Glentoran groundsman Sammy Glover was the only man performing on the Oval grass yesterday after last night's match with Linfield was postponed.
As he forked the pitch in bright sunshine his efforts were in vain — as last night’s Carling Premiership battle between Glentoran and Linfield had already been postponed.
The decision to call the game off was taken at 4pm, after heavy rain had hit large parts of Northern Ireland during the morning and early afternoon — but almost immediately after the plug was pulled on the live Sky Sports encounter, the skies cleared and the sun broke through over east Belfast.
And that left many people, including an estimated 6,000 fans who were expected to attend, frustrated and wondering if the game had been called off too early.
Sky Sports had been in Belfast since the weekend setting up at the Oval and they must now take a financial hit, thought to be a substantial five-figure sum, without having a game to show.
The Glens were due to pick up a £6,000 sum for hosting the live game, but the club’s vice-chairman Aubry Ralph says he would be happy for the rearranged Big Two derby to go ahead without being screened on Sky.
“The last few Sky games hurt us,” he said.
“There are people who are staying away. I am not being critical of Sky, we need all the publicity we can get — but the £6,000 in my view doesn't assist in a Big Two game. I am sure Linfield would say the same thing.
“Six thousand at £10 a head is 600 hundred people and I’d say that we are losing more than 600 people on the gate.”
The Sky deal is due to expire at the end of the current season, but former Northern Ireland striker Gerry Armstrong (pictured), who was due to commentate on the game, doesn’t expect the postponement to adversely affect renewal talks.
“It won't stop Sky staying involved in the Irish League. Sky are committed to showcasing football in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The Irish FA had called referee Hugh Carvill — Dungannon-based Mark Courtney was due to take charge of the match — to inspect the pitch in mid-afternoon and it was his decision that it was unplayable.
Already aware that the game may be in doubt a number of fans rang the Oval offering to assist in forking the pitch so that it could go ahead, but by that time it was too late.
A Sky Sports source told the Belfast Telegraph last night: “We only show five Irish League games a season and it’s a year since we covered Glentoran v Linfield so there was a big buzz around the game.
“With Glentoran winning at Windsor Park earlier in the season and Linfield being knocked off the top of the table by Portadown on Saturday there was extra hype surrounding this one.
“Sky are very disappointed, as we always are when a scheduled match has to be postponed and it’s extra disappointing because we don’t always show the Glentoran v Linfield games.
“I have never seen Sky Sports promote an Irish League game so heavily. It was Sky Sports who gave this game the ‘Belclassico’ title and all that adds to the disappointment.”
Although the early decision has been questioned, Ralph believes that a late call is more irritating to those who turn up for a game that is called off shortly before kick-off.
“We have had this situation before when Linfield have arrived here and we have hung on and hung on,” he said.
“If people get into the ground they are going to be annoyed having made the journey for it then to be called off. It's a difficult balancing act.”
Not only are Sky Sports left with a bill for a game that didn’t take place, the Glens are also counting the cost as, Ralph points out, it's not just ticket refunds that hit the club in the pocket.
“It's all the hidden stuff. When a game is called off, there are so many phone calls to be made caterers; we were going to have the shirt sponsorship draw; the lads have put out another great programme which they put a lot of effort into and this is a nightmare from that point of view.”