Russ Cowper on fixture demands that are threatening to kill the golden goose.
At 5am New Year’s Eve morning I sat on a coach on my way to Crystal Palace looking out of the window at a typically dark dank Mancunian morning thinking what am I doing here. Am I insane? The coach was full, but quiet, some catching up on missed sleep, some glaring misty eyed into space with faceless expressions of incredulity, a few cracking open the first beer of the day in the long held tradition of having a beer before the game insists. The coach had the usual characters sat in the usual places amongst friends who just three days before had got off the coach at approaching 3am as it returned from the far flung northern wilds of Newcastle.
It’s Christmas time, a time for family and close friends, togetherness, frivolity and fun. A few beers and plenty to eat, joyous greetings and friendships renewed. The hardy bunch on the coach left all that behind thanks to the Premier League’s fixtures computer virus that throws up games so ridiculous and so unthinking of the travails of fans across the land it has gone beyond a joke and into the realms of Mourinho’s much maligned conspiracy theory. It’s that bad I have considered Mourinho actually does have some sense of reality amidst this madness and fair play to him for highlighting the nonsense that clubs have to endure.
The day was long, very very long, I got home at gone 9pm, thoughts of new year’s celebrations banished from my mind as tiredness overwhelmed my body and it was straight to bed only to be awoken by the ridiculous new fad of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Anyhow enough of that I follow my club through thick and thin and it’s a price the Premier League appear very happy to pay.
Sat here this morning reading the paper and checking the results I was struck by the utter stupidity and callousness of the Christmas, New Years Eve fixture list. The Premier League, the most watched league on the planet simply has no consideration for us the fans, for it is us who help make the “product” exciting and passionate with our noisy and vociferous away followings.
Outside Wetherspoons opposite Thornton Heath railway station deep into South London, I greeted lots of familiar faces, fellow fans I have seen at games all over the country, across Europe and no doubt will see again at our home game on Tuesday night. This is not just my club, but every club in the country where this happens. We are families, friends, colleagues, comrades, worshippers and fanatics who in my opinion are taken for granted by the powers that be. Of course we don’t have to attend, we can do other things, but try telling that to the bloke who hasn’t missed a game for 40 years or to the dad proudly introducing his sons and daughters to his passion and his club’s family. How does the dad say to his offspring this is what I love but sadly we don’t matter.
The atmosphere at Selhurst Park was raucous, my club’s fans played their part in making the noise and raising the tensions. It epitomised everything that the Premier League is all about. Would the atmosphere have been as raucous without the away fans? Anybody who watches leagues where there is little tradition of away followings will be struck by how anodyne and sterile the atmospheres can be. Selhurst Park yesterday was louder and more passionate than the Nou Camp and on a par with the amazing support I witnessed at Seville. I’m sure none of us want to go to the game and be part of a stadium more akin to a library: we want passion, love, hatred, noise, colour, it is our history, it is not a night watching the Pirates of Penzance at the local theatre.
Looking at yesterday’s fixtures in the Premier League and you cannot help but notice what a nonsense they are. They show absolutely zero concern for fans. The Premier League over the New Year’s weekend threw up these monstrosities – Everton away at Bournemouth, Stoke away at Chelsea, Man City away at Crystal Palace, Southampton away at Man United and idiotically Brighton away at Newcastle. Surely somebody somewhere has the common sense to realise it is the holiday season, it is mid winter; fans have families and most do not have unlimited funds with which to attend games. Surely it cannot be beyond the realms of even the biggest idiot at the Premier League to realise the effect these fixtures have on fans. Why could they not be rearranged and replaced with fixtures such as Everton away at Man United, Man City away at Stoke, Southampton away at Palace, Brighton away at Arsenal. Newcastle are a bit of a special case as they are so far from any other team, but at least give them Huddersfield or Burnley, with the other team at West Brom. Fans will still travel of course, but it gives them a chance to get trains, to have a lie in, to see friends and even spend some time with their loved ones.
I must admit I know nothing about how fixture computers work – I can barely work my own – yet somewhere somebody is responsible for compiling fixtures and surely it cannot be that hard to arrange holiday fixtures first and compile others around them. Long trips are of course unavoidable but surely there has to be a way to make them fan friendly. It has to be within the remit of the powers that be to restrict mid-week fixtures and holiday fixtures to certain travel limits.
TV rights of course dominate fixture timings but the risk to the Golden Goose is clear. No fans equals no product, no product equals no profit. Do they really want that?