Wales v England 1963 And The Big Freeze

The winter of 1963 will go down as one of the coldest and most disruptive, certainly in my lifetime.

In the final days of 1962 a blizzard swept across South Wales with snow drifting more than 20 feet, this was the start of one of the worst winters on record, and the fact that Wales  lost to England in Cardiff on January 19, just added to the misery already being endured meteorological.

Average maximum temperatures in January were 0 degrees and the snow and ice did not shift in many places until March.

Such was the severity of this dreadful winter, the sea actually froze in Whitstable, Kent.

Despite the weather the Five Nations tournament somehow struggled on in dreadful conditions

England had to train at Porthcawl beach as it was the only snow free area available

Fifteen tons of straw had been laid to protect the pitch for the showdown between Wales and England after Cardiff arms Park had been covered with nine inches of snow which had fallen in a single day.

Sport had been brought to a standstill all over the country but despite the bitter cold and risk of more snow, everyone involved was determined that the match should go ahead.

Tractor drivers, grounds staff and volunteers spent ten days, working from dawn until dusk, mostly shovelling snow and straw away by hand until the pitch was clear.

Work started and within a couple of days we knew how much snow we could clear. It turned out that the Wales v England game was the only sports event held in Britain that day. “The atmosphere among the clearers was fantastic. The president of the union would come down every day with bottles of whisky for the men because it was so cold, but everybody enjoyed themselves.”

After the big clear-up operation the pitch was covered with straw again to stop the grass freezing. groundstaff weren’t allowed back onto the pitch to clear the straw until two hours before the match.

Hundreds of volunteers covered the pitch with straw and braziers were lit

The Welsh captain that day was Clive Rowlands on his international debut, and he believes the match should never have been played

“It was awful underfoot, someone could have been seriously injured, it was so hard the players sounded like a herd  of cattle running at you”

“As it was my first cap I was, of course, happy to play”

The England wing Peter Jackson said ” A bright day was forecast and they assumed that a couple of hours sunshine would make all the difference”

“The biggest problem was the change in surface. One minute you would be running on a part of the pitch which had been under or near a brazier and the next you’d be in the rock hard stuff, players were slipping and sliding all over the place”.

Referee Kevin Kelleher wanted to call of the game just before kick off, but with 55,000 inside Cardiff Arms Park he was persuaded that it might be in his best interests to go ahead with the game.

The temperature at kick off time was -6 degrees, and both teams remained in the changing rooms during the playing of the anthems.

The game itself was won by England 13-6, Mike Phillips (no not that one !) and John Owen scored tries for England, whilst Richard Sharp kicked two conversions and a drop goal.

Wakes points came from a penalty by Graham Hodgson and a Dai Hayward try.

After the match the teams returned to the changing rooms to find the pipes had burst and they had to go to the local swimming pool to shower.

England would not beat Wales again in Cardiff until 1991.

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