January 3rd 2017
Fitness And Proper?

While we’ve all been off over Christmas, eating too much, drinking too much and spending time with our families, there has been a more or less constant diet of football on TV to keep us on the sofa even more.

There has barely been a day where a live game – and most days more than one – hasn’t been on.

Aston Villa played Leeds on a Thursday night last week for example and Sky were pleased to tell us yesterday that the “festive programme of football ends on Wednesday with Tottenham v Chelsea”. It might do, but that doesn’t mean Doncaster v Portsmouth isn’t televised on Thursday, followed by an absolute load of FA Cup games on Friday, Saturday and Monday.

Some managers have been on TV saying this was unfair,  Claude Puel was complaining that Southampton had three games in six days, while Chelsea have had three in 10. Jürgen Klopp was on Five Live yesterday afternoon opining that he “didn’t know how he was supposed to feel” about his side’s 2-2 draw with struggling Sunderland as he had never had to play two games in three days before.

Now, it is tempting to say that footballers are paid to keep fit and they need to get on with it – and there is an element of truth to that, but there aren’t many – if any – other sports that expect their top competitors to be in peak condition 40 odd times a year, week in week out. It is also tempting to say that Puel was looking for excuses in the face of three defeats and Klopp was not too amused at drawing 2-2 with a team that is in the bottom three and had lost their previous game.

That said, though, in these days of huge squads and even bigger transfer fees, it is difficult to feel too sorry for anyone – except that is, the fans.  Because when a team plays on strange days of the week and at all hours, then the people who lose out through no fault of their own are the supporters.

There are three Premier League games tonight. Arsenal go to Bournemouth (a trip of 117 miles) Swansea travel to Crystal Palace (195 miles and four hours) and Watford have to go to Stoke (142 miles if you want to avoid the M6 Toll), all of those are pretty hefty trips and will most probably mean that any away fans that attend will need at least half a day off work, plus face a very late return tonight.

The counter argument to this of course is that in return for the £100 million plus each season that every Premier League pockets from the TV money gives Sky and BT Sport the right to kick games off when they choose, and the fans of at least a couple of the teams who are travelling to the matches tonight probably accept a measure of inconvenience in return for their teams playing in the top flight (obviously Arsenal have different aims) but surely there has to be some kind of middle ground?

Yesterday was a Bank Holiday. Surely, wherever possible, games should take place whenever people can actually get to them easily? That the three games tonight and the one tomorrow (which at least is something of a local derby – although getting from one side of London to another is never fun), are taking place on a midweek evening is more than a shame and this is an issue that goes far beyond players being tired. This is what happens when your governing bodies sell their soul to the highest bidder.

Andy Thorley

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