I haven’t had the chance to pen any words about the abandonment of Fulham’s Friday night game at Reading due to a lack of visibility caused by fog until now. That’s probably a good thing because at the time the decision was made I was fuming – and that palpable sense of anger hasn’t really dissipated over the weekend. Referee James Linington, who has already raised Fulham eyebrows with the award of a very generous penalty to Norwich City at Craven Cottage earlier this season, has a fair bit to answer for.
There was a more than reasonable case to have called the game off well before the kick off. Visibility was very poor when I arrived at Reading in the early afternoon – and was still pretty troubling by the time everybody reached the Madjeski Stadium before kick off. It was certainly true that the visiting fans were struggling to see the Reading goal that Fulham attacked with some considerable vigour in the first period – what happened when Ryan Fredericks whipped into a succession of dangerous crosses from the right remains shrouded in mystery.
For whatever reason, Mr. Linington didn’t take the decision to abandon the contest during the first half. He consulted on a number of occasions with Reading’s Chris Gunter – and twice stopped play to discuss matters with both benches, but continued until half time. That’s where the decision making becomes particularly perverse. According to the press reports following the abandonment, the decision was due to one of Mr. Linington’s assistant referees being unable to see the entire width of the pitch. Such a problem would constitute grounds for an immediate abandonment – but since the officials didn’t emerge onto the field following the half-time break, they could have made no assessment of the conditions at the start of the second half. If an assistant was complaining about his ability to see proceedings during the first half, the match should have been stopped there and then.
The sense of disbelief wasn’t confined to the supporters. You could see the Fulham players were eager to play on from the way they emerged from the tunnel. The disappointment etched on Michael Madl’s face when he turned back towards the bench with a look of disgust told everyone that no further action was to take place. Had the officials taken the time to view conditions after the interval, they would have realised that any lingering fog was lifting – and the sight of substitutes warming down in perfectly passable conditions was galling. Even more frustratingly, due to the EFL’s terms of conditions, supporters will not be eligible for a full refund as they saw 45 minutes. That’s before you consider the travel costs of fans who would have travelled at a busy time of year.
Fulham did at least make a few young supporters’ days as Scott Malone, Stefan Johansen and Ryan Fredericks headed to the away supporters and threw them their shirts. For the rest of us, frustration was the predominant emotion. Not just because of the abandonment, but the loss of what appeared an intriguing contest – and the fact that the referee had taken the easy option of robbing the paying public of their night’s football whilst sat in the warmth of a dressing room.