Comment: Pitch switch costly, frustrating and embarrassing

DW Stadium
DW Stadium

It’s on, it’s off, it’s on again...

It seems it wouldn’t be February without a DW Stadium pitch problem.

To recap - 25 hours before Wigan’s home game against Widnes was due to kick-off, the club issued a statement in which Ian Lenagan said the game had been postponed until later in the season.

It was decision made after discussions with Latics chairman David Sharpe, and with their Saturday home game in mind, he said - it caught most by surprise, including Widnes officials.

Amid the backlash, it emerged the Rugby Football League was investigating whether Wigan broke operational rules by calling it off.

Then, this morning, there were rumblings the game may still go ahead. Players were told to prepare as if the game was on and, shortly before mid-day, it was confirmed the game would go ahead - but switched to Widnes’ ground.

But go further back.

In October, when the first wave of televised Super League fixtures were released, I wrote: “Warriors fans will no doubt seek assurances their televised home clash against Widnes on Friday, February 24 will not be affected by Latics’ home game against Notttingham Forest the following day. Last season, the fixture on the same weekend - against Salford - was brought forward a day to give the DW Stadium more time to recover for the Wigan Athletic match.”

No assurances were given, but the fact there wasn’t even a whisper of concern over the surface - even as late as Thursday afternoon - seemed sufficient.

And then, hours later, they called it off.

It screams of a lack of foresight. But given the problems they’ve had in the past, that’s hard to imagine.

But if that’s the case, if Wigan have been trying to sort this fixture out and failing, they should say.

If Wigan asked for the game to be moved to Sunday but were turned down by Sky, or the RFL, they should tell fans that.

If they asked Latics to put their game back 24-hours - and neither they or Nottingham Forest have midweek games - they should tell fans that.

Because right now, all we have are the words that the “inclement weather” is responsible.

The weather has been bad.

But that’s not been a surprise - that’s been February.

It’s usually bad!

It’s why there was a similar drama last year. Indeed, a quick Google search of ‘February’ and ‘DW Stadium pitch’ reveals frequent problems at this time of year.

But this has arguably been the most dramatic incident, and the timing couldn’t have been much worse, just days after Wigan were crowned World Club champions for the first time in 23 years.

The cost to Wigan of hastily switching this game, Lenagan admits, has been “significant”; the cost from a reputation point of view is impossible to gauge.

Some will shrug it off. They’re used to it now.

Others will repeat their call for Warriors to find their own ground, to avoid any future problems, although such a dream seems wishful - Lenagan has previously stated he is happy to ground-share at the DW Stadium, even with the problems that brings.

With ground-sharing, most reasonable fans accept they can’t have everything their own way, especially with Cup and play-off fixtures which are hard to predict - and we can only hope the broadcasters, who funnel millions into the sport, are understanding.

Hull and Huddersfield face similar problems, though I can’t recall any late, dramatic switches like this.

Everyone with the most basic understanding of sport recognises football needs to be played on a better surface than rugby.

But this last-minute switch has not only proved costly, it has been hugely embarrassing.

And it has played into the hands of those fans who like to perpetrate a rivalry between two clubs playing entirely different sport.

Some frank answers would be appreciated. But not nearly enough as some assurances this won’t happen again.