FOOTBALL COLUMN: Liam Beckett talks...

Referee Raymond Crangle was the centre of attention on Saturday
Referee Raymond Crangle was the centre of attention on Saturday

When the real winter weather strikes with a vengeance like it did last week, then inevitably so does the old annual question I get asked regularly: Is it not high time we tried out summer football?

I don’t write only what people want to hear in this column in an attempt to buy cheap friendship or gain new friends, I do it because I am afforded the opportunity to voice my own opinion about the game I know and love in an open and honest fashion.

And if it so happens that I do gain new friends along the way, well, then I am forever grateful.

Regular readers of this column will know only too well that this ‘summer football’ topic is a subject which I’ve given considerable mileage to in the past, but for many of the football faithful it’s a topic which never really goes away.

It’s no secret that all local fans love their Saturday dose of football, but once the wind, rain, snow or ice appears, sadly for me anyhow, nowadays so does the new health and safety criteria.

Two of our six Premiership games fell foul of the weather on Saturday, as did many of the other games down through the various levels, leaving lots of players, supporters and club officials understandably frustrated and bitterly disappointed.

I was fortunate I was covering the Coleraine v Crusaders game at the Coleraine Showgrounds, and although the pitch was soft and heavy the game itself was never in doubt.

When I arrived at the Coleraine Showgrounds I always like to take a walk over the pitch as I feel it gives me a better insight into the actual playing conditions which in turn enables me to give a more accurate account when commentating on the match later.

It was when I was stood on the pitch on Saturday that the 4 match officials walked on as well and after the customary handshakes and greetings one of them said to me, ‘Liam, are you a fan of the plastic playing surfaces?’, to which I replied , ‘No, I’m not, I much prefer real grass pitches’.

Yes, you can call me a traditionalist or even old-fashioned, but for me it always pays to remember that there are some things which never really go out of fashion, like good manners, honesty courtesy, respect and real grass football pitches.

But once the poor weather arrives so invariably does the criteria laid down by the health & safety brigade who for some strange reason have this in-built perception that modern day footballers are some sort of Royal Doulton china type figures who will incredibly break in pieces every time they fall down.

But hey, is that not pretty indicative of the world we all now live in?

Crusaders were the first Premiership club to opt for a synthetic surface and Cliftonville were next.

In fact manager Stephen Baxter was telling me on Saturday that Crusaders are just about to lay another brand new replacement synthetic surface in a few months’ time – in May time, I believe.

In many ways I can fully understand the logic behind the thinking and the subsequent increase in revenue these plastic pitches can generate, constantly leased to other clubs and societies and also with the knowledge that the parent club’s matches rarely ever get cancelled as a direct result of inclement weather.

But, hand on heart, the last thing I want to see is the Irish League becoming saturated with plastic pitches being laid at many more of our Irish League grounds.

However, such is life, and we do live in an ever-changing world, with health & safety now very much a part of everyday life it’s blatantly obvious that believe me at the very first sign of snow and ice the chances are we will see many more postponements in the years to come.

The days when we used to shovel the snow off the lines which define the various areas of the pitch and then play the game with an orange ball I feel are gone, and gone forever, never to return, and personally that makes me sad.

Again I admit I am very much a traditionalist, I like our football season to be played from August right through until the very last game which is usually played the following May, and that includes playing in all sorts of weather, rain, hail or shine.

For me, watching the players having to adapt to playing in all weather conditions and on all types of real grass surfaces is all part of the game of football.

But with referees now under the strictest guidelines as to whether a pitch is indeed deemed playable or not, my guess is that postponements are definitely going to be on the increase.

So with those statistics in mind, and in the knowledge that some of our existing Premiership surfaces are in desperate need of complete overhaul, it does indeed beg the question once again: Do we seriously need to consider, whether we like the idea or not, the concept of switching to summer football for a three-year trial period?

I’ll let you, the fans, be the judge of that.

Now whilst on the very subject of referees, and ironically right on the heels of last weeks big interview with former World Cup referee Alan Snoddy in this very column, I myself witnessed two massive penalty decisions during Saturday’s game between Coleraine and Crusaders which caused one major uproar, particularly with the Coleraine faithful.

The two penalties were awarded to Crusaders and both were scored which enabled the Crues to win 2-0.

Although Raymond Crangle was the referee, and subsequently suffered the brunt of the criticism, in all fairness he wasn’t the main reason Coleraine lost the game.

The first penalty was never a penalty, the foul was clearly committed a yard outside the box, but with Raymond not in a good position at that particular minute in time to make the call himself, it was the perfectly placed referee’s assistant who flagged for the penalty, NOT the ref.

And with the benefit of hindsight it’s now perfectly clear for everyone to see that he got it horribly wrong.

The second penalty was apparently for shirt tugging off the ball by Coleraine defender David Ogilby, and if the TV footage shows that to be the case then that constitutes a certain penalty.

It’s something I’ve been on about for quite a while now and if indeed Raymond Crangle spotted it then I commend him totally.

But what I now want to see is total consistency , if Raymond awarded the penalty for deliberate and blatant shirt-pulling then he has set an example for his fellow referees to follow, and it’s essential that they do exactly that from here on in.

It’s this refereeing inconsistency that gets the managers and the fans backs up, so let’s hope that this second penalty decision on Saturday, if proven to be the right one, will serve as a stark reminder to the other players that if you choose to pull an opponent’s shirt in the penalty box then your team will have to pay the penalty, literally.

Now, I’m away to clear my throat as I’ve been invited to guest in a new Northern Ireland supporters’ club song for the European Championship Finals in France this June.

It’s to be recorded this Wednesday with the proceeds going to the very worthwhile charity Tiny Life.