"A game that gets called off six minutes after it has started, really, really takes the game backwards in my opinion"; Izzy Christiansen says long-term solution needed to avoid fixture backlog that affects player welfare after WSL hit by series of postponements
Tuesday 24 January 2023 13:01, UK
Everton midfielder Izzy Christiansen has called for action to address the amount of Women's Super League games lost to bad weather after "a dark weekend" for the women's game.
Chelsea's league contest with Liverpool was abandoned by match officials after six minutes due to a frozen pitch on Sunday, while two other fixtures - Brighton vs Arsenal and Tottenham vs Leicester - fell foul to the freezing conditions.
Christiansen said a long-term solution is required to avoid a repeat of the "shocking" situation at Kingsmeadow and not damage the momentum and integrity of the game that has been growing exponentially following the Lionesses' Euros success last summer.
"Action needs to be taken, possibly an investigation into what's actually happened and why and how the FA and clubs move forward to make sure this doesn't happen again in the future," Christiansen told Sky Sports.
"Without sounding like a broken record, the weather at this time of year in England is cold, so there needs to be decisions made for clubs from the FA that enables games to proceed, because again we speak about scheduling in the women's calendar, and backlog of games towards the end of the season - and that comes back to a player welfare issue again."
Match officials had deemed the pitch at Kingsmeadow to be playable following a pitch inspection at 9.30am on Sunday morning, yet six minutes after the contest kicked off, referee Neil Hair called off the game due to an unsafe pitch.
Footage of Chelsea and Liverpool players sliding on the surface were widely shared on social media, while a number of high-profile players, including Arsenal's Vivianne Miedema and Chelsea's Erin Cuthbert, expressed their dismay at the situation.
When dealing with such elements as frost or ice – remember that the highest temperature of the day is usually around midday. Get a forecast if necessary of the projected temperature for the time when the match is due to conclude
- The manpower available to the home club to carry out any necessary work to make the ground playable
- The time the visiting club are due to commence their journey
- Liaise with managers to gauge the thoughts of both clubs
Remember the decision as to whether the match is played, is the referees.
For Christiansen, she feels women's footballers have become accustomed to a lower standard of care and welfare.
"Talking about player's welfare, when it comes to women's football, we're used to dealing with a lot more issues than men's football and the battles in our careers," she said.
"Whether a game is on or not is nothing new to a lot of players because of the weather or another circumstance, I feel like it's something that as women players we're used too, the uncertainty around games.
"We're talking about a real dark weekend in the WSL where a lack of clarity, a lack of decision-making has represented where the game is at the moment and it's a really worrying situation for us as players and for the authorities as well that that's happened and the spotlight that is on the women's game and brighter than ever at the moment."
Reading's WSL clash was the only fixture not to be disrupted by the weather with their match against Manchester United taking place at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, a 24,000-capacity ground they have been sharing with the men's team since 2021.
Christiansen's Everton, meanwhile, saw their kick-off against West Ham pushed back by an hour to allow for their pitch at Walton Hall Park to thaw.
While Christiansen recognises there is no quick fix to games lost to bad weather, she wants more informed decisions to take place to ensure there is not a repeat of this weekend's situation, while echoing Chelsea manager Emma Hayes' call for undersoil hearing.
"You can't change it overnight, it needs to be a long-term solution. This can't happen again next season. For now, what I think has to happen, is better decision-making, more informed decisions, that protect not just the players but the game and its integrity, because a game that gets called off six minutes after it has started, really, really takes the game backwards in my opinion.
"The Arsenal-Brighton game got called off sooner than that and the Tottenham-Leicester game was called off with about 24 hours' notice. I think that's what still happens in men's lower-league football, so I think we have to be realistic here, there just aren't enough stadiums that have undersoil heating and higher specifications that allow games to proceed no matter what the weather is.
"We understand the women's game isn't there yet. But a game kicking off and then being abandoned after six minutes is a dark day for women's football."
A Women's Super League spokesperson said: "We worked hard with the clubs and the match officials to safely play the Barclay's Women's Super League fixture between Chelsea and Liverpool as scheduled. Following inspections before the match, the pitch was deemed to be playable by the matchday referee.
"However, shortly after kick-off, the referee made the decision to abandon the match in order to protect the safety of the players, which is paramount. We sincerely apologise to all fans who travelled to the match. The fixture will be rescheduled in due course."
Some Liverpool fans left at the crack of dawn to travel to London only to return home after a frustrating day.
Christiansen feels that fans deserve better - especially at a time when the game is growing and expanding its fanbase. "You look at the Euros and the impact that had on attendances, interest in the game, and fanbases growing across the league, those are all massive positives," she said.
"Then we look at it, and go, games are being postponed very close to kick-off. It's not the first time it's happened this weekend, this season, it's people's lives as well and not just the players' welfare but the fans who spend their hard-earned cash on WSL tickets, travel, parking, food, it all adds up and we're not in a good economic situation in the country at the moment, we're talking about people's lives being affected because of poor decision making.
"We hope this is the lowest it will go in terms of poor decisions being made for the games and the welfare of players."