Chelsea’s Fixture Shift Reveals Football’s Governance Problems

March 30, 2008


Chelsea argues that the FA has puts at risk the club’s title bid through the rescheduling of its upcoming match with Everton. Muddle, incompetence, or the unavoidable complexities of football’s governance?

April 1st, 2008. A curious dream for All Fools day. It was about a football phone-in programme. It involved a radio broadcaster. I thought he said that his name was Alan Greenspan, although he don’t have much of an American accent.

His first call in my dream came from a Chelsea supporter named Dave.

Dave: Hi Alan, How are you?

Alan Greenspan: I’m fine Dave …

Dave: …Good good, Alan. I’m fine too.

Alan: What’s your point, Dave?

Dave: I’m calling about the atrocious and unfair decision by the Muppets at the FA. They’ve done it again. It’s madness.

Alan: Dave, Before you go any further… can you turn your radio down? It’s distorting the signals from the marketplace… That’s better, thanks, I can hear you now. Where are you calling from?

Dave: Sorry. Right. Yeah, I’m back home in Peckham.

Alan: What’s your point Dave? We’ve got thousands of fans trying to place their calls.

Dave: What’s my point? One stupid thirty kick-off. that’s my point? What sort of time is that Alan? Who decides these things? What’s going on?

Alan: You mean the decision to switch FED policy to prop up the financial markets?

Dave: No Alan. The switch of the date of Chelsea Everton game. I can make my point in two words. Big business. No-one cares about the real fans any more… Football always used to be played three o’clock Saturday. Every week of the season. Home games, a couple of drinks with the lads, then down The Bridge for kick-off. My dad used to take me. Now it’s any time except 3 o’clock. It’s late morning, or eight o’clock in the evening, Alan. It’s every day of the week.

Alan: Dave, Dave. No one’s been saying that louder than me. Call me a life-long libertarian republican if you like, but I’ve been consistent. I’ve been banging on since the start of The Premier league… So what’s your point?

Dave: My point is this. As I said to your researcher. This disgraceful, crass, stupid, malicious decision over Everton. That’s my point. Even the morons at the FA can’t have got it that wrong. It’s put our entire season in jeopardy. What’s going on? You tell me, would they have done it to Man U. ? I don’t think so. Ferguson wouldn’t let it happen.

Alan: Listen, Dave. I’m the first to say it when I see attempts to influence market forces. But I don’t agree with you on this one. It’s not Fergie influencing the FA. (And it’s the Premier League actually).

But you got it in one, when you said it was all about Big Business. Everything is about Big Business. You have to think credit conditions. They aren’t good at the moment, Dave. And credit is the real engine of capitalism.

Dave: My point entirely, Alan. And why do they leave it so late to tell us? Now we get to play Wigan. No big deal I grant you. But that’s on the Monday night and then we got to travel up to play Everton on the Thursday for an eight o’clock kick-off. It’s crazy. It’s lunacy. They’ve gone bleeding barking out of control.

Alan: Not to mention the ridiculous Easter Sunday timing of your game with Arsenal. So that turned out fine, when you won. But we can’t say a postiori it was a rational decision.

But we must move on. Thanks for your call Dave.

We’ve got Sadiq on the line. He’s waiting patiently in a traffic jam on the M1. Hello Sadiq. What’s your point …? ’

Then I woke up

As the Chelsea announcement put it:

Chelsea is extremely disappointed with the announcement regarding the Everton fixture. We believe the decision to hold the match on Thursday April 17 undermines the sporting integrity of the competition by giving our rivals for the Premier League title an unnecessary competitive advantage at a critical time of the season, with more recovery time from their previous match and preparation time for their next fixture when we have to play two games during the same period. Secondly there has been no consideration given to our fans who will be presented with serious travel, work and other issues. And lastly, the decision sets a dangerous precedent in changing match days still further when fixture congestion does not exist and when a sensible solution regarding other television matches that weekend was suggested.

Football has benefited greatly from the backing of television and Chelsea as much as anyone else. However this decision is one step too far and we reserve all rights on our position.

The announcement threw no light on to who decides what here. It turns out that police, fixture complexities, fan’s travelling arrangements are less significant than the juggling of rights claimed by the competing television broadcasters. This year, the Premiership rights have been split between Sky and Setanta.

A little digging reveals that the fixture changes have already been announced on the Sky schedules. As complex as the matter seems, it In the deal, all matches played at 3pm on Saturday are protected from live television broadcasts. But Sky (and this year Setanta) have first call of an agreed number of other matches which can be switched to other days, other times…

A Premier League spokesperson defended the decision.

The compilation of the fixture list is a complex procedure.
It faces enormous pressure from international match and European competition dates, as well as the need to balance the important requirements of the police and our broadcasters.
We are also required by the European Commission to televise 138 matches per season, which brings its own inevitable pressures.

Which may have some relevance, but only indirectly addresses Dave’s more specific point about the change to the date of Chelsea’s fixtures.

Leadership and Governance Issues

Set aside the conspiracy theories. You have to look no further than the consequences of a struggle between competing interests of the media, the Premier Clubs, The Football Association, the European Footballing interests (EUFA).

You could think of it as the struggles of Premiership Clubs (and their representatives), Sponsors such as Barclays, and media. They conduct their commercial negotiations having to attend to Governance issues, exercised by the FA (looking after the wider interests of Football in the UK), EUFA (likewise in Europe), more rarely but sometimes significantly FIFA (itself rather dominated by European influences and money).

The (European) Commission impacts on this complex mess through its employment and related legislation, for example leading to the famous Bosman ruling.

When you think about it, the whole thing makes the Governance issues within the sub-prime crisis easy enough for someone like Alan Greenspan to be able to sort it all out on his own.