In its latest, but most certainly not its last, money grab, the English Premier League, in cahoots with its sugar daddy pimp known as LIVE TELEVISION added, for the first time ever, a dozen 8pm local time Friday matches scattered throughout the 2016-2017 fixture list. Some of these football matches (all of them played thus far) pit clubs at least 3 hours apart by car or train which is an absolute disaster for a vital but too often disrespected segment of football supporters: away fans.
With the influx of cash from domestic and overseas broadcast deals, football supporters have been getting accustomed to their role as low man and low woman on the Premier League totem pole, this in spite of English football ‘atmosphere’ being one of the prime selling points in the Premier League sponsorship deck — nobody wants to tune in to watch a football match played in front of corporate boxes and neutral tourists but that seems to be, more and more, who is being ushered through the turnstiles. Who, you might ask, provide that coveted, classic English football atmosphere? Fans, of course, home fans and most certainly away fans. But please, by all means go ahead and move match times around at the last minute for TV and schedule Friday night fixtures featuring teams from opposite sides of the country. Perfect. Well done. Slow clap, Premier League leadership.
Already during this ’16 – ’17 Premier League season, away supporters from Southampton and Everton were made to manage a train schedule that wouldn’t take them home from Manchester and London, respectively, after the final whistle of their team’s Friday night game. This away supporter quandary has no good solution: squander a vacation day at work to make the long journey to be there in time for kickoff? Spend big money for a big city hotel on a Friday night because you’ll miss the last train home? Sucky, any way you slice it.
(Southampton FC provided free bus transport to and from Manchester for season ticket holders who purchased a seat from their official traveling supporter ticket allocation for the United away match — a very generous move by my ‘favorite’ Premier League club)
While Friday night football is a nightmare for local supporters it, and pains me to say this, is an absolute dream for visiting neutrals from overseas (fans like me) who are plotting a jam-packed English football weekend.
For the past few seasons, I’ve been trying to devise a way to fly over to England for a long weekend to see as many live football matches across the English Football League’s top two divisions as humanly possible. Friday night Premier League matches make the prospect of this British sports smorgasbord an extremely tasty one.
For example, say there’s a Friday night match in south London at Crystal Palace, then an early morning kickoff at Arsenal in North London and a traditional Championship division tea time kick at Fulham in West London on Saturday. You might miss the first 15 minutes at Craven Cottage but you can get there with help from the Tube or a clever cabbie. Sunday then could bring a train trip up north for an Everton home match or the Manchester Derby and then down to the south coast on Monday to see Bournemouth play at tiny Vitality Stadium. Want to stay one more night, there might be a Tuesday game in the championship, maybe back in West London at QPR, before you fly home from nearby Heathrow?
That would be a ridiculously brilliant weekend of English football and the Friday night match makes my dream scenario above an even more cracking proposition than previously possible. This dream comes at the expense of away fans though and that’s a crap-brown lining to a gorgeously puffy white cloud hanging low over England.
Schedule alterations impact players and perpetually under fire managers too. Take for instance recent news of a massive fixture juggle from the Premier League office that’ll have Southampton playing 3 (three!!!) league games in 6 days over the Christmas period. Not exactly festive, I’d say, but no matter, worldwide TV audiences must be fed football. While that is brutal for players and local fans alike, it does present an idyllic opportunity for English football obsessed travelers to cram in copious amounts of live matches into a quick overseas getaway. Something I’ll someday do even if I do feel a little sorry for honest-to-goodness away supporters while doing it.