COVID-19 is not just wreaking havoc with governments and hospitals, it’s interfering with the sanctity of the football calendar.
For over a century, football has started in August and ended in May in England, with occasional breathers to allow room for world wars. But with the Premier League enduring a prolonged hiatus in the wake of coronavirus, plenty of matches are being postponed.
However, this isn’t the strangest reason that games of football have been called off for, over the years.
The 1999 eclipse in Torquay
Solar eclipses are once-in-a-lifetime events. They’re known about thousands of years in advance, too - so there’s no excuse for one to just sneak up on you.
Try telling that to Torquay United. Devon police called off their League Cup first-round tie against Portsmouth in 1999, as they were expecting an influx of tourists. The rearranged match ended up being 0-0, so it’s not as if it was even worth playing in the first place.
The Old Trafford bomb scare
In 2016, on the final match of the season, the Sky Sports team broadcast their pre-match coverage from the Old Trafford car park. But not because of some wacky television initiative to get the pundits closer to the fans.
As the fans began to filter into the Manchester United ground, news of a package being left in the toilets of the stadium was announced. The match was immediately cancelled with the Sky Sports crew, along with fans, being evacuated. Despite the game being called off, the spectacle of a few dozen Bournemouth fans, alone in Old Trafford, chanting, “Your ground’s too big for you” made for quite a sight for the TV cameras.
It was the first time in 24 years that a match was postponed in the England top tier due to security grounds. The package in question was described as an “incredibly lifelike explosive device”, but turned out not to be a bomb.
The Teignmouth goalpost crisis
A South West Peninsula Division One East match between Teignmouth and Crediton United was set to be played in August 2018 - but had to be postponed with three days to go, when it became clear the new goalposts wouldn’t arrive.
With the sides not content to just use jumpers, the fixture was put back, since Crediton couldn’t host either. There was a function happening at their home ground on the date in question.
Luckily, this incident hasn’t been repeated since in Devon. We can only assume that Teignmouth pick the frames up from the post office now.
The Frome Cheese Show clash
In perhaps the most quintessentially English move from a football club ever - aside from any Sean Dyche substitution - Frome Town moved a 2015 game against Chippenham Town so that it wouldn’t clash with the Frome Cheese Show.
The annual dairy extravaganza regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors. On this occasion, it’s understandable that the cheese show took priority.
Whilst the most famous case of an illness spreading through a Premier League squad is the virus that claimed a number of first team Tottenham players in 2006, Spurs famously battled on and lost their final league match against West Ham. The same cannot be said for Middlesbrough in 1997.
24 hours before a game with Blackburn Rovers, Boro claimed that a spate of flu had left manager Bryan Robson short of the 16 fit players required to play. The Teessiders were fined £50,000 and docked three points for the incident.
The worst part? They were relegated by two points. Ouch.
Marseille vs Madonna
Madonna is no stranger to malfunctions on stage; infamously in 2015, one of her backing dancers pulled her off stage by her cape at the Brit awards.
In 2009 however, Marseille’s Velodrome stadium was unavailable for their second home game of the season, following the collapse of the stage before a Madonna concert set to take part in the ground.
An investigation into the incident took place, leaving Marseille temporarily without a stadium.
One team in Tallinn
In 1996, Scotland were set to face Estonia in a giant clash that only World Cup qualifiers can throw up.
The night before the game, Scotland trained at the Kadrioru Stadium, where they found the floodlighting to be inadequate. The Scots protested to FIFA, who sympathised, and brought the game forward from an 6.45pm kick-off to 3pm.
Estonia were unhappy, especially given the potential loss of television revenue. It was largely expected that the side would turn up late in protest, but the game went so far as to be kicked off before the referee abandoned it after three seconds.
Instead of awarding a 3-0 win to the Scots, FIFA ordered that the match be competed at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. Estonia keeper Mart Poom impressed Derby County scouts in the rematch and later signed for the Rams, whilst Scotland midfielder Ian Ferguson was recorded swearing at fans on his exit from the field. A mixed result, in many ways.
Les Vauxbeletes exhibition match
Last year, a paper leaflet was found detailing a match between Guernsey’s Les Vauxbelet Old Boys against a team called Continental XI, from 1943.
Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during World War II; Continental XI was made up of forced labourers and prisoners of war, whilst VOBA consisted of the locals. The match, however, was cancelled at the 11th hour, after the Nazis worried that the prisoners of war would use the game as an excuse to escape. There’s definitely a film in that idea.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant new subscribers' offer? Get 5 copies of the world's greatest football magazine for just £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than the cost of a London pint. Cheers!
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.