It was announced week that West Ham’s away fixture against Tottenham Hotspur, originally set for Sunday December 31st, has been rearranged for Thursday January 4th.
The fixture move defies all common sense and logic. It means that a previously hectic but workable period has turned into a situation in which West Ham will play three games in six, or perhaps even five days at the start of January, with the Spurs fixture rearranged to a Thursday night in between a home game against West Brom on the Tuesday and the FA Cup tie at Shrewsbury at the weekend.
One of the most frustrating elements of this is how easily it could have been avoided. Firstly, there was the dreadful planning on Sky and the Premier League’s part, expecting permission to be granted for a 90,000 crowd on probably the busiest night of the year for the Metropolitan Police and London transport links. Then their complete inflexibility for an alternative date, when there should be so many more logical options, has led to a Thursday night 8 o’clock kick off rather than just moving it from Sunday to Saturday.
We all know how hectic the Christmas period is and complaints of congestion are not new. This year, the schedule accounts for five fixtures in two weeks: the weekend before Christmas, the 26th, the weekend before New Year, midweek and then Cup Weekend on the first weekend in January. It’s demanding, but manageable.
But thanks to some farcical organisation from Sky and the Premier League, West Ham’s schedule (and Tottenham’s for that matter) is looking ridiculous. It means we are faced with the prospect of playing on Tuesday 2nd January, then Thursday 4th January, and then the weekend. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s actually going to be a full week of no games at all between Boxing Day and our next fixture, followed by what is looking by, at best, three games in six days. It is absolute madness. Every other team has a much more even spread than this.
Frankly it’s the most nonsensical fixture schedule I’ve heard of in a long time. Even Arsenal’s fixture stockpiling at the end of the 1997/98 season had some reason or logic to it as the result of postponements and cup commitments. Here, however, there are perfectly reasonable solutions that are not being considered.
For instance, apart from the obvious with Sky, what else is there to stop the game from simply taking place on the Saturday 30th rather than Sunday? Weekend fixture. Job done. We could even have an evening kick-off if you’ve already arranged other TV commitments for that day. What’s the problem?
Even if not, surely someone has had the sense to think about pushing our game with West Brom on the 2nd back a day to the 1st to give everyone a slightly more manageable cushion. Oh wait, West Brom are playing Arsenal in the live game the day before.
The whole thing is a complete mess and it stems from the free rein Sky have to call the shots. Here, they made a huge mistake in setting an entire Christmas schedule of fixtures without realising that a massive fixture in the middle, in England’s largest stadium, on New Year’s Eve, could be a problem. They confirmed the slot without waiting for confirmation from the police and Wembley Stadium’s Safety Advisory Group would be allowing for a capacity crowd. As it turned out, Wembley only recommended a half capacity for the game.
Quite how the Premier League didn’t see this coming, given that it’s New Year’s Eve, masses of people will be out in London and tube stations will be packed and stewards and police will be needed elsewhere, seems stupid. And when there are so many live games at different kick-off times now, it was also completely irresponsible of Sky and the Premier League to arrange this fixture before official confirmation of this was granted, given that they have allowed for absolutely no flexibility because of their other live games.
There could be easy solutions, but they simply aren’t plausible because of the web of knock-on effects it would cause to other teams kicking off on other days at various different kick-off times, West Brom being a case in point. Either way, the end result is that West Ham face a massive fixture disadvantage at the start of January, the only consolation being that Spurs fans will be equally as disgruntled about the situation as we are.
It’s not just the impact on the team that we should be angry about. It also means that thousands of fans will be left desperately unhappy. The main selling point of a congested Christmas schedule, in fact probably the only thing keeping us from a winter break, is that is gives fans, especially families, the chance to watch and go to games during the holidays. But by January 4th most will be back at work. Most schools start again around that time too. Not to mention those travelling from afar in the holidays to support their team:
3k spent on flight/accommodation to come from Canada to see West Ham play twice, live, for the first time ever. Return flight is out January 3rd. Absolutely pissed and heartbroken— The Northern Hammer (@NorthernHammer_) December 4, 2017
Yet again the fan is at the bottom of the priority list for the Premier League, but this is probably a rant for another day.
Finally, it beggars belief that the FA refuses to admit this is one of the primary factors in the dwindling enthusiasm for the FA Cup, not just for the bigger clubs but increasingly among supporters too. I don’t see any situation in which West Ham, who are locked in a relegation battle, can play two crucial Premier League games back to back on Tuesday and Thursday, and then be expected to field a full-strength side at the weekend away to Shrewsbury. The FA’s leadership committee will surely once more look at each other and wonder why the Cup isn’t being respected, and not realise that the answer is staring them in the face.