Lack of consideration for Norwich City fans in winter fixture list
Two things stand out in my mind from Norwich City’s Premier League trip to Swansea last season.
One is the burst of three goals in the space of 16 second-half minutes that gave the Canaries a marvellous 3-2 victory and the double over a fellow promoted side.
The other is the fact that at one stage on the 310-mile homeward journey on a freezing Saturday night, the temperature gauge in the car was showing minus 13 degrees.
Scheduling City supporters’ longest journey of last season for mid-February, frequently prone to sub-zero conditions, was not one of the most helpful moves on the part of the fixture planners, but here we are again, heading for the Liberty Stadium in the depth of winter, little more than a fortnight before Christmas.
Last season, December brought Norwich and their fans lengthy away trips to Manchester City, Everton and Wolves – it was a midweek fixture at Molineux, of course – while the 500-mile round trip to Sunderland was another midweek game on the first night of February, 10 days before the trek to South Wales to face the Swans.
Yet in the same season, City’s shortest trips to the London clubs were nearly all at a more benign time of year – Chelsea (August), Fulham (March), Tottenham (April) and Arsenal (May) – with the January 2 game at Queens Park Rangers the one exception.
This season, the same lack of intelligence is evident on the fixture list.
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City kicked off in a heatwave at Fulham in August, went to Tottenham on September 1 and Chelsea on the first Saturday in October. They also go to Arsenal in April. Only two out of six London trips fall in the winter, with a visit to West Ham on New Year’s Day and the game at Queens Park Rangers now a lunchtime kick-off on February 2.
But the last week of November brought the Everton away fixture and a 400-mile plus midweek round trip to Southampton. Tomorrow it’s Swansea away, while the game against Liverpool at Anfield is on January 19.
The lack of consideration for fans in general was underlined again by last Sunday’s rearranged 4pm kick-off at Carrow Road, giving Sunderland’s travelling supporters little chance of getting home much before midnight.
And while December 22, the day after the shortest day, brings the Canaries one of their less arduous journeys to West Bromwich Albion – a mere 340 miles there and back – other clubs’ fans are less fortunate. Three days before Christmas, Sunderland fans must travel to Southampton, Queens Park Rangers go to Newcastle, Arsenal go to Wigan, Everton go to West Ham, and Fulham go to Liverpool.
Admittedly, teams like Norwich, Swansea, Newcastle and Sunderland will always be at a disadvantage and have to make some long journeys at the worst time of year.
But there seems to me no justifiable reason why the season’s fixture list cannot be drawn up on a sliding scale where clubs dispose of their longest journeys between August and October, and between March and May, leaving the four months between, of shortest days and worst weather, free for the short or medium distances.
Those who still have local derbies could play at least one of them over Christmas or New Year, a tradition that seems to have died out.
Alas, all far too simplistic for the modern world of the Premier League.
Perhaps one reason nothing changes is that it’s an issue that doesn’t really affect players and club officials, who tend to fly nearly everywhere in the Premier League and are sitting in front of the TV at home or tucked up in bed while the fans are still halfway up the M4 or down the M6.
But it’s one that should be addressed in a sport where the armchair viewers are very often given greater consideration than those who attend matches every week and travel thousands of miles in the course of a season.
The forecast at least suggests better temperatures for tomorrow night’s homeward trek than last season – and the same result would give us all a warm glow.
• TEAMSHEET FOR VILLA QUARTER-FINAL WILL BE EAGERLY AWAITED
One of the most intriguing sub-plots to Tuesday’s Capital One Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa – apart from the inevitable publicity surrounding Paul Lambert’s return to Carrow Road – is the question of exactly what sort of City team manager Chris Hughton will field.
Hughton has made no bones about completely changing his line-up from Premier League games in the previous rounds of the competition, stressing that he does not regard it as a second eleven, but that policy was minutes away from coming unstuck against Tottenham in the fourth round until the late substitutions and Mark Bunn’s penalty save helped put the Canaries into the last eight for the first time since 1995-96.
Now, however, comes the tricky bit. With City just two rounds from a first Wembley final in 28 seasons, a bumper crowd in prospect and facing a manager who will be desperate to win for a variety of reasons – and whose team appear to be in slightly better shape than when the two sides met in October – it will be a difficult balancing act for Hughton, who may well wish to rest his Premier League regulars just three days after their trip to Swansea, but not at the expense of a semi-final place.
Lambert’s indifferent approach to last season’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Leicester led to a needlessly tame exit from the competition, but he is unlikely to show the same ambivalence on Tuesday.
Hughton insisted yesterday he had not yet seriously thought about his selection for the Villa game.
“Yes, it does come into my thinking but it is minimal at this stage. The majority of my thoughts are solely on Saturday,” he said.
“You have to have a thought on Tuesday because there is preparation to do and in that you have to know what team you are going to be up against, but I won’t seriously consider which team I will play until after Saturday’s game.”
Not for some time will the Carrow Road teamsheet have been so eagerly awaited.