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Simeon Jackson celebrates his second goal, on the way to a hat-trick against Scunthorpe in April last season - which was also the last time the Canaries had a 3pm kick-off at home on a Saturday. Picture: James Bass
Friday, October 14, 2011
The visit of Swansea City to Carrow Road tomorrow ranks as something of a special occasion – a home game kicking off at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.
Special, I would suggest, because not since the 6-0 hammering of Scunthorpe United on April 2 have Norwich City had a home fixture at what used to be regarded as the natural time for millions of supporters to get their weekly football fix.
There is a pretty good reason why a football magazine and a film bear the title “When Saturday Comes”.
Now, even if it is Saturday, the game could just as easily start at 5.30pm, as in the case of the Canaries’ trip to Liverpool a week tomorrow, or 12.45pm, the appointed time for the visit of Arsenal next month.
Indeed, the last time City kicked off at 3pm on two successive Saturdays, it was the Championship trip to Barnsley on February 26 followed by the home game against Preston on March 5.
Supporters have long become accustomed to the original fixture list being a mere framework for negotiation, with blank weekends set aside for international matches, or games moved for TV coverage or on police advice.
In the first half of the season alone, six of City’s Premier League fixtures have had their dates or kick-off times changed from the original list published in mid-June.
But even before the TV companies got down to work, the fixture list still looked as if it might have been drawn up by a man in a dark room with a blindfold and a pin.
One would think that with just 38 Premier League games to fit in, eight fewer matches than in the Championship last season, there might be scope to use a bit more common sense when compiling the fixture list. For example, all the Canaries’ away fixtures in London – the shortest journeys their fans face this season – have been arranged for 3pm kick-offs on Saturdays and Bank Holidays, which is fine.
But other away dates are totally illogical. Why is it necessary to send City and their supporters to Wolverhampton on a Tuesday night five days before Christmas – just three days after they have made the 500-mile round trip to Everton and back?
And why, oh why, must the Canaries travel to Sunderland, another 500-mile return journey, on a Tuesday night in January?
TV has contributed further to the madness by making Sunderland fans travel to Norwich for an 8pm Monday night kick-off, and sending the Yellow Army to Anfield next weekend for that 5.30pm start. It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but the time they will arrive home.
Needless to say, you will not find the clubs, Norwich City included, complaining about the scheduling of matches and how it affects their supporters, for they are not going to bite the hand that feeds them.
Managers make light of the different kick-off times because they don’t want to give their players any excuse should the game go badly.
Players certainly won’t complain because, quite rightly, they are cushioned against the effect of kicking off at odd times by the best possible travel and hotel arrangements.
Instead it is the supporters who face demanding journeys, often at the worst time of year, and whose travel arrangements and Christmas plans constantly have to be re-drawn at the whim of the TV companies and the fixture schedulers.
What could have been better for City and their fans than a Boxing Day home game against one of the best sides in the country, Tottenham Hotspur, kicking off at 3pm?
No, that’s far too sensible, let’s make it more inconvenient – especially for travelling fans on a Bank Holiday – and move it to 7.30pm on the Tuesday night.
But one suspects that, in City’s case, the fans are content to grin and bear it at the moment.
They are so grateful to be watching Premier League football, most of them would probably turn up in the middle of the night for a game if it was deemed the most suitable time for live coverage in some distant part of the globe.
• IS IT REALLY SUCH A DISASTER?
Wayne Rooney’s three-match ban for the Euro 2012 finals was instantly hailed as disastrous for England by the commentators and experts after his stupid red card against Montenegro last Friday night.
No one disputes the man’s talent, but isn’t this the same Wayne Rooney who has played in eight of England’s nine matches at the last two World Cup tournaments and failed to score a single goal?
With such a lack of success at the highest level, his chief contribution to the global showpiece was a red card against Portugal in 2006 and a rant at the cameras after the game against Algeria in 2010.
Who knows, England might just stumble on a more potent attacking combination in Rooney’s “disastrous” absence.