Stop This, It’s Silly

Enough’s enough. Last weekend’s postponement has convinced me that if a club can’t do the right thing, they should pay severe consequences.

Sadly, Braintree Town have a reputation. Games seem to get called off at the Avanti Stadium rather more often than they ought to be. Furthermore, they don’t tend to give much notice to travelling fans and teams before pulling the plug. It all raises the question: should there be stricter admission rules for professional leagues, which go beyond matters of capacity and facilities to address whether a club’s infrastructure and respect for its opponents is adequate?

I’m not concerned by one late postponement. These things happen to the best of us. It does bother me when there’s a pattern though. For evidence, allow me to direct you to Braintree’s website. As I write this, the last three stories have the following headlines:

“Dec 18: Wrexham tonight – match postponed”

“Dec 15: Tonight’s game – Match postponed”

“Dec 12: Today’s game – MATCH OFF”

Can you spot the pattern?

I can’t help noticing that Chelmsford City, in a lower division and just twelve miles down the road, played at home on both December 16th and 19th. Perhaps the torrential downpour in Braintree was a particularly local affair?

In fact, you might be interested to know that in the Premier Division of the County Motor Works Vauxhall Mid-Essex Football League, at the fifteenth level of the pyramid, games went ahead last weekend at Rayleigh and Basildon, both 26 miles from Braintree, Haver, which is eight miles closer, and Sandon, which is roughly the distance from Braintree’s ground that Chester’s is from The Racecourse. Which I guess proves nothing concrete except that parks teams seem to have survived the apocalyptic weather which devastated Braintree. Town might point to the fact that of the five games scheduled in the Mid-Essex League, one was actually postponed. Of course, if they wish to compare themselves in stature to the hosts of that match, Harold Wood Athletic, then they’ve proved my point.

It’s not as if the postponements are a recent issue. After all, in October 2012 we made the 430 mile round trip only for the game to be called off. At 2 p.m. Braintree have developed a reputation recently for being unable to fulfil their fixtures once there’s a hint of precipitation in the air. Either they are at the vanguard of a campaign to introduce a winter break to these shores, or they’re simply incapable of getting a football match going on their sodden pitch.

They’ve also developed a reputation for not being easy to do business with. Plenty of administrators at Conference clubs have stories not only of late postponements but of finding it difficult to get in touch with Braintree to obtain information about the likelihood of the game going ahead. Clubs travel south blind, hoping silence is good news.

Of course, last weekend we suffered the opposite. Perhaps eager to get the game on as they were hosting BT’s cameras, Braintree put out positive noises the day before the match was due to be played. Their claim that the game was 80% likely to go ahead merely encouraged fans to make the commitment, and therefore waste their hard-earned cash on a pointless journey.

Such a provincial approach to organising a football match is all very well when you’re in a local league where your opponents have only travelled from the other end of Essex and they have barely any supporters making the trip. When a professional side comes across country with a band of loyal fans who have taken a day out of their holiday allowance to attend, you have an obligation to fulfil. If you aren’t up to it, don’t ask to play at this level.

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