How the freeze of 1947 gave Liverpool FC a warm glow

The February of 1947 was the coldest on record in the UK since 1910. Between January and March 1947, there were 55 consecutive days with snow falling somewhere in the UK. The impacts on post-war Britain were enormous.

Mark Platt of Liverpool Football Club describes how the winter of 1947 caused problems for the club, but gave the team the ultimate chance to shine.

For Liverpool FC, the inaugural post-war Football League of the 1946/47 season was one of the most memorable in its rich and illustrious history. The style in which they won the First Division Championship that year was to set a precedent for future Anfield success and it was achieved against all the odds; an ultimate triumph against adversity that the British weather did its best to scupper.

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An impression of a Liverpool FC training session in February 1947 prior to the famous Stubbins’ flying header. Still photograph courtesy: Liverpool Echo. Video animation: Met Office.

Amid the bleak austerity of a war-ravaged nation and continued rationing, the return of regular competitive football had been eagerly anticipated. Crowds flocked back to the game in record numbers and the British public revelled in its favourite pastime once again.

Liverpool, deemed as unlikely title challengers in pre-season, made a steady start. On the last day of August they opened their campaign with victory at Sheffield United, a game that kicked off in a monsoon and was played under dark thunder clouds. Such unseasonal conditions set the tone for the remainder of a season that would be dominated by the extreme and unpredictable weather.

Just a few weeks later, young Liverpool supporters were being passed out of a sweltering Kop as the country basked in an Indian summer. It wasn’t long before dense freezing fog then started to play havoc with transportation to and from games, while gale-force winds often hampered attempts to play good football.

Liverpool adapted better than most to these ever-changing climates and a run of victories saw them shoot to the top of the table in the run-up to Christmas. Then one of the worst winters on record kicked in and pitches became treacherous ice-rinks. When the thaw set in they were transformed into unplayable quagmires. Getting the ball under control and passing it, even a short distance, was becoming increasingly difficult.

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Albert Stubbins’ famous ‘goal in the snow’ has been dubbed by the Anfield faithful as the one of the greatest ever scored. Picture courtesy Liverpool FC

If the players had it bad, so too did supporters. As the snowstorms worsened, attending games became more hazardous. In a bid to prevent the country from grinding to a halt, the government ordered a widespread industrial shutdown and the knock-on effects were felt at the turnstiles. Rail and road links slowly ground to a halt, city streets were plunged into darkness and many factories were forced to close, meaning millions found themselves temporarily out of work. Due to a severe paper shortage, the size of match-day programmes were also significantly reduced, some to just a single sheet.

As the Arctic conditions continued to take a vice-like grip across Britain during the early months of 1947 matches were falling foul of the weather on a regular basis. The fixture list was soon decimated by postponements and Liverpool slithered back down the table. It peaked on Saturday 22 February when more than half that day’s scheduled games were called off. Ironically, Liverpool’s game at home to Huddersfield that afternoon did go ahead, but a new record had been set and it led to calls for the campaign to be extended.

When repeated pleas fell on deaf ears, the entire structure of football in this country was in danger of complete collapse. Thankfully, the authorities eventually saw sense. Although not before the touchlines at Anfield had to be painted blue to make them visible on a surface described as a ‘sea of porridge’ for the visit of Blackburn Rovers at the beginning of March, or when star centre-forward of the time Albert Stubbins lacerated his knees by sliding on the ice in celebration of a now famous diving header against Birmingham City. It was a goal that has gone down in Anfield folklore as one of the greatest ever scored, known simply as ‘the goal in the snow’.

A six-week extension to the season was granted. Playing conditions improved and Liverpool rediscovered their form. When they travelled to Wolverhampton on May 31 to contest their final game of a seemingly never-ending season, they did so on what was the hottest day of the year so far.

The pitch side temperature at a sun-baked Molineux was in the high nineties and the match officials sported unfamiliar white jerseys. For spectators, shirt sleeves, summer frocks and handkerchiefs on heads were the order of the day – a stark contrast to the bitter cold they’d been used to just a few months previous. ‘Hotter than the Melbourne Cricket Ground’ being one newspaper description of the scenes.

A 2-1 win ensured that the red hot Reds completed their league season back in pole position. However, because of the fixture backlog caused by that gruelling winter of discontent, one outstanding game remained and it didn’t take place until a fortnight later. If Stoke City beat Sheffield United they would pip Liverpool to the title. It was to be an agonising wait but one that, for every Liverpudlian, was well worth waiting for.

On June 14 at Bramall Lane, the venue where Liverpool opened the season almost ten months before, Stoke failed to get the result they so desired. The weather-beaten 1946/47 season, the longest ever known, was finally over and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was Liverpool’s fifth League Championship.

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