Fixture Congestion – An Unnecessary Problem?
As we finally emerge from the depths of winter, many clubs are left counting the cost of the freezing temperatures. Lost income from postponements cannot be underestimated, as the bills still have to be paid, whether money is coming in or not. And of course, those games have to be rearranged, leading to some clubs playing four times a week as they desperately try to complete their fixtures on time. Surely, though, these situations can be avoided?
There have been plenty of suggestions as to how this fixture backlog can be avoided. Reformatting the FA Trophy and Vase, and/or scrapping the County Cup competitions, all these suggestions have been made. There is also a growing groundswell of support for the widespread approval of 3G pitches in order to try and prevent the postponement of matches. However, there is another option, and it might just blow your mind. Ready? Here goes. What if, and don’t laugh me out of town on this, but what if we played some midweek games in September?
OK, there you go. That’s my solution. Radical isn’t it! Seriously, though, the answer is that simple. My club, Hampton & Richmond Borough, did not play a single midweek match in September. That’s four lost fixture dates that could have been utilised. Instead, due to the bad weather over winter (which seems to still surprise people when it comes!) Borough now have no free regular match days between now and the end of the season. If any more games get postponed, they will be in the situation of playing Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. This is something that clubs are already facing. Fellow Ryman Premier team Thurrock FC played four times in eight days in February, and will do so again in March, yet like Hampton they only played on Saturdays in September.
These are just two examples, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of clubs in similar situations up and down the country. It doesn’t make sense does it? There is one reason better than avoiding congestion because of postponements, and that is attendances. More fans would be inclined go to a game on a pleasant September evening than in the dark, freezing depths of winter, meaning more money for the clubs. Also, midweek games in February and March tend to clash with high profile televised games, and again this can cause attendances to take a hit.
Going back to Hampton, back in September they were in good form in the league, picking up points and sitting at the top of the table, and were unbeaten until the end of October. If they had played some more games during this spell, they could still be in with a shout of a playoff place. Instead, they are in a terrible downward spiral, and plummeting down the division. Of course, that will be in stark contrast to some clubs who are now in good form and picking up points from their rearranged games, but surely it would be better to get games played early on in the season?
The arguments for scrapping the County Cup competitions are completely erroneous. For a start, non league clubs have to compete in their respective county competition if they want to take part in the FA Cup. Secondly, the final is a great occasion for players and fans, one which I experienced first hand last season as Hampton won the tournament. This season, one of my other regular non league clubs, Ashford Town (Middlesex), has reached the final, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the occasion again.
So, let’s hope that next season we can get some games on in September midweeks, when players are still fresh and fit, and the fans are still enthusiastic and optimistic enough to go along to the matches. Maybe, just maybe, then we can avoid the fiasco of four games in a week.