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new frontiers - Issue 7

Game Off - Big Freeze 1963. The original of this article first appeared in new frontiers in 1994

1963 arrived with all the excitement of the FA Cup Round 3. The big boys joined the competition hoping for glory, the remaining little boys hoping for a big pay day.

Shrewsbury were to entertain Sheffield Wednesday, Oxford went to Arsenal, Barnsley faced Everton and Wrexham faced Liverpool. Cup holders, Spurs faced Burnley in a repeat of the previous season's final. Non league Gravesend looked forward to a trip to Carlisle, the giant killing prospects if not the journey itself! Having already knocked out Rochdale and Crewe, York City were ready for the tie at second flight Southampton. City's Christmas programme had been obliterated by snow, since losing 3-2 at Doncaster on December 22, City's other Christmas / New Year games had all been postponed due to snow.

The plans went awry as the big freeze swept the country. Only 3 games were completed on the appointed date of January 5th.

Lincoln's tie with Coventry was postponed on 15 occasions and three other ties were postponed 14 times. One of these ties was the one between Birmingham and Bury, who also managed an abandonment, before drawing at the sixteenth attempt. Half the ties were postponed on 10 or more occasions.

Just think of all the additional chaos that would result today with the police's insistence on a week's notice for a rearranged game.

Such chaos resulted in the introduction of the pools panel. The first panel sat on January 16 under the chairmanship of olympian Lord Brabazon. Early panel members included Ted Drake, Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton, George Young and Arthur Ellis, Group Captain Douglas Bader, Sir Albert Herbert and Sir Gerald Nabarro.

City's tie at Southampton was postponed on 9 occasions. At the 10th attempt, on February 13, City crashed to a 5-0 defeat. It was City's only game between December 22 and March 8. Southampton were to go on to reach the semi finals.

On March 11, 66 days after the first ties were played, Round 3 was completed as Middlesbrough beat Blackburn. Games had been played on 22 different dates with 261 postponements (and one abandonment). It wasn't until March 16th that a full league programme was played.

Clubs resorted to all sorts of means to try to get games on, as well as the traditional straw and tarpaulins, some used tar burners, road workers' fires, flame throwers and even kettles of boiling hot water.

Manchester United eventually beat Leicester 3-1 in the final as the season was extended to allow the fixture backlog to be overcome.

City's league programme was severely disrupted. After losing 3-2 at Donkey Rovers on December 22, they didn't play another league game until March 8 when they beat Newport 2-0, although as the thaw set in, they played Sheffield Wednesday in a friendly game at Scarborough. City's season finished on May 20 (it was due to end on April 27) having played their final 22 league games in the last 10 weeks of the season. The glut of fixtures yielded 11 wins as City pulled comfortably clear of the re-election zone to finish in mid table. Norman Wilkinson finished top scorer with 17 goals and only Jack Fountain was an ever present, he was sent to prison in 1964 for his part in football's big bribery scandal of the early 1960s.

That break completely overshadowed the previous longest lay off which occurred during the 1946/7 season when City went 7 weeks without a league game. Undoubtably, with today's modern technology such long weather lay offs will never happen again.

1963 wasn't City's latest ever league season finish. That was 1947 when City played five games between May 21 and May 31 whilst City's 1965/6 season finished on May 21 as the end of season was planned to dovetail into the build up to the World Cup. Subsequently, Wembley wins over Crewe (May 29 1993) and Macclesfield (May 21 2017) occurred on later dates. Will City ever play in June?

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