor and his team and I felt we should honour it.

‘I also thought that it might help to take my players’ minds off what lay ahead at Maine Road.

‘We were big rivals with Watford and got terrible stick from their fans that night. They sang that we were going down, but at half-time Graham got on the microphone in the centre circle and told his fans to shut up. That was classy.

‘Did playing that game contribute to us beating City? It certainly didn’t do us any harm. Players like playing.’

David Pleat miraculously kept Luton Town in the top flight during a tough 1982-83 season

David Pleat miraculously kept Luton Town in the top flight during a tough 1982-83 season

DAVID FAIRCLOUGH

Liverpool’s ‘super sub’ in the 1970s. Of his 154 Liverpool appearances, 62 were as a substitute.

‘Bill Shankly was the man behind the thinking at Liverpool. In the 1965-66 title season, Liverpool only used 14 players and two of them played just six games between them. When I was there, it was the same really.

‘Someone would ask Bob Paisley the team and he would say “same as last year”. It was a joke but it was also pretty much true!

‘Nobody at Liverpool would ever admit to being injured. They knew if they stepped out of the team for a week they would wait two months to get back in!

‘Players would take painkillers to get through games or just rely on adrenaline.

‘But nobody ever complained of feeling tired. You don’t feel tired when you win.’

Ex-Liverpool star David Fairclough recalls a culture where players did not admit injury

Ex-Liverpool star David Fairclough recalls a culture where players did not admit injury

BRYAN ROBSON

Manager of the Middlesbrough team fined and docked three points for failing to fulfil a Premier League fixture against Blackburn in the 1996-97 season. They ended up being relegated by two points.

‘We did everything we could to convince the Premier League that we had no choice. Our doctor actually wrote a report on every one of the 24 players who were unavailable and sent it to the league.

‘I have no idea if they ever read it or not. We just couldn’t get an answer. We were told three of the people we needed to speak to were actually on the golf course that afternoon.

‘The only option I had would have been to play YTS kids. Myself and Viv Anderson, my assistant, could have played but we were injured too!

‘Had I known we would get docked points I would maybe have played all the kids. I just presumed we would be fined and have to concede the three points to Blackburn.

‘In the end it wasn’t the only thing that made us go down but obviously it had a huge impact. It seems different now, clubs just seem to be getting their own way.

‘Back then we didn’t get a lot of help or indeed sympathy from anybody else. I still think about it to this day.’

Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough were dealt a costly points deduction in the 1996-97 season

Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough were dealt a costly points deduction in the 1996-97 season

MATT HOLLAND

Played 223 consecutive games for Ipswich between 1997 and 2003 and 115 consecutive Premier League games for Ipswich and Charlton, second on the all-time list behind Frank Lampard.

‘I can understand why managers worry and complain about congestion as it’s a cut-throat world and they get less time than ever to keep their jobs. Playing without key players can lose them games.

‘Personally, I just always wanted to play. I hated being subbed or rested. I had rows with physios who would tell me I wasn’t fit. I just wanted to play so I would.

‘Very few players play fully fit anyway and I was often carrying a niggle. I had injections and things to get through but I rarely felt tired. I loved it.

‘To me Saturday was pay day and if I wasn’t involved it just didn’t feel right. If you are talking about congestion in the Premier League then think also about the Championship. It’s a 46-game season down there.

‘Yes I have some aches and pains now but I don’t regret any of it.’

Matt Holland believes players in the modern game rarely play while fully fit

Matt Holland believes players in the modern game rarely play while fully fit

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