The compilation of the fixture list is certainly more difficult than shoving some clubs into a computer and seeing what comes out at the printed end! A whole series of factors are taken into account…
For example, every club is paired with another with regard to when they play their home and away fixtures. The main reason for this is the organisation of security so that, for instance, Everton and Liverpool do not play at home on the same weekend.
There are, however, knock-on effects. West Ham have, in the past, been paired with Dagenham & Redbridge for revenue reasons however, Southend request they do not play at home on the same day as the Hammers as they believe it negatively impacts upon their attendance. Southend are normally ‘paired’ with Colchester though, so they also cannot play together on the same weekend. Colchester have been known to share stewards with Ipswich so those two clubs also request they do not play home games on the same weekend. Transport links dictate Ipswich and Norwich do not play together on the same weekend either. Consequently, organising when West Ham play at home can have a knock-on impact on when a club as far away as Norwich play their home fixtures.
The compilation of the fixture list is run jointly between the Premier League and the Football League. The whole process starts months in advance when FIFA and UEFA release their match calendars before the Football League sends a questionnaire to all their clubs in March. This is a club’s opportunity to make specific requests and to request which other team they would like to be paired with. Clubs often don’t want to play their local rivals on Boxing Day as they will always get a bumper crowd on Boxing Day regardless of the opposition, so they want that local derby on another Saturday to guarantee high revenue gates. Furthermore, a local derby often requires a greater police presence and, as Boxing Day is a bank holiday, would incur additional police charges. The police may ask for certain fixtures not to be played on Boxing Day as well. The fixture compilers satisfy higher than 85% of club requests every year.
The fixtures are sequenced, using the pairings and club requests, by Glenn Thompson of Atos Origin, who has been compiling fixture lists since 1993/94. Sequencing involves mapping out on what days all the fixtures will take place and the pattern of home and away games that a team will play. Clubs will play no more than two home games consecutively and games either side of an FA Cup fixture should not both be away from home, particularly for lower league sides. In any five matches there should be a split of three home fixtures, two away, or the other way around. The compilers also strive to prevent any club from having to start or finish the season with two home or two away matches.
Travel is also taken into consideration. The compilers look at whether clubs from the same area are travelling on the same trainlines across the Football League and the Premier League on the same day – they attempt to avoid having various ‘pinch points’ on the rail and road networks. The computer is also programmed to try to minimise travel on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The general rule is that if your club are at home on Boxing Day, they will be away on New Year’s Day (or the equivalent date) and vice-versa.
It then takes a couple of months before a first draft is produced after the completion of the Play-Off Finals. This draft goes to a working party which consists of representatives from the Football Supporters’ Federation, the Football League, the Premier League and the Football Association before being passed on to various police chiefs and the British Transport Police. In the 2012/13 season, for example, there was a requirement from the Metropolitan Police not to play high-profile matches until after 8th September because of the Olympics and Paralympics. Potential logistical problems are discussed and, where possible, changes made before fixtures will be signed off today (Wednesday) before release tomorrow.
The fixtures are then released to the relevant press distributors the night before, for distribution on the morning of release. There are often fake stories of fixtures being leaked in the days and weeks leading up to the official release of the fixtures – the fact fixtures are not signed off until the day before reinforces the fact that these leaks should be viewed with a heavy dose of salt.
At least we won’t have to start the next campaign with three away games, which was certainly far from ideal for Slaven Bilic and his players in 2017/18. This time last year I correctly predicted that we would open the season with a trip to Old Trafford – this time around I’m predicting a home game against Huddersfield. It would certainly be nice to start with a home match for the first time since 2014! We will find out on Thursday who we will face at the dawn of the Pellegrini era…