Since television started ruling football, there have been some strange kick off times for many a match. 11am, 5pm, 10:30am, occasionally even 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Now however, ITV have raised the bar by placing an FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Spurs on a Sunday at 6pm, to lock viewers into the final episode of Titanic (according to the Daily Mirror).
Chelsea’s original concern was that with a semi-final against Barcelona in the Champions League on the Wednesday, it gave insufficient time to recover in between the two matches. Chelsea are fine with playing on the Sunday, acknowledging Liverpool’s refusal to play on the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, but have pleaded for an earlier kick off- a lunch-time kick off would make a difference, recovery-wise. In other countries, their FAs give preferential kick off times to teams in European competitions to maximise their chances. When Jose Mourinho was Porto manager, his team was sometimes allowed to play league games on a Friday night. Sam Wallace argued on the Sunday Supplement that the FA are right not to give the big teams preferential treatment as it isn’t fair on the other teams, and they have the resources to cope. I agree in principle, but when teams in other countries are getting special treatment, then it puts English teams at a disadvantage. Napoli played on Friday night before both their games against Chelsea, as did Benfica the other week.
But the main stupidity of this kick off time has nothing to do with Chelsea’s showdown with Barcelona. Apart from the fact it just feels wrong to watch a semi-final on a Sunday evening, it is inviting trouble to allow two sets of fans a whole day of drinking before kick off. The late kick off gives scant regards to families wishing to attend the match with the schools open the next day, and the usual engineering works on the rail network will only add to the difficulty in getting home at a reasonable time, especially if there is extra time and penalties.
The FA have declined to comment over Chelsea’s complaints, though I am not sure how much leverage they have over the scheduling by TV companies. Since the FA Cup semi-finals went to the new Wembley in 2008, the Sunday tie has always kicked off at 4pm. However, Manchester United play Aston Villa at that time, and ITV don’t want a clash.
Di Matteo’s suggestion of a Friday match was always a non-starter. As Sam Wallace has also commented, the dates (if not the times) are set in stone, agreed with Brent Council months in advance.
Money talks of course, and clubs have been happy to take this money and spend it. ITV paid £275m for a four year deal to show England and FA Cup games, and they need to recoup their outlay. A lunch time kick was thought to have risked a 50% drop in viewers. It’s a shame that the needs of football clubs at a vital time of the season are pushed to one side by a television company picking a time for a football match that gives them the maximum viewers and thus revenue, but that is the world we live in now.