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If you want the rainbow, you must accept the rain

By Hyder Jawad



WARSAW, POLAND - OCTOBER 16: Match referee Gianluca Rocchi inspects the pitch during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier between Poland and England at the National Stadium on October 16, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland
WARSAW, POLAND - OCTOBER 16: Match referee Gianluca Rocchi inspects the pitch during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier between Poland and England at the National Stadium on October 16, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland

It is hard to imagine an architect using this pitch to win the contract for a new football stadium in Warsaw: state-of-the-art 58,500-seat arena, in the Praga Poludnie district, near to the city centre – with a retractable roof that can only close if it is not raining.

Say what?

. . . with a retractable roof that can only close if it is not raining.

Not even the Monty Python “Architect’s Sketch”, which had John Cleese playing a zealous draughtsman designing a neo-Georgian abattoir, produced anything this farcical. But when England turned up to play Poland in a World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday night, the mother of all Varsovian downpours materialised to render the pitch unplayable.

Where was the roof when we needed it most? Twiddling its thumbs. While Warsaw drowned.

Stadion Narodowy officials said that any attempts had been made to close the roof while wet would have violated an agreement. "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," a stadium spokeswoman said, but it was hard to tell if it was raindrops or tears trickling down her rubicund cheeks. "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."

Too much rain. Too much red tape.

The roof – a retractable PVC creation that has the facility to unfold from a nest on a spire suspended above the centre circle – looked forlorn as the raindrops provided the theatrical mockery. Result: match postponed. Cue anger, embarrassment . . . and laughter.

More than 2,500 England supporters were in the Stadion Narodowy when the announcement came through at 10.05pm local time: “We regret to inform you . . .” The collective groan was tangible but the statement was no surprise. The match had been due to kick off more than an hour before but the grass had long since resembled the type of artificial swamp they build in Disneyland.

The second announcement added insult to injury: the England supporters must remain in their seats until 10.30pm, to allow the locals to disperse. The third announcement upset all Premier League clubs who had players involved in this fixture: the match would take place at 4pm on Wednesday.

Rhetorical questions filled the air. Why build a roof that you cannot close in the rain? Has the person whose job it was to check out the weather forecast resigned yet? Will the England band, who had their instruments confiscated by stadium officials, win a reprieve? What was the Fifa delegate doing until 7pm?

Perhaps the heavy rain was all divine intervention to ensure that Ashley Cole will never reach a century of England international appearances.

By the end, it was difficult to avoid the humour, and one recalled the "Likely Lads" television comedy, No Hiding Place, in which England are playing Bulgaria in 1973. The Lads try to avoid learning the result before the TV highlights are shown that evening. Flint tries to spoil it, having bet them £10 that they will not get through the day without discovering the result. The Lads get to the TV highlights none the wiser about the score, except for Terry seeing a newspaper headline that says "England F . . .". When Flint tracks them down to Bob's house, Terry pays him off with £10 (which he borrowed from Bob). But the match was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch - "England Flooded Out".

The "England Flooded Out" of 2012 was more whimsical because it involved the very roof that should have kept the water outside. So maybe Karl Marx was right about history repeating itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.