Of all the reasons for a Premier League game to be postponed, an unsafe stadium is a new one after more than 30 years of the rebranding of the top English division.
But that’s the case at Luton Town, whose start to their first ever Premier League season has been severely disrupted by improvement work on their Kenilworth Road home.
To get the rather antiquated stadium up to spec for the Premier League, the Hatters have had to call in the builders – unfortunately, they might not be able to get their necessary upgrades completed in time, and so Luton have requested for their opening game of the 2023/24 campaign against Burnley to be postponed.
They are spending some £10 million on a new stand to accommodate their enhanced broadcast and media duties, but in typical fashion the building team can’t confirm that their agreed deadline will be met.
And so the contest with the Clarets will be postponed to a later date, with calls to reverse the fixture – so that Burnley host the game at their Turf Moor home – falling on deaf ears.
Not exactly the ideal start to your first top-flight game in more than 30 years….
While building work is certainly one of the more unusual explanations, here’s some of the other more common reasons for why Premier League games can be postponed.
Frozen Pitch/Bad Weather
Once upon a time, undersoil heating was considered something of a luxury at football stadiums in England – today, in the Premier League at least, it’s a pre-requisite to have heating and/or full-length covers to protect the pitch from frost and snow, as it is in the EFL too.
But even so, sometimes the weather turns so dire that a game has to be postponed – with player safety of paramount importance. Often, a pitch inspection will be called in advance to determine whether a match can go ahead or not.
Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), has said:
“A referee has to consider whether the playing conditions threaten the wellbeing of the players and whether they compromise the match as a spectacle for the fans.”
The pitch inspection will determine whether the game can go ahead, while a referee will also lean on the expertise of the groundsman to help determine whether conditions will improve by the time kick off rolls around.
Even if the pitch survives a cold snap, it may be decided that a Premier League game should be called off if it is deemed unsafe for them to watch or travel.
That happened in 2014, when 100mph winds toppled over vehicles, trees and walls and forced Man City’s clash with Sunderland to be cancelled. Everton’s tie with Crystal Palace on the same night was postponed when a chimney of a pub near to Goodison Park was knocked off the building and smashed by the zephyr.
In February 2020, ‘extreme and escalating weather conditions’ forced the postponement of West Ham’s tie with Man City.
If the safety of supporters cannot be guaranteed either when travelling to the stadium or inside of it, a Premier League club can – on the advice of safety officers or law enforcement – call for a game to be called off.
Events of National Significance
An event that can be considered of national significance – such as the death of a member of the royal family – can trigger Premier League postponements.
It hasn’t always been that way – English football played on when King George VI passed away in 1952 and games went ahead the day after his Friday funeral, too.
But in more modern times, the death of Princess Diana saw the postponement of a Liverpool vs Newcastle United game scheduled for that day on August 31, 1997.
When Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, all that weekend’s Premier League games were postponed. More matches, those scheduled to be played in London on the day of her funeral, were also cancelled due to a lack of police resources.
The Premier League publishes their fixture list without knowing how its clubs will fare in the domestic cup competitions and in continental action as well.
If a club has a deep run in any of those extra-curricular tournaments, it may force the postponement of their Premier League games when it clashes with, let’s say, a Europa League semi-final or League Cup final.
Other competitions are beginning to encroach on the Premier League season. The winner of the division will typically take up an invitation to play in the FIFA Club World Cup, which is usually held in December. That can have ramifications for the EPL fixture list.