Contrary to popular belief the fixture schedule is not thrown together haphazardly each summer. In fact there are a multitude of considerations to comply with until it all somehow meshes together, factors such as neighbouring clubs playing home and away on the same weekend; clubs playing no more than two consecutive home or away games; long distances – especially midweek – restricted to autumn and spring where possible; even the avoidance of clashes with local events such as flower shows and fairs.
It takes a Football League officer and a handful of staff months of detailed planning before the Premier League and Football League’s fixture lists are signed off and good to go and for their efforts the group is rewarded only with our annoyance at the journeys that particularly jar.
Sometimes of course we have every right to show our displeasure. The third criteria from the opening paragraph will presumably grate with Oldham supporters this Saturday as they travel 282 miles to Plymouth two days before Christmas. Yet blanket criticism of the authorities’ supposed apathy towards fan welfare can be wide of the mark, and nowhere is this more pertinent than the fixtures played over the festive period.
A trawl through the schedules from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day throws up very few long motorway hauls with virtually all meetings involving clubs no more than a third of the country apart. This is not accidental as too is the lack of ‘big’ games that would stretch police resources at a time of the year when they’re already stretched to their fullest.
If the above reads like a defence of a much-maligned institution that’s because – to an extent – it is and perhaps deservedly so. Furthermore this leaves us to solely focus our attention on the other influential organisation that is responsible for the shaping of our Christmas and New Year to come. Unlike the computer boffins at the FA and Premier League though they really don’t care about our well-being; to them we are merely an after-thought.
Way back in October Sky, in their infinite selfishness, decided that having two Premier League games and two Championship matches all on Boxing Day wasn’t enough for them: they wanted one the day after too. With Spurs v Southampton nailed down for the lunchtime kick-off on the 26th and Swansea’s trip to Anfield pencilled in for the teatime showing that left them with seven games to pick from; or to put another way two from 14 fan-bases to deny a traditional Boxing Day game of football and instead switch to a day when some have to return to work. With a predictable disregard for convenience they chose Newcastle v Manchester City, which of the seven fixtures features clubs based the furthest apart.
If City fans were rightfully peeved at discovering their Christmas was being thrown all out of kilter to sate the whims of television they were justifiably fuming when their New Year plans were flung to the wind too. With BT Sport insistent on airing two New Year’s Eve games someone had to bite the lunchtime bullet and who better than a club fan-base who now must travel 210 miles on a day when public transport is limited (thus extremely expensive too) and additionally a day that traditionally ends in celebration among friends and family.
At midday on December 31st City continue their title hunt at Crystal Palace and as travelling Blue Elliott Capp explains, the self-serving switches of games by the television networks have a real effect on the logistics involved in watching your team. “There are no trains going from Manchester to London that will arrive in time for the early kick off on New Year’s Eve. Instead, my brother and I have booked our train for the day before and will stay overnight in a hotel. Obviously, this increases the cost of the trip significantly. There are also very limited trains coming back from London after the game, making it difficult to find a good deal”.
Isaac Wilinsky is another City fan making the arduous trip: “I’m leaving at 4am. I’m hoping to get back in time for the New Year’s celebrations but I’m aware that’s unlikely”.
It would be naïve to expect festive fixtures to be as regimented as they once were in this modern age. Three o’clock kick-offs for all. Boxing Day. New Year’s Day. Home in time for leftover turkey sarnies from one. Home in time to see in the new year with friends after the other. Those days are sadly gone.
But with the greed of the television companies knowing no bounds and the proliferation of games across the seasonal period worsening year on year there surely must come a time when we say enough to this madness; to make a stand; to remind them that we’re not just football fans but human beings too.