THERE’S something magical about football in the snow.
Piles of the stuff shovelled up around the edge of the pitch, lines brushed clear by red-faced groundsman snorting steam to get a game on, the legendary orange ball that you can’t see when it goes over the green bits.
Then there’s the snowballing of the opposition team bus as it skirts the ground, and as at the weekend, the inevitable snowball at the player taking the throw-in or the grinning goalie tip-toeing up to take a goal kick.
Pre-match we are treated to the timeless vision of the ref po-faced and solemn in his shorts, long coat and dew-drop on nose.
Strutting like a junior school teacher who wished he’d never volunteered for games duty - not in this weather - he digs his heel into the frosty turf in time-honoured fashion to see if it will take a players stud - or more importantly whether a player’s face will take the pitch and survive.
Most fans have memories of games off and hours in the pub celebrating the wonderful liberation from actually having to go and watch a match.
But the most vivid memory I have of snow and cold - apart from the lad whose name escapes me who had to play for the school in a full-length overcoat because his mum was watching and wouldn’t let him play unless he had his coat on - concerns a Central Midlands league game sometime in the early 1980s.
Carr Vale or Clay Cross were playing Eastwood Town reserves one January - the detail’s hazy. The ground, wide open and half way up a valley, was blasted by gales straight from the Steppes - or that’s how it felt.
This was old-world, pre-miners’ strike Derbyshire, coal was everywhere and even the Stalinism-inspired pavilion in the corner of the huge field had a fire going, to stop people from dying of frostbite.
We started the game and on that day had a young lad playing for us for the first time with the kind of name you never forget.
The lad was, and still is as far as I know, called Meryl Capenhurst.
Meryl was a skinny kid with a whispy teenager’s ‘tache and a decent turn of pace. He started the game on the left wing.
We struggled in the Tolkeinesque conditions and ran around to try and keep warm as much as play the game. After about fifteen minutes we noticed Meryl still standing in the same spot he had started the game in.
Someone went over and the poor lad’s legs and fingers were blue. He was shivering so much he could barely speak or flick the gathering icicles off his top lip, let alone run about.
The ref was alerted and Meryl was led dithering from the field, wrapped in a coat and several tracksuits and led slowly back to the gulag warmth of the changing rooms.
There was talk of taking him to hospital but I don’t think anyone did.
Of course no-one took the micky afterwards, much.
I’m not sure we ever saw Meryl again after that but whenever there’s snow at a football match I think of him stranded on the touchline with blue knees and shoulders hunched against the wild winds of Derbyshire.
So the next time a player gets a bit narky when someone shies one from row K and he gets wet snow down his neck he should know that it could have been a lot worse.
He could have been Meryl Capenhurst.