Following a clear mandate from our members, we sent the following letter to the English Football League in advance of the publication of next season’s fixtures:
I am writing on behalf of the board and members of the Argyle Fans’ Trust over the issue of the EFL’s Bank Holiday fixture scheduling.
Our members, as fans of Plymouth Argyle, travel more miles than supporters of most football teams playing in the EFL. Next season, our 12,128 miles on the road from Plymouth to our 23 away games includes, for example, an 805-mile round trip to Sunderland.
This past season, our Easter Monday fixture at Scunthorpe was a 640-mile round trip. Unfortunately, the match was postponed after a late pitch inspection, by which time many of our supporters had already arrived in Scunthorpe, or had already travelled much of the long journey, on very busy Bank Holiday roads.
This isn’t the first time such a problem has beset our fans, and we doubt it will be the last. As a result, we polled our membership on the issue of Bank Holiday fixtures, and a very significant majority supported us writing to you to raise the issue of the distances we, and supporters of other teams, have to travel on Bank Holidays.
While we don’t expect clubs to want lucrative local derbies scheduled for a Bank Holiday, we think it’s reasonable to expect, say, a match away to Oxford rather than Scunthorpe on an Easter Monday, especially at a time when the country’s roads are under pressure from all the additional holiday traffic.
We would also urge that the practice of local referees being able to conduct pitch inspections is restored; in the case of the Scunthorpe postponement, the match referee was delayed in getting to the ground, in turn delaying the postponement.
On behalf of our members, we would appreciate hearing your response to these concerns.
While lengthy, I think you will find their response of interest. Although it doesn’t necessarily provide the answers we would like, it does throw a little more light on the process.
As a little bit of background, the EFL, and its ‘Fixtures Working Party’, works with the clubs themselves in attempting to shape fixture lists that meet the majority of clubs’ approval. This is due to the complex methodology involved in the compilation of the fixture lists. The fixtures are worked on for many months and during this time all considerations and requests from all clubs are considered by the EFL, to get to a position where most are satisfied with the final list. Supporter groups are represented as part of the Fixtures Working Party.
There are many issues which are considered to reach a final schedule for each club, and these include Police, local event and neighbour (pairing) considerations but the focus for our clubs is to maximise income and increase attendances, particularly on Saturdays, hence their mandate is for the EFL to try to schedule as many local and high profile games for Saturdays. This inevitably means some longer trips falling on midweeks. This approach was adopted by our clubs around three seasons ago and has been well supported ever since. Based on variables described some clubs have more midweek away fixtures and as such they are then prioritised in terms of overall midweek travel distances where possible. Going forward there is a piece of work being undertaken to see if we can look at providing clubs with ‘averaged’ travel distances, so that, insofar as possible, all clubs are travelling similar distances during midweeks.
In addition, there are reasons why bank holiday/festive fixtures do not tend to be ‘local’ too. The potential for playing a club within a nearby city/town is minimised over festive periods and bank holidays (such as Boxing Day and Easter), as many local authorities will not support it due to public order reasons. This, for example, would be why a big derby match would not be scheduled for Boxing day, the police and relevant authorities would not support such fixtures taking place. In addition, as previously noted, clubs themselves state that they would prefer not to have their ‘big’ games around traditional holiday periods as they are traditionally already guaranteed an uplift in attendance, so to enable them to maximise their income, they would always rather have the bigger games separate to ensure they get an increase in attendance over multiple games.
We have noted your comments and passed them on to our Competitions Manager and please be assured that, while it is nearly impossible to please all supporters of all 72 of our clubs across each and every season with regards to scheduling, we are always attempting to look at ways of being as fair as possible to fans wishing to travel around the country across the duration of each season. I’m sure you will have assessed the recently released 208/19 fixtures list, and again, while we’re sure every supporter would like to make changes to their club’s schedule for a variety of reasons, we hope you have found the fixtures to your liking.
Thank you for contacting the EFL, once again we appreciate your feedback.