Last minute fixture changes are a nightmare for many fans, particularly those who follow their teams away or who have long journeys to home games. Travel and time off work all his to be rearranged, sometimes at a few days notice. Blades fan Chris Brook (left) explains how tonight's Port Vale v Sheffield United clash was moved because Spurs crashed out of the Europa League. Really…
For the travelling supporters, the fixture release date (Wednesday 18th June) is a pivotal day for organising their August to May calendars. Once announced, weekends away can be planned around away trips to Bournemouth, Torquay or Blackpool.
Family and friends separated by distance can plan to re-unite at a ground close to their current residence. Weddings, stag-dos and holidays can be booked without fear of them clashing with a local derby. Affordable advanced rail tickets can be purchased (12 weeks in advance).
But these plans are often ruined for thousands of fans by late fixture changes. Some of these changes are unavoidable such as bad weather or a good cup run. The increasing power of TV is another reason. However, there are plenty of instances where clubs are changing dates without compelling reasons and they appear inconsiderate of supporters’ inconvenience.
To illustrate my point, I will recount my experience of one day, March 24th 2014, as an example of the impact of late fixture changes. This was the date that Sheffield United announced two fixture changes in April – both matches were scheduled for Saturday at 3pm and both were altered to the previous Friday evening at 7.45pm. The reasons for these changes, in my opinion are questionable.
After our trip to Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final was scheduled for Sunday April 13th, we worked out that a family holiday to Holland could be squeezed in if we booked onto to overnight ferry on Good Friday, in time for the home match with Stevenage on the Saturday. When news of the change came, my 12 year-old son, who is Autistic, was hugely disappointed.
The reason given by Sheffield United was so that Nigel Clough could have an extra day to prepare for the Easter Monday match! Fellow Blades have suggested that if “Sir Nigel” wants it, then he shall get it - and after this season’s turn-around, I can see their point. Nevertheless, I would bet that a few Stevenage fans have had their plans ruined.
The other change announced that day was to the Port Vale away fixture. I’d booked eight advanced train tickets for this trip, having checked that there were no potential cup dates and that the weather was likely to be good. What I hadn’t taken into account was Tottenham losing to Benfica in the Europa League!
This, for some reason, meant that Stoke v Tottenham, scheduled for the Sunday was brought forward to the Saturday, which in turn meant that Port Vale’s match had to be changed to the Friday night. [Ed's note - the clubs and Football League have told Chris the change is down to the "pairing" system which means Stoke City and Port Vale don't play at home on the same day.]
We are football fans first, Sheffield United fans second. Four of the eight of the group now have tickets for Stoke City .v. Tottenham, unfortunately the Premier league prices prevented the other four from joining us. We will also be travelling to Port Vale on the Friday night (by car).
I appreciate that the situation on the continent is worse, notably in Spain, when match days are announced much later than in England and as I understand are governed entirely by TV.
I am delighted that the Football Supporters Federation is applying some pressure to help minimise inconvenience and unnecessary expense for fans in the future. Football clubs should be accountable for date changes that aren’t forced upon them - especially if they are at short notice. There should be more stringent rules in place to make sure these date changes are warranted.
Despite the negative tone of this piece, I know that the evening of June 18th*will be spent mapping out the trips for the year ahead with eager anticipation.
*Date subject to change!
The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this piece.