Next season’s football fixture lists are released tomorrow, and eager scanning of what is in store for our teams will almost inevitably be followed by the air turning blue when we discover some of the ridiculous trips we’ve had served up. So how do they come up with the list?
There are 2,036 matches to schedule across four divisions, and preparation started a year ago. Match dates from FIFA and UEFA are fed into a grid, then the FA adds its competition dates in – leaving the dates upon which league and league cup matches can be played.
At this stage, and you might want to take notes here, something called ‘sequencing’ comes into play. It’s nothing to do with Giorgio Moroder, synth-pop fans will be disappointed to hear. What it means is that in every set of five matches there should be three home fixtures and two away – or vice-versa. Teams are never given more than two home or away matches in a row to start with, and clubs never finish the season with two homes or two aways. A home game on Boxing Day means an away game on New Year’s Day or the equivalent date. And a Saturday home-away sequence is maintained wherever possible.
But there’s more.
Every club has a partner club it cannot clash with. So Liverpool and Everton or Spurs and Arsenal cannot be at home on the same day. Some pairings are less obvious – especially in the complex area of London. So Dagenham & Redbridge and Leyton Orient must be away from home when West Ham play at Home, for example.
In March, every club is sent a questionnaire asking them if there are any particular dates on which they don’t want to play at home – a question answered after consultation with the local police – what club they want to pair with, and if there are any teams they don’t want to play at home on Boxing Day. If a particular request from a club can’t be met, the fixture compilers ask the club to rank requests in order of importance. The compliers reckon they meet 85% or more requests every year.
Once the teams in each division are known, the names are fed into the grid that’s been drawn up and the fixture computer mixes them up randomly – based on the information already gathered – to produce a list of dates.
League officials then get two days to analyse the lists, after which the Football Supporters Federation and the police get to take a look and point out any issues. This is usually where travel issues are considered. Fixtures are changed at this point, but every change affects at least seven other fixtures and can have an effect on as many as 48.
Then the lists are finalised. After which the TV companies come in and move everything around anyway because they pay all the money.