A big gesture from the FA is required after the abysmal treatment of fans in the postponement of England's World Cup qualifier
Greetings from Warsaw where, wouldn't you just know it, the sky is blue, the weather crisp and autumnal, and the roof on the national swimming pool is now closed. That's the National Stadium, of course, scene of last night's farcical goings on, drolly rechristened as a watersports venue by Polish newspapers on Wednesday.
The jokes among the English press contingent are mostly along the lines of needing to buy new underwear or fly a few Polish plumbers back from London to help the country deal with its drainage problems, but one imagines not too many of the hard-pressed supporters feel like laughing along. Both sets of fans were treated abysmally at the stadium on Tuesday night, kept in the dark about what was happening and when, and ultimately left waiting for an hour after the scheduled kick-off time when it was obvious to all from a much earlier stage that the game could not take place.
Enough has been said and written about that already, the question is what should happen now. Some England fans had to pack up and go home without seeing a game, and considering that the international was supposed to take place in a state of the art £400m stadium opened only last year and could not for purely technical reasons, the Polish authorities should at least offer some token recompense. It was not only the absurdity of a roof that could not be closed in the rain – there were clearly drainage problems at pitch level with a surface that had attracted complaints even before the downpour began.
But if Poland are going to refund anyone they will find their own supporters at the front of the queue. Granted, not many Poles had to pay for return flights or take time off work to attend the game, but in terms of numbers a great many more were inconvenienced and any admission of culpability from the Polish authorities would be seized upon at home as well as abroad.
It is customary to refer to events such as this as acts of God, even when one strongly suspects human agencies might have been partly to blame, and assuming the match is played within the 24-hour time period Fifa stipulates Poland will consider the matter closed. More closed than the roof was last night, at any rate. Fans who follow England abroad know the score. Matches being abandoned are rare, but hotel disasters, flight cancellations, transport difficulties and unnecessary police intervention are everyday facts of life. It takes a certain amount of stamina to accompany England on their travels, and any supporter with a few years of experience will be able to regale you with a list of cock-ups, missed connections, close shaves and late arrivals as long as your arm.
Mercifully, you no longer see England supporters being rounded up at the station and marched through the streets to the stadium like captured prisoners being returned to a detention centre, but those days are still fresh in the memory and many countries still find it easier to deal with foreign fans en bloc rather than as individual tourists. That was why the England supporters were a bit upset not to even see the players on the pitch the night the game was called off. It wasn't that a cheery wave from Wayne Rooney and his team-mates would have made everything all right on the night – it wouldn't – but the resentment stemmed from the fact that word had got round that the England players had already changed back into tracksuits and boarded the team bus at a time when fans were still waiting to find out whether the game would go ahead or not.
The Football Association felt slightly uncomfortable when it heard that, and immediately began to stress its appreciation for supporters' efforts, with Rooney issuing a tweet to that effect an hour or so later. None of the issues around the non-playing of the game on Tuesday evening could be laid at the FA's door, it was not its fault that many English supporters ended up either missing the game or going to more expense than had been planned to take in the replay, yet if anyone thought the mood of the supporters was going to be lightened by a Twitter message from the new vice-captain they were sadly mistaken.
A bigger gesture on behalf of the FA is surely required, and Twitter could yet come up with the solution. I cannot claim the following suggestion as my own, more's the pity, but regular football tweeter John Sinnott brilliantly pointed out that the FA currently has £200,000 standing around in one of its bank accounts from John Terry's recent fine. One could go further and add that that amount will shortly be boosted by the money collected from Ashley Cole over his Twitter outburst. So if the FA is considering some sort of refund to hard-pressed England fans who certainly deserve one aside from reimbursing ticket costs, it could do so from recently accrued petty cash. It might be a dodgy precedent to set, but what a great idea. How wonderful to use cash from Terry and Cole's pockets and redistribute it to the fans who lost money they were less able to afford. What else does the FA do with windfall revenue from misbehaving players? Use it for good causes? The supporters who went all the way to Warsaw for a night in the pouring rain have as good a case as anyone.