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v Chelsea

Saturday 30 August K.O. 17:30

The Big Freeze

The Big Freeze

The winter of 1963 brought Britain’s coldest weather for 200 years as freezing conditions plagued the country and wreaked havoc with the football calendar.

So enduring was the frost, it even threatened to derail Everton’s title charge as fears began to mount that the season would go uncompleted.

In fact, the first ice appeared in late December 1962 and after a 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday three days before Christmas, it was seven weeks before the would-be champions appeared in league action again.

Though Harry Catterick’s men managed to honour two FA Cup ties in January, other teams suffered far greater as the third round took a staggering nine weeks to complete.

In total, 500 professional matches were postponed nationwide as the opening two months of the year proved a near write-off.

“It was a long, long winter,” remembers defender Mick Meagan, a player who would go on to make 36 appearances for the Toffees before the campaign’s end. “Every week we'd be ready to go and then the match would get called off.

“They used to use these pebbles which they sprinkled on the pitch to thaw the ice but some of us were allergic to them it turned out - we came out in spots and a rash - so they had to stop that.

“At one point we were wondering what was going to happen but luckily enough the weather eased up a bit and we got all the games played.”

While the scenario was far from ideal, Meagan remembers one particular high point of what came to be known as ‘The Big Freeze’.

“The maximum wage had gone that year but we were all on similar money and the bonuses were tremendous,” he explains. “If we were in the top half of the league you got £10, if we were in the top six you got £20, and you got £2 for every 1000 people over 30,000.

“So when you think there were 60,000 there every match, it may not seem a lot now, but it was to us.

“During the freeze there was a reserve-team fixture against Derby County but because of what had gone on we put out the first team.

“The second team were on something like 10 shillings for every 100 people over 1500 and the gate that day ended up being over 26,000!

“It was still classed as a reserve-team game so we were on their bonus system - but it still added up to a fair few shilling.”

Highbury SnowAnother game falls victim to the weather as the big freeze of 1963 hits hard, this time at Arsenal's Highbury ground.

Coincidently, Meagan recalls bonuses being a regular topic of dressing room conversation – the additional income on offer at a time when footballers enjoyed a fraction of the wealth they might today proving a significant incentive to perform.

“If you went in at half-time and you’d done something stupid, you’d be told in no uncertain terms that you’d been an idiot. It was a motivation for us all,” he says.

“It was the same when we went out. We'd go out and have fun all right but football was number one.

“The lads would say, 'You don't do anything that interrupts with the football.' That wasn't Harry enforcing that, it was the lads. We were so close that we expected it of each other.”

As the game-free weeks dragged on, it was the bonhomie of the squad’s individuals that ensured spirit and focus was maintained.

Meagan recalls a united dressing room in which no-one was excluded, nor exempt from a regular ribbing.

“The general chat and joking was fantastic,” he smiles. “It was a great dressing room to be in. Everyone was involved, everyone was in it together and everyone was part of the set up.

“Brian Harris was the joker of the pack and I used to take a bit of stick for my Irish accent. The lads couldn't understand me.

“Roy Vernon, he had a very dry sense of humour.

“There were no little cliques or anything like that though. We were just all in it as one.”

Everton emerged from their enforced hibernation to pick up pretty much as they had left off in the league.

Two defeats in March were softened by wins over Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town and Manchester City before an unbeaten start to April gave Catterick’s men a chance to go top when rivals Tottenham visited Goodison Park for what would be the Toffees’ sixth game in just 15 days.   

“I remember we played Birmingham twice over Easter. We drew at home, which knocked us, but went down to their place the very next day and won,” says Meagan.

“That set us up for the Tottenham game four days later. We’d drawn against them at White Hart Lane in December, which was decent result against a very good side, but at Goodison we beat them 1-0 to go ahead in the table.

“After the Spurs game we drew another game at home against Arsenal but won three on the spin against West Ham, Bolton and West Brom, meaning a win on the final day against Fulham would be enough for the title, which, of course, we managed.

“It was just an absolutely gorgeous time to be honest, though it was probably only weeks afterwards that I fully appreciated what we’d achieved when I went home to Ireland with my medal and everyone came round to have a look at this wonderful thing.

“As a kid at home playing in Dublin, your main thought was, 'I'd like to play in England.' That came and I was delighted with that. But the icing on the cake was winning the league.”

Meagan moved on to Huddersfield Town the following April and later turned out for Halifax before returning to his native Ireland to play for Drogheda United, Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers.

However, it is the 177 appearances he made for Everton – and those in 1962/63 in particular – that remain the most treasured of his career.

“Honestly, it was like going into a school classroom every morning. It was full of characters and you always looked forward to it,” he says.

““The likes of Brian Labone, Brian Harris, Derek Temple and myself, we all came through the youth policy and that was great because you felt at home when those lads were playing, you didn't feel overawed by all the stars in the team.   

“We were the four who didn't cost anything and I think we felt more comfortable because of that.

“When you came through and you looked at the players who were already in the team you were a little bit worried. But they were lovely lads and it was something really special to be a part of.

“It’s just such a shame so many of them are not with us today, 50 years on. It was some team back then though and one I know I’ll never forget.”

Bill GardThe one nil win over Spurs - a kind of back header from the Golden Vision I seem to recall. Doesn't Seamus Coleman look like a clone of Mick Meagan, both full backs of small stature.

Sunday 2nd June 02:39 Report Comment

Paul ConatzerI remember that winter. Didn't the Thames freeze?

Saturday 1st June 19:48 Report Comment
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