Saturday, March 04, 2006

Another Spurs Free Saturday

When the magazine entitled, 'When Saturday Comes.....', first hit the news stands many years ago, it was obvious to everyone that it referred to football. However, in the subsequent years, that analogy is not so clear as football is played on every day of the week, including Thursday if you qualify for the EUFA Cup.

When I first became interested in football, many years ago, the games were played on Saturday afternoon with a three o'clock kick off and on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening at 7.30pm for mid-week games. There may have been the occasional Monday game if a Cup tie needed extra replays, with second and third replays sometimes being necessary - there were no sudden death penalty shoot-outs in those days. The only other variance from those days would be at Christmas or Easter or if there was fixture congestion at the end of the season caused by postponements due to bad weather or a club being involved in Cup replays.

Nowadays, the day can be changed or the kick-off time be altered, all in the name of television. This makes it very inconvenient for travelling supporters who want to make travel arrangements as soon as possible in order to avail of the best prices for flights. The lunch time start to matches requires an early rise for long-distance fans and does nothing for the atmosphere at games. The last two North London derbies had an early lunch time kick-off and while both games were exciting, the atmosphere was subdued and not what I had been led to expect.

Now this season, Sky have decided that Spurs are a good option for television, they are aware of the wide support for the club and thus the improved viewing figures and so have selected eight successive fixtures for showing. From the Fulham game on 1st February to the match against West Brom at the end of March, all of Spurs games will have been televised. And while they are not showing the next game at Newcastle the following game against Manchester City will be broadcast as will the Easter Monday game against Manchester United. Even the recent game against Wigan was changed for television. With Wigan in the Carling Cup Final and both teams out of the FA Cup, the clubs re-arranged the game for the Saturday of the 5th Round of Cup games. Within minutes of that being announced Sky had it switched to Sunday for televising.

Since the end of October through to Easter Monday, seventeen of Spurs twenty six League and Cup games will have been shown live on television. Each game required a change of date or time and so affected the supporters travel arrangements. It wil probably not end there as Spurs are due to play Arsenal, Bolton and West Ham in the final three games of the season and all three could have a bearing on qualification for the European competitions next season.

Since the beginning of December, Spurs have had three Saturday 3pm kick-offs, at home to Sunderland and Villa and away to Liverpool. Of the remaining fixtures, the games at Newcastle, Everton and Arsenal are scheduled for three o'clock on Saturday, as is the home game with Bolton but things could still change.

At the moment, Spurs are fortunate that they are still playing before a packed White Hart Lane every game but on so many occasions the televised games show up vast areas of deserted seating around the grounds of other clubs - even the successful ones are having difficulty filling their stadia. High admission charges are an obvious cause but the change of times causes problems for travelling supporters who have to juggle commitments of family and work with following their favourite football team. With proposals to increase the number of televised games in the next agreement with the television companies, this problem is only going to increase. It's good for the armchair critic and viewer but a nightmare or those who like to be there week in, week out, home or away. The football authorities in their rush to grab the television cash need to ensure they don't kill the game as a spectacle with grounds becoming more devoid of fans as can be seen in foreign stadia and is happening more and more in Cup games in England, with even the FA Cup competition suffering as well.

The International breaks and television are giving supporters an increasing number of Saturdays free to persue other activities - shopping, gardening and involvement in other sports. Let's hope this doesn't have a lasting affect on their interest in football and take them away permanently from the 'beautiful' game.

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