Andy Mitten column
Two Manchester United league games postponed in a month is a freak occurrence, but it's nothing on the savage winter of 1963, the coldest on record with an average temperature of zero degrees across Britain. United didn't play a league game between Boxing Day and 23 February and the FA Cup third round wasn't staged until 4 March. All you ever saw on the news were stories about the big freeze, cattle being stranded and pictures of snow being piled up against front doors, recalls the former United legend Paddy Crerand. He should know. Crerand signed for United from Celtic at the start of 63, but he couldn't make his competitive debut because of the weather. I walked into a club where confidence was low and the team hadn't been playing well, he recalls. And because of the weather, United didn't have a chance to find form. Five years after Munich, gates had fallen away and crowds of 25,000 were not uncommon at Old Trafford. In the meantime, Crerand settled into living in Manchester and had time to leaf through the little red book given to all players containing training rules and instructions. Rule 11 would raise a few eyebrows today. Smoking is strictly prohibited during training hours, and players are earnestly requested to reduce smoking to the absolute minimum on match day.' Crerand didn't smoke, but fellow Scot Denis Law, one of the few lads he knew at United when he arrived, had a sly fag now and then. When United seek warm weather training to escape the winter these days, they tend to escape to Qatar or Saudi Arabia. In 1963 the team did take a flight out of Ringway. To Cork. My first game in a United shirt was a friendly in Cork against Bolton Wanderers on 13 February, recalls Crerand. The weather wasn't as harsh in Ireland, we beat Bolton 4-2 and I scored a hilarious goal. I took a shot which deflected off a stone past the keeper! There was a big crowd, despite the terrible rain and an afternoon kick-off because there were no floodlights. Roy Keane's father Mossy was at the game as a supporter - he took the afternoon off and got the sack for his troubles. Some have said that he's never worked since! There have been a few notable postponements in recent decades. Last season's Manchester derby at Eastlands in the League Cup semi-final was postponed because of a heavy snowfall, while the last league game to be postponed at Old Trafford was against Aston Villa in December 1991 because of snow and strong winds. A game at Leeds was called off a few weeks later and with United drawing the Yorkshire side away in both the FA and League Cup, the Reds played three games at Elland Road in three different competitions in just 16 days. United won both cup games, but could only manage a draw against the eventual league champions inspired by their talismanic French striker Eric Cantona. And a freak Mancunian hailstorm meant that a 2004 friendly game against Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds was called off at the last minute. Older readers may be forgiven for thinking that society has gone soft. Despite 1946-47 being the coldest winter in memory, football was largely kept going by the efforts of fans desperate to see the first proper competition since the war. Pitches were cleared by miners, players and German POWs. Men walked the lines with brooms during games to keep them clear, but 211 league matches were still cancelled and the season was extended to June 14. Liverpool won the league, with United a point behind. Whatever the weather, there's unlikely to be a repeat of that this season. What do you think? Have your say.
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