Winds of change?

This article was published in the Raith Rovers matchday programme for the game against Kilmarnock on Saturday 11 December. Rovers won 1-0.

Last season, while we were all watching the games from our laptops, we had a predictions competition in our WhatsApp group chat. I was useless and came last, but one game I did get bang-on was our defeat to Arbroath up at Gayfield. I logged onto the Meteoblue weather data site the day before and found the wind speed models for Arbroath. With strong crosswinds and precipitation forecast, I could see that our usual passing game wasn’t going to work – and I was right.

Wind map for Gayfield Park, Arbroath’s home ground

Resilience on and off the pitch

All of which is a round-about way of saying that weather extremes affect football. As we move towards the time of the year when matches start getting called off, it’s worth thinking about what we can expect in coming years. Scotland is taking this seriously. In 2016, the National Centre for Resilience was set up to link scientists with governments and communities, and understand how we can better be prepared for and respond to natural hazards. In 2019, the Scottish Government launched the snappily-titled Second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme. It’s a weighty document that tells us what to expect in Scotland under a changing climate, and what we can do to minimise disruption to our daily lives. As well as hotter summers, the data also predicts we’ll see more frequent and intense rainfall, a higher risk of flooding in coastal areas as sea levels rise, and – perversely – colder winters.

The extreme weather that battered eastern Scotland in November gives us insight into what this might mean for Scottish football. The biggest impacts could actually happen away from the stadium. Very few games were directly postponed as a result of Storm Arwen, but attendances were down all over the country as fans struggled to get around with trains being cancelled due to trees and other debris on the lines.

Thinking outside the box

Just before I wrote this, I heard St Johnstone’s game against Ross County had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. The match officials made the call just an hour before kick-off. This is not a new phenomenon. I remember when I was wee driving down from Inverness to Rovers games in winter with my dad, listening to the radio in fear of Richard Gordon’s voice of doom telling us the game was off. It happened twice – once against Clydebank and once against Aberdeen – so I have a lot of sympathy for the County fans that were on the receiving end of a wasted three-hour journey.

The Scottish Government’s plans encourage us all to make better use of forecasts to help us adapt to a changing climate. So as the science improves, perhaps referees and clubs can have better access to data so that they can make these calls further in advance? Or, if games are called off at short notice with a team having travelled a long way to get there, can we think more creatively about rescheduling the match for later in the day – or for the next day – to save another long journey?

These suggestions are likely to be met with howls of derision, but as the weather changes and we face more extreme events, it’s inevitable that we’re going to have to adapt how we go about our business in Scottish football.

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