AFTER Thursday night’s defeat at Southport, Forest Green Rovers manager Ady Pennock commented that the match should have been abandoned.
The game was played in torrential rain, the pitch was waterlogged, but Pennock’s main concern was the thunder and lightning during the second half.
‘It is a tough call by the referee but at the end of the day it’s all about the spectators and the players on the pitch, and their safety,’ Pennock said.
Last week England T20 cricket captain Chris Broad was fined 15 per cent of his match fee for criticising umpires. Broad’s argument was that keeping the teams on the field during a thunder and lightning storm was putting the safety of the players at risk.
Both Pennock and Broad made good points. Sports pitches and recreation grounds are risky places during lightning storms. Earlier this year Mark Hodges was knocked off his feet while playing football for Pittville United in Cheltenham. The pitch was burnt inches away from where Hodges had been standing, and he felt very lucky to survive.
In April 1948, two footballers died when lightning struck the Command Central Ground, Aldershot, during an Army Cup Final replay. One survivor, Jack Flavell, later a Worcestershire and England cricketer, always left the cricket field at the slightest sound of thunder, even if he was in the middle of bowling an over.
I know of several lightning-related fatalities in amateur football, including ones at Lydney in 1981, Goole, Humberside, in 1994, and Leicester in 2002. During a football tournament in Kent, in 1999, seventeen players were injured by a lightning strike.
The safest places during a lightning storm are inside a metal vehicle, inside a substantial building or in bushes on low ground. The riskiest places are open high ground and under a tree. In 1965, Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland footballer John White was killed while sheltering under a tree on a golf course.
About twenty per cent of lightning-related deaths and injuries happen on sports or recreation grounds and thirteen per cent on golf courses. Angling and camping are also high-risk activities in such conditions.
In the USA, where they have more electrical storms than in the UK, many soccer associations have strict guidelines for matches.
The rules may include leaving the field at the first sign of thunder and not returning until thirty minutes after the last clap of thunder. The delay in returning is to avoid the legendary ‘bolt from the blue’ where lightning strikes some distance from the epicentre of the storm.
Climate-change scientists reckon that a likely one per cent increase in global temperatures may increase the amount of lightning by between five and ten per cent.
Andrew Ward has been a full-time freelance writer since 1989. He is the author or co-author of more than 20 sports books, including Kicking and Screaming (with Rogan Taylor, 1995) and Armed with a Football (1994).
He co-edited The Day of the Hillsborough Disaster (1995) and helped launch Robson Books' Strangest series with Football's Strangest Matches (1989) and Cricket's Strangest Matches (1990).