England's World Cup qualifier against Poland descended into farce yesterday after the Polish FA (PZPN) ignored weather forecasts and left the roof of the stadium open, with a five-hour pre-match deluge forcing a postponement of last night's match until 4pm UK time today.
As of last night, the rain had stopped and the tarpaulin roof had at last been closed – the stadium operators had not been able to shut it while the rain had continued. There is also the possibility that the game today will be played behind closed doors, because Polish police will not be able to guarantee the safety of supporters.
There was anger from both sets of fans, especially the English contingent, most of whom have flights back home today and will miss the re-organised game. The Polish supporters chanted "Thieves, thieves" at the PZPN, and waved their tickets in protest at high prices and what they regarded as poor treatment. Many of them will be unable to attend the re-organised match, even if supporters are permitted.
The decision to call the game off was finally made at 9.56pm local time, more than an hour after the original kick-off time, by Fifa match delegate Danijel Jost of Slovenia. By then the England players were already changed and back on the team coach with the FA having acknowledged that there was no chance of the game going ahead.
The postponement followed discussions for more than an hour between the PZPN contingent and Roy Hodgson, Gary Neville and other FA officials. The Poles wanted the game to be moved to the next Fifa international week next month, when England are due to play Sweden in a friendly in Stockholm. That option was firmly rejected by the English FA.
It is understood that the PZPN knew about the forecast of heavy rain but the coach, Waldemar Fornalik, ruled that the National Stadium's roof should stay open as the weather would be of benefit to his side as a leveller for both teams. Last night Hodgson warned that the stadium roof needed to be shut as soon as possible in order to protect the pitch for today's match.
He said: "I was rather hoping they'd close it as quickly as possible and do some work. At the moment the pitch is in a very poor condition, the water is lying on the surface and it's going to need a lot of attention if it's going to be playable [today].
"Of course the players are disappointed. Because when you've got a game in the evening you spend a long day preparing for it. So we're all very unhappy about it but what can we do? These acts of God – no one can decide whether it's going to rain or not rain, we just have to live with the situation."
Hodgson had picked a team that did not include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and featured Jermain Defoe in attack instead of Danny Welbeck, a side that the England manager said he was minded to stick to for today's re-organised game. He said: "I hope so, yes. You never know, people can fall ill but I'd chosen the team that I wanted to start the game and I have no intention of changing it unless someone falls ill in the meantime."
The former England manager Graham Taylor described the organisation of the match as "like Monty Python" and added "If I were a fan, I'd be booing too."
At 7pm, the England goalkeeper coach Dave Watson had taken the three goalkeepers out to warm-up although it quickly became obvious that was impractical and they were called in. Hodgson and Neville inspected the pitch soon after that and England's outfield players never came out. Poland's players warmed-up for a while and then went back in.
The stadium's operators said that they required 24 hours' notice to close the roof which was shut for the first game of Euro 2012 between the co-hosts Poland and Greece. On that occasion, Poland's players had complained about the lack of air and how it made conditions more difficult.
Last night the Italian referee, Gianluca Rocchi, delayed the kick-off until 9pm local time and then went back out for an inspection at that point. A final decision was then put back to 9.45pm and the game was finally postponed 11 minutes later.
Many English supporters were angry at finding out the game was off via text messages from friends at home watching television coverage. Announcements in the stadium were late. The England players did not come out on to the pitch to acknowledge the supporters. The Club England managing director Adrian Bevington said there was no intention to be disrespectful. "These are pretty unique circumstances," he said. "We had said to the players to get changed significantly earlier than when the game would be called off because we didn't think there was any chance of the match being played, but we didn't want it to look as if we'd made their decision for them. There's nothing but respect for the fans who have travelled all that way. No disrespect intended."
Fifa regulation 19.7 dictates that any game called off because of adverse weather has to be played within 24 hours.
Among the England fans was Warren Sadler, from Southend, who was part of a group of 12 supporters. He said: "We knew about this weather. That's why we've all brought coats. How could they not know? We're on a chartered flight and it's cost £400 or so in total, plus the time off work that we've all taken. We were up at 3am to fly out, and we fly back at three on Wednesday morning, so them rearranging for the afternoon [today] is no good to us."
Richard Clark, a service manager from Nottingham, said: "This is the first time I can remember this happening. A game in a major Fifa competition in a stadium built for a competition this year being called off because of the weather. It's absolutely crazy."
The last two England internationals to be called off on the day were in October 1975 when fog in Bratislava meant that a European Championship qualifier against the Czech Republic could not go ahead. It was played the next night when England lost 2-1. In 1979, fog at Wembley meant a European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria had to be called off because of fog. England won 2-0 the next night.