I am old enough to remember the sheer excitement and anticipation of the beginning of a new football season. All of the teams in the top tier (Division One it was called then), and throughout the Football League, would kick off at 3.00 on a Saturday afternoon and by 4.45 we would have all completed the first game. The Sunday morning newspapers would print the first league tables, which would often bear little resemblance to how they would look by the end of the season. But nobody under the age of 30 will recall those times.
These days it doesn’t happen like that. The bottom three divisions all kick off a week before the Premier League. Sky Bet Leagues 1 and 2 have a full league programme on the Saturday with all the games kicking off at 3.00 on Saturday, but the Sky Bet Championship has one game on Friday evening, nine on Saturday afternoon, and a further two on Sunday.
One week later the Premier League season begins. But we don’t all kick off at the same time. Because of television we have six different times for games to be played over the first weekend (how long before it is known as Matchday 1? – perhaps it already is and I’ve missed it!). One game kicks off at 12.30 on Saturday, five at 3.00, and one at 5.30. Then on Sunday we have games at 1.30 and 4.00. Finally on Monday evening at 8.00 our season eventually gets underway with a visit to Chelsea.
Ironically if the Premier League table is printed in the Monday morning newspapers, we will not be at the bottom although we won’t have played a game (unless of course all the nine games played end in draws – most unlikely!). We will have zero points with a goal difference of 0, whereas it is likely that some teams will have lost their opening game and therefore have zero points with a negative goal difference. So without playing we will have a game in hand over all the other teams (bar Chelsea) but sit above the relegation zone. Of course once the game has been played we could move to either the very top or very bottom of the league!
The following weekend (Matchday 2 – you see I am keeping this up!) we have a slightly different arrangement of games. This time the games on Saturday and Sunday remain the same (that is, five different kick off times for the nine games, but the Monday night game is replaced by a match on the Friday preceding the weekend). So the final game on Matchday 2 is at 4.00 on Sunday, which is of course our opening home league game of the season when Bournemouth are our visitors.
“So right from the beginning of the season we are playing catch up every single weekend. Is this good or bad?”
If we move on to Matchday 3 the following weekend, then there are no games on either the Friday or Monday. One game kicks off at 12.30 on Saturday, six begin at the traditional time of 3.00 and then there is another at 5.30. That leaves two games for the Sunday, one at 1.30 and another at 4.00. Of course you know who is playing in the final game on the third weekend. Yes that’s right – us again, when we face a tough away fixture at the Etihad Stadium. So right from the beginning of the season we are playing catch up every single weekend. Is this good or bad?
It also seems to me that the fixtures computer appears to be fiendishly programmed to give us tough away games at the start of the season again, just like last year. The following weekend, after just three weeks, we have a rest. The first international break of the season kicks in after just three games!