England's World Cup qualifier against Poland was postponed in farcical circumstances on Tuesday night because of a waterlogged pitch, with the hosts having declined the option of closing the stadium's retractable roof earlier in the week.
About 2,500 travelling supporters were left sodden in the stands awaiting a decision from the Fifa delegate Danijel Jost and England's players were on their bus by the time the announcement came over the loudspeakers at 10.05pm that the game had been called off.
The rain, which had been falling since early afternoon, had stopped by then, though, to add insult to injury, the England fans were asked to remain in their seats for a further 15 minutes while the locals departed.
The game will be replayed at 4pm UK time on Wednesday after lengthy talks between the respective football associations and the Fifa match officials and delegate. Poland had floated the possibility of rescheduling it during next month's international break – when England are due to play a friendly in Sweden – but the Football Association rejected the proposal. As midnight approached the roof was finally closed and water appeared to be draining off the surface, making it likely that the game will go ahead without any further delays.
The vast majority of the travelling support will not be able to attend the rearranged match, however, with their frustration exacerbated by the fact this stadium boasts a 240m x 270m roof. The structure, which is made of a tarpaulin-type pvc material, takes only 15 minutes to shut but could not be closed while the rain fell. "The roof is something that's decided upon by the stadium, in conjunction with the Polish federation," said Adrian Bevington, the managing director of Club England. "We don't have a say. We did ask the question on Monday whether the roof would be open or not, and we were advised it would be open."
The National Sports Centre, which owns the stadium, confirmed it would have violated the guarantee on the structure if attempts had been made to close the roof while wet. "It takes 15 minutes to close the roof but we cannot do it in temperatures below zero, in high wind, or while it is wet," said a spokeswoman.
"If we closed it while it was wet, the roof could fall. And we're not able to make the decision to close the roof without the presence of the Fifa match delegate. He did not arrive at the stadium until 7pm."
The weather forecast in Warsaw is for some showers on Wednesday, though Roy Hodgson has expressed concern over the time it will take to repair the surface, which was relaid only last week at a cost of £115,000 and was criticised after last Friday's friendly against South Africa. "I am rather hoping they will get the roof closed as quickly as possible and start to get some work on the pitch because, at the moment, it is in a very poor condition," England's manager said. "The water is lying on the surface and will need a lot of attention if it's going to be playable on Wednesday afternoon."
The England goalkeepers, Joe Hart, John Ruddy and Fraser Forster, along with the coach Dave Watson, had emerged into the deluge around an hour before the scheduled kick-off to warm up, though it quickly became apparent that the puddles in the goalmouth were preventing the ball from running freely. Once they had retreated to the dressing room Hodgson, accompanied by his coaches Ray Lewington and Gary Neville, came out to inspect the turf himself, trudging into one of the goalmouths and attempting to kick the ball towards the centre-circle, though the ball barely crept out of the penalty area.
The Italian referee, Gianluca Rocchi, conducted his own pitch inspection at 9pm – the scheduled kick-off time – throwing a ball nine times into various puddles that had gathered on the turf. "It was pretty obvious early on that the game was not going to be played," said Hodgson, whose side returned to England's city centre hotel on Tuesday night to begin preparations once again.
"The referee and Fifa were desperate to give it every opportunity to get the game on. But the referee was aware of the safety of the players and was very conscious he wasn't going to allow a game to go on if there was any danger. We have to respect that, for the Polish Federation, it's a disaster. They had a big crowd and there's a problem in rearranging tickets."
There were complaints from some England fans that the visiting players had not come over to thank them for their attendance once the game had been formally postponed. But the England striker Wayne Rooney tweeted: "Thanks to the England fans who came tonight. Sorry we couldn't come out of the tunnel to see you but we all really appreciate your support."
"With regards to our fans, there's nothing but respect for those who have travelled all this way," added Bevington. "We have made it clear just how important the supporters are to us. There was no disrespect intended."