Sunset and Floodlighting

The first floodlit league match in England took place in 1956 – Portsmouth v Newcastle (the home team lost 2-0, and for a variety of reasons, the game was a miserable experience for almost all concerned).

Back then – and for the seventy years preceding – kick-off on a Saturday afternoon had been at 3p.m. or half an hour either side of 3 (old programmes give kick-offs of 2.30, 3, 3.10, 3.30 etc.).

On the shortest day of the year, the sun goes down at c. 3.50p.m G.M.T. in London. Say, 4.30-5 for the bulk of winter.

Wouldn’t that have made pre-floodlit games dark for much of the second half?

It’s hard to see how a club could reasonably kick off earlier in pre-War days, simply because Saturday morning was work time for most people, and earlier kick-offs simply wouldn’t have attracted a crowd. (By 1920, cinema would have been making significant inroads anyway – why drag yourself straight back out again to see the match when you can catch your breath, have a meal, and then go out in the evening with your wife? Far more respectable…)

I note that Mitchell and Kenyon, filming sport in pre-WW1 days, tended to ignore the second half because in the gathering dusk, the lighting was inadequate for their purposes.

It must have been black as night come the final whistle in pre-floodlighting days. How did they play? It must have had some influence over results, but looking through old match reports I can find no reference to this at all. Fog, on the other hand, generates endless bleating about bad visibility and players unable to see each other. Am I missing something?

9 Replies to “Sunset and Floodlighting”

  1. I suppose IF kick offs were always at 2:30pm in winter they’d have been OK – I’m not sure how long half-time was then, but it means the game would finish at 4pm plus stoppages. In London lighting up time at 3:51 on the earliest night days (about Dec 11th using) would mean it was reasonably light still at 4-5:15. Scotland would be about 7mins worse, so I suppose still OK-ish if it was 2:30 – but much less so at 3.

  2. Arsenal aren’t necessarily a good guide to other teams, but it looks like they shfited their kick off by date – as in (from here
    Arsenal v Blacknburn, April 3rd, 1948 – 3pm
    Arsenal v Villa, Sep 11th, 1948, 3:15pm
    Arsenal v Wolves, Sep 25th, 1948, 3pm
    Arsenal v Birmingham, Nov 6th 1948, 2:45pm
    Arsenal v Newcastle, Nov 20th, 1948 – 2:15pm
    Arsenal v Huddersfield Town, Dec 18th, 1948

    Others in winter seemed to have early kick offs too

    Derby v Rotheram, Nov 20th, 1954, 2:30pm
    Leyton Orient v Brighton 27th Dec, 1954, 2:15pm
    Sunderland v Cardiff City, 17th Dec 1954, 2pm

  3. I was hoping to hear from you on this one.

    The kick-off timeshift is one solution that was being used – but far from consistently. I’ve also gone the old programmes route, and found far more 3s and 3.15s, even in Dec/Jan, and even in the north, than 2.30s. Arsenal WOULD have been aware of light more than other clubs, as they had floodlights installed in the 1930s – but weren’t allowed to use them by the Football League except for training – and were title contenders in the late ’40s.

    I think your other suggestion – that it was just about bearable at full-time even at the darkest time of the year – the most likely on reflection.

    But I note that almost every club of any size now has floodlighting – e.g. Sutton United, Kingstonian, Yeading et al – and that the floodlights get used during normal afternoon games i.e. 3pm kickoffs.

    I conclude, hesitantly, that the kick off time was all about crowd money, not quality of play, and that the players just had to lump it sometimes. (They lump it quite often enough nowadays, even with floodlights, although in a different sense and for different reasons).

  4. We used to kick off rugby games at 2:00 near the solstice, and they lasted only 80 minutes plus 5 (or less, if really cold) to suck your orange slice at half-time. It left more time for beer, of course.

  5. I mean 4-4:15 in my first comment, and yes it probably is the most likely (though if you saw kick offs at 3:15 that would be getting a bit dark). Come back to this post at the start of December and we’ll see what it’s like at 4:45. I imagine pretty dark.

  6. Ok here you go:

    Crystal Palace v QPR, Fa Cup, 1946, game abandoned due to dark (apparently it was extra time and a golden goal, but no-one could score one)

    Newcastle United v Birmingham, the Texaco Cup, 1973

    “In the Second Round United faced Birmingham. In the first leg at St Andrews a Macdonald penalty rescued a draw for United.

    By the time the second leg was played at SJP a month later winter had set in and Birmingham had already knocked United out of the League Cup after a replay. The teams – playing in front of only 5,529 spectators – were level at 1-1 at full-time so the tie had to go into extra-time.

    Unfortunately the fuel crisis had meant that the use of floodlights was banned and the game had to be abandoned after 10 minutes of extra time due to the fact that the ground was in almost total darkness. The clubs had asked for permission to kick-off the game earlier, but the League had refused to allow them.”

  7. ..and in Yeovil in extra-time, so i get the impression normal time was just about ok…”After a 1-1 at Twerton the replay had be abandoned in extra time when it got too dark to continue playing”.

    I have a 3rd possibility, they didn’t play 45 min halves. Is this allowed in league football?

    The rules seem ok with it, but perhaps this is only at non-professional level.

  8. Those are really interesting – and they show something else; a time when it didn’t matter quite so much. Call it off, there’s always tomorrow..
    There are definitely examples of matches being abandoned with the score at the point of abandonment standing as a result – e.g. the Manchester derby in 1974 that sent United down. I expect that 45 min halves were the rule, but it must have occurred to somebody some pre-floodlighting December that e.g. rugby union only played 40 minutes per half and that this might get around the darkness problem.

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