From the start of the season, we’ve been promised Friday night football – the big innovation of the season, as far as the Premier League is concerned.
Friday is not a night not used to the glamour of Premier League football, but it seems like an almost natural match: why had no-one thought about it before? Football fans are no strangers to Friday nights spent in the pub, so adding a live top flight game into the mix sounded like a match made in heaven – at least on a superficial level.
It hasn’t panned out that way, though. After three Friday night games in the first seven rounds of fixtures, the next Friday night game wasn’t until the end of December, during the Christmas and New Year period when fixtures often fall on odd days. It seems that the league and Sky Sports, who hold the rights, have found it difficult to marry the Premier League fixture list with European commitments and the ability to move games specifically for TV.
But there were other problems too. For one thing, games that don’t take place at the weekend disadvantage traveling fans, especially for longer trips. Earlier this season, Southampton traveled to Old Trafford to face Manchester United – that would have entailed a day off work for Saints fans, and a fairly hefty end-of-week car trip. It was a similar story for Liverpool fans traveling to Stamford Bridge for their 2-1 victory over Chelsea in September.
Clearly the fewer games that take place on weekdays the better from that point of view. Friday night football just places extra burdens on fans during the working week.
And yet, tonight, title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur will visit West Ham in only the fifth Friday night fixture of the season – even though Sky had the rights to show 10. And an early May meeting between two local rivals on a Friday night somehow seems to add to the drama, even if the first thought might be to expect a greater police presence at a stadium which has seen teething problems lead to violent incidents already this season.
The police may not relish the encounter, but assuming it will pass peacefully, fans may feel differently about starting their weekend watching a local derby with a Premier League title potentially on the line.
The difference between this game and other Friday night fixtures is that this one features two teams from the same city. Days off work won’t be a necessity for the away fans, certainly no more than it would have been for a European game at White Hart Lane. Tottenham’s journey from north London to east London’s Olympic Park is only a few miles, and possibly even easier to get to from many workplaces in the centre of the city.
And that means the unusual kick-off time shouldn’t ruin the game’s spectacle. In fact, it could enhance it.
From a purely entertainment point of view, it does make for a mouth-watering clash: an iconic ground under the floodlights (for the second half at least) playing host to a title-chasing team going to a club who absolutely hate them. If you envisaged Friday night football before the start of the season, it’s probably the kind of clash you’d have thought about.
Whether or not you’re a fan of playing Premier League football on a Friday, this particular fixture should be unmissable, perhaps moreso than the other instalments.
The problem with adding yet another night to the football calendar means most fans won’t really have of a night off to do anything else. True, you don’t have to watch football, but with Monday-Sunday booked in – especially towards the end of the season – it’s wall-to-wall, and that doesn’t leave time for other things, especially when Fridays were usually the Premier League fan’s day off.
Maybe that partly explains the lack of interest in Friday Night Football, but when you have a London derby with so much at stake, it changes things.
We were promised a new vibe for Premier League games with the arrival of Friday nights, and this might just do the trick. This could be the game to rectify the Premier League’s big Friday flop.