THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

In countries such as Italy and Spain the schedules make more sense

icon shirtstuff18 April ~ On April 9 and 10 the fixtures in England, from the Premier League down to League Two, were the reverse of those played on the opening weekend back in August. To those living in most of Europe, this seems very strange.

When I started watching football in the 1950s things were very different from now. Teams played each other home and away in the first two midweeks of the season and again over Christmas and finally at Easter. I think 1967-68 was the last season with early season and Christmas "double headers", while the last I have for Easter in my records is West Ham v Southampton in 1974.

Christmas and New Year doubles are still played in non-League football, because fierce local derbies played then can bring in bumper crowds and generate income that can make a real difference to the clubs. That was certainly the case this season between Aldershot and Woking, for example. All this is by way of wondering, more out of curiosity than anything else, what is the rationale behind the compilation of the fixtures in England.

In Italy, and as far as I know in most other European countries, though perhaps not France, the way the fixtures operate is very simple. If you played team X at home in your opening match, you will play them away in the opening game of the second half of the season, and so on till the finish. The only variation I remember was in France, where the opening game used to be replicated in the last round. Maybe it was to make sure that you either started or finished the season at home or away.

This system, which in Italy is called girone di andata and girone di ritorno, makes the fixture list easy to understand, and it means that you do not have to wonder why, for instance, this season’s Boxing Day fixtures in the Premier League were replicated at the beginning of February and those played on November 22 at the beginning of March.

Fixture regularity, if I may use that term, is universal in Italy, from Serie A to the ninth level Terza Categoria. Occasionally, for logistical reasons, a block of fixtures may be moved, but they are still referred to by their original number. And when games are postponed, they are replayed as soon as possible. Italy hates it when a team has una partita in meno (a game in hand).

They always say that you have to play every team twice anyway, and so it should not matter when you play them, and they may be right. I am not saying that one way of compiling the fixtures makes the competition fairer, or that a decision to use the European system should be at the top of the FA agenda.

Yet I cannot help asking myself whether everything would not be simpler for all if teams played each of their rivals and then played them again in the same order. I would be interested to know what others think, and if anyone can throw light on why fixtures in England are still compiled in what appears to be a very haphazard way. I say England because I do not think it applies in Scotland. Richard Mason

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