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When Football Stopped

The Big Freeze of '63.

19 March 2020

Global warming is a real and present threat, and we all need to do our bit to make the world habitable for future generations. 

But back in the early 1960s, talk was of the acid rain falling on Norwegian forests from British industry, and a mini-ice age.  The ice-age theory was certainly believable to any residents of Lincolnshire for the entire months of January and February 1963, as one of the most bitter winters struck virtually the whole of the UK.  Ice floes were spotted in the Humber, roads were skating rinks, town gas producers were desperately trying to keep up with demand (NS gas still hadn't been discovered), and families huddled round fires as many houses still didn't have central heating. 

Normally Blundell Park is warmer than most surrounding areas during the winter …. I've seen the temperature rise 4 degrees from just outside Grimsby, to the Home of Football, but not in 1963! 

The season had started off well as far as not having postponements was concerned, but after promotion to Division 2 in the previous May, Town were finding life in the second tier decidedly difficult.  By the turn of the year, we were bottom, having registered just four wins, including a 3-0 win at home to Scunthorpe, and away wins at Derby and Charlton, and just before Christmas a 4-1 victory over Southampton.  Town had also seen England's most famous footballer of the era - Stan Matthews - play for Stoke at the Park, in the same game that Brian Clifton made his debut - and sustained a knee injury that kept him out for months.  Town's iconic centre-forward, Ron Rafferty, also suffered knee problems, so manager Tom Johnston played him in midfield "to save your knees" - but as Ron stated decades later, midfield twisting a turning is probably the worst area to save knees! 

Town were knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round by eventual finalists Leicester City, one of only five games to be played in the FA Cup that week, and the round wasn't completed until 11th March.  The Siberian winter flowed into Grimsby from the rest of the country! First the away game at Norwich was put off, then the home match versus Walsall.  Unsurprisingly, Newcastle away followed the postponed pattern, Derby County at home, but then on February 16th, at Middlesbrough of all places, a game WAS played.  Not only that, but Town won by the only goal, scored on his return to action by Brian Clifton, and Charlie Wright, signed from Workington, made his debut in goal.  Bury was scheduled at BP for February 23rd, but put off, as was the away game at Rotherham in the first weekend in March.

Matches were being called off wholesale across the country and the football authorities were in a quandary what to do.  Nothing like this had occurred before - not even in the iconic bad winter of 1947.  With no money coming in, wages still had to be paid, costs were still incurred.  The pools panel sat for the first time ever on 26th January, and then for week after week, deciding what results would have been had games across the country been played. 

At last Town were able to return to Blundell Park to play a game - it was the 9th March, and this was Town's first home league game of 1963! 

Every club now had multiple games to fit in, and Town's plight was hardly going to be helped by a minimum two games each week for a couple of months.  Town fitted in one extra in March - Newcastle away, where a creditable 0-0 draw was gained.  SEVEN games were played in April, and five in the first eighteen days of May which was because of the extended season.  Of those 12 matches, only two were lost, and George McLean brought the season to a good close with four goals in the 5-1 demolition of Bury on a warm May day as we all basked in the early summer Blundell Park sun! 


A veteran of when the world was cold! 

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