Chris Lakey: The Norwich City fixtures that prove a rethink is required
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:56 15 June 2019
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This is going to sound like the biggest case of sour grapes this side of the Rhine – but get used to it.
The grape gripe is the Premier League fixtures.
Unless you were on Mars you'd know Norwich City open their return to the top flight with a trip to Liverpool. The European champions. At Anfield. On a Friday night. Because it's on TV.
They end their season away to Manchester City. The only team better than Liverpool in the Premier League last season. Arguably the best team in the world, funded by a very rich country.
Then along come Norwich, who scrape the barrel to make ends meet and, despite a healthy presence of fans around the world, are not on a par with the giants of the game when it comes to global significance. Sorry, but true.
And for wine lovers, here comes the dodgy grapes bit: why is more care not taken of these hugely significant dates in the fixture list so as to give smaller clubs - especially those newly-promoted - a fighting chance?
Fixtures are not compiled with the same sort of lottery factor that goes into a cup draw. They are calculated. There are rules and guidelines that the fixtures compiler abides by.
Clubs are asked:
Are there any dates you wish not to be at home? That is answered in conjunction with the local police.
Which club do you want to pair with?
Are there any teams you do not wish to play at home on Boxing Day?
So there is an element of common sense involved.
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But the Premier League is compartmentalised: the mega-rich; the mid-table survivors; the perennial strugglers and the newcomers.
City are among the latter group and even before a ball has been kicked, are tipped to come straight back down. So why not give them a fighting chance? Otherwise we will end up with a situation where most clubs will be safe and the relegation battle will be between three promoted teams and a couple of others. It is unfair and makes for a tedious season.
Why not allow promoted clubs to start their seasons at home? No one expects preferential treatment but City's fixture list (and yes, I know they have to play everyone twice, yadayadayada) is horribly book-ended.
And here is another guideline, from the horse's mouth (compiler Glenn Thompson):
"We will also strive to prevent any club from having to start or finish the season with two home or two away matches because it would be unfair for a team to finish with two aways, especially if they are looking for points."
But starting at Liverpool and finishing at Manchester City isn't fair.
I have always believed the Premier League to be an organisation which most clearly favours the rich - and nothing has changed my mind.
I know I will get pelters for the sour grapes view but you know what? I don't give a monkey's. Because my view of Premier League football is clouded by the love-in with the mega-rich clubs. Like many others, I am absolutely delighted City are there, but more because of the achievement of winning the Championship than by what may be in store as a result. I'd love to see them upset the apple cart again. I'd love to see them embarrass high-profile teams. If only to remind people that English football can be interesting.
You know that amazing Premier League title race last season? The one between two clubs, and no one else. When the only reason the lead changed hands 32 times was because of the staggered kick-offs? That was nothing compared to the Championship title race.
Then again, the Premier League is nothing compared to the Championship.
Ok, sour grapes out of the way and apologies for being in full diatribe mode. And apologies to Crystal Palace. When the fixtures were released at 9am on Thursday our man Mike (Michael Bailey) with the mic asked for a comment, live on camera. I railed at yet another New Year's Day game against Palace. Mistakenly, I thought it was at Selhurst Park, a ground I detest. It is not, it is at Carrow Road (one I particularly like). So apologies, Palace, and especially my Canadian pal, Big Russ, who won't have a word said against them. I still detest Selhurst Park though.