Full Steam Ahead To The Fixtures

DARLINGTON Station on the last day of the season and the icy hand of fears grips the heart of even battle-hardened awayday travellers. We were going to West Ham, which is a doddle. The train to Kings Cross whizzes there in less than three hours: plenty of time to write up the match report and interviews – or time to shift a six pack in the old money.
But ten minutes before the Darlo-KX, the ghost of Christmas Future had chugged away ominously from the same platform. The cross country “express” to Plymouth eased away from platform four leaving white faces behind. The announcer had just read out a schedule from hell … “the train now leaving the Premiership glory years behind is the new reality shuttle service to Plymouth calling at York, Leeds, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Derby, Burton-on-Trent, Birmingham New Street, Cheltenham Spa, Bristol Parkway, Bristol Temple Meads, Taunton, Tiverton, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot and Totnes.”
Six long hours and 38 bloody minutes. Great. And there’s Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea to look out for when the fixtures come out tomorrow too. Welcome to the two thousand plus extra miles, numb-bummed cabin fever grind of the 46 game Championship.

So Plymouth away is one to look out for. I understand Boro have asked for that game to be played on a Saturday to ease the suffering of the bedraggled fans risking DVT in cattle class or no doubt the legendary fixture computer would send us there on a Tuesday in January, which is a real old school rites of passage of a game (Uncle Eric has travelled down for a match that was postponed a hour before kick off.).
On the subject of the fixtures, there is an excellent and enlightening feature on the BBC website which has shed some light on what has long been regard as a semi-mystical process.
There are a lot of factors to balance: the needs of clubs in the same city not to have home games that clash (especially that of smaller neighbours); demands of the police that teams with bitter rivalries should not travel along the same routes to away games if possible; the need for regular home games to ensure cash flow is preserved; the need to ensure games either side of FA Cup dates are not both away to prevent the possibility of three successive trips that would impact on not only fans’ pockets but also the teams’ chances to train and prepare for games; and security concerns… the likes of Leeds are not generally scheduled for an away game at a seaside resort on Bank Holiday weekend for instance. They’ve only just finished rebuilding Bournemouth.
Each club get “three wishes” when it comes to the fixtures, requests they can make to the compiler to factor in when he sets to work. Some clubs may wish to avoid a local music festival for instance because of the impact on attendance or transport systems.
In recent years on of Boro’s requests has been not to be drawn at home to Manchester United on Boxing Day. United are pretty much a guaranteed sell out whatever day they play on while the holiday game is traditionally also a bumper gate so to have the Home Counties finest on that day is a wasted opportunity. No such problems this year, although presumably we will now be looking to avoid Newcastle over Christmas. The Plymouth one has already been mentioned. What could the third be? That the Football League ensure sunshine when we go to Blackpool?
Still on the fixtures, they will of course be in the Gazette tomorrow. We, like PA, Sky, the BBC etc get them earlier but they are embargoed on pain of death. Leaks do occur but most of the mooted full lists that float around cyber-space are hoaxes, guesses or, occasionally, embarassing cock-ups.
The fixtures are a political hand-grenade. They are a lucrative resource that the leagues guard jealously and woe betide anyone who uses them without a licence. Football DataCo, the group the leagues have set up to compile the fixtures, police them fiercely which is why so few fan sites carry them. Fanzines – notably Watford’s – have been taken to court and threatened with closure for unauthorised use.
It costs £435 + VAT for a single use of one club’s fixtures and £4244 +VAT to use them all. Each club has a nominated fanzine (I am not sure if Boro have anointed Fly Me To The Moon) who can use them for £1 but with all the management charges it still works out at £104 and I’m not sure fanzines run on a shoestring will pay that when they can just as easily link to their official club website of the BBC for free.
Newspapers are in a state of cold war with the game over the issue of rights on fixtures (and rights on other issues too – there was almost a news blackout of the game five years ago when the clubs wanted papers to hand over the copyright of every word or image generated inside their stadiums).
We obviously believe that as they are in the public domain and freely available then any and all media outlets have a right to print and distribute them. There is an argument that if anything we are advertising football’s product and we should charge them. Major musical promoters for instance take out paid for advertising for their fixtures and see it as a normal and necessary way of reaching their target market.
There have been tensions between the leagues and the Newspaper Society over the issue but no one wants to go court over it and shell out £200,000k on a High Court test case that produces a no-score draw. The Gazette can use the full fixtures once, which is why we do it big and make it a cut-out-and-keep colour special and why we no longer do handy wallet sized fixture lists to give away free in the Borough Road reception (and why we spend 25% of the next month fielding phone calls about them).
So the bottom line is that the fixtures are top secret, you can look at them once then you have to forget them. Technically I can be killed for even discussing them. Actually, that’s not true. I can discuss them (in a “news context”), so long as I don’t reproduce them. I did last year and they threatened to send the heavies around.
So this thread is to discuss the fixtures when they come out and the reality hits home that we are starting away at Cardiff then have Peterborough at home.
I’m looking forward to some new grounds – Cardiff, Swansea and Leicester have new stadiums since I last went and I’ve never been to Doncaster or Scunthorpe – and some old favourites from Ayresome Park days like Barnsley, Blackpool and Preston.
But I’m not looking forward to the testing train trek to Plymouth.


15 thoughts on “Full Steam Ahead To The Fixtures

  1. I read that article about producing the fixtures on the BBC website yesterday – I didn’t realise they went to so much trouble but I wonder what would happen if the man who controls the program fell under a bus.
    Hopefully, we’ll be shown mercy and be given a couple of easy fixtures to start the season well so that Gareth can sleep easy. As for Darlington station I believe it’s the second coldest station on the planet after Vladivostok.
    Anyway, As things are quiet and as part of coming to terms with being no longer in the PL I decided to visit The Championship website as you suggested – thankfully Boro are still not listed so I can postpone reality a little longer.
    I had a quick browse around in the same way you would before buying a house and if you thought that MFC’s club badge was rubbish then check out Barnsley’s – it’s something like Harry Potter meets the Village People – as for Coventry it looks like random clip art was coloured in by a seven year old.

  2. I nearly got the organisation I work for in trouble for reproducing a near neighbour’s fixture list a couple of seasons back. It was to tell the local residents which days they needed to avoid! Ridiculous!
    Does the same guy who does the fixtures always ensure that those big Super Sunday top four on the same day clashes happen as well or is my Tuesday cynicism getting the better of me?

  3. The old A and B bus stops at Middlesbrough Town Hall were colder than Darlo station. The away end at Stoke City is a fearsome place as well, with Brittania Stadium perched on top of a hill and the stand open at both sides.
    For the really masochistic I recommend a trip to Arbroath’s ground perched as it is between the promenade and the North Sea. My wife’s father came from there and it was amazing to get a pudding supper for tea in mid August only for it to congeal in a matter of minutes.

  4. A nice idea John, but I don’t think I’d do much business setting a stall up in Newbury train station (and running (slowly) alongside the train with my wares). Besides, that’s one of the games I’ve got pencilled in for this season.
    I remember my last trip to Home Park well (I wasn’t a work migrant back then) and recall it involved spending a long long time on the M5. Anyway, I reckon it’s about time all Boro fans went local and sniffed out the top notch pasties on offer down there rather than holding onto their Parmos.
    There’s a good night to be had for all down on Union Street!

  5. AV said: “I can discuss them (in a “news context”), so long as I don’t reproduce them. I did last year and they threatened to send the heavies around.”
    With this in mind we can perhaps “disguise” our fixture predictions and scorelines during the coming season by using “fake” teams and thus avoiding the “Heavies”?
    Boro: Smoggies
    WBA: Building Society Albion
    Sheff Utd: Chefs Utd
    Reading: Writing
    Preston: Creased uns
    Derby: Horse Race County
    Cardiff: Cup glory City
    Newcastle: Toonatics Utd
    Watford: Mondeo
    Leicester: Walkers’s
    QPR: Lizzies Garden Rangers
    Swansea: Gullbay City
    Ipswich: Tractor town
    Bristol City: Fine Pair
    Scunthorpe: Steelworks Utd
    Coventry: Witch Scrum City
    Peterborough: Other Boro
    Sheff Wed: Chefs Thursday
    Doncaster: Osmond Rovers
    Crystal Palace: Glasshouse
    Blackpool: Dublin
    Nottm Forest: Middlewood
    Barnsley: Colliers
    Plymouth: Brethren
    We can then indulge to our hearts content with “only the names being changed to protect the innocent.”

  6. I seem to remember Nicky Mohan going down to Plymouth for “talks” and then being told to come back a few hours later coz Mogga had been sold to celtic.
    Bet he was well chuffed.

  7. RR: I liked those! Reminded me of a neighbour and great friend of my parents when I was a kid, who used to corrupt names just like this. He had us in stitches!
    Because he was Scottish, his efforts inevitably had some local colloquialisms. His name for Dusty Springfield has always stuck in my memory for some reason – “Stoorie Winterpark”! Yes, I know – you had to be there!
    He’ll still be supporting Kilmarnock FC from another place no doubt and will be watching over young Graeme Owens for the next two years.
    Allan Johnson (remember him?) has just been released by Kilmarnock after a bad last season which saw him fail to start at all due to injuries.

  8. Back to football – was that ‘our’ Shawky playing against Brazil last night? Can’t be – for a start he was on the whole game, played clever passing moves AND scored a piledriver. No, can’t be him – ours only gets 20 minutes, fumbles passes and couldn’t shoot himself. Or is it the system he plays in at Riverside?
    John, Aus

  9. A man who knows these things says we’ve got Sheff United at home first game and then Swansea away.
    **AV writes: I couldn’t possibly comment on such a suggestion until 10am. 😉

  10. “John Gibson said:
    Back to football – was that ‘our’ Shawky playing against Brazil last night? Can’t be – for a start he was on the whole game, played clever passing moves AND scored a piledriver. No, can’t be him – ours only gets 20 minutes, fumbles passes and couldn’t shoot himself. Or is it the system he plays in at Riverside?”
    Indeed it was. I was at the match, classic game that was, he actually played very well in midfield pulling the strings for Egypt. I sat there thinking “he never did that for Boro!”… then he scores… maybe he’ll play better next season for us.

  11. Almost time for the new fixtures.
    For the sake of the club a drubbing at the likes of Scunthorpe or Peterborough might just deliver the wakeup call to Gibson that is desperately needed that Southgate MUST go.
    Some reasons to look forward to the new season
    10 grounds I have never been to:
    Bristol City, Cardiff, Doncaster, Plymouth, Reading, Scunthorpe, Swansea and Watford with Coventry and Leicester in new stadia since my last visit.
    Plus many I have not been to for a long time:
    Barnsley – Fjortoft scored last time I was there
    Blackpool – Bobby Murdoch’s debut my last visit – we always seemed to play there when the illuminations were on so would go for a weekend.
    Ipswich – only time I was there was under big Jack and it was New Year and the winner would go clear at the top of the old First division.
    Peterborough – think it was the same season as my only trip to Ipswich – we played Posh in the FA Cup
    Derby and Forest – my 2 favourite prematch drinking venues around the country – missed trips there greatly
    Palace and QPR – always good meetups with MSS before the London games – hopefully one of these trips can be a within a month of Xmas for their party
    Preston – a couple of preseason friendlies under McClaren – opportunity for a visit to the Football League museum before the game
    Sheffields – two grounds not too far away always draws a big Boro following
    Am tempted to return to the fold but then again Southgate is STILL in charge so maybe not. Wonder how many grounds in League 1 I havent been to?

  12. Ben H said:
    “A man who knows these things says we’ve got Sheff United at home first game and then Swansea away.”
    just checked it now. quite impressive, not the easiest of starts for us mind you

  13. On a earlier thread i said Cardiff home, MAGS and Swans away.
    Well our start is very much as hard and i think it is best for us to have a hard start it will set the tone for the season and will not allow Gareth to go for a wait and see attitude.
    Scunny on Boxing Day? What at treat! Should be live on Sky and oh dear Blackpool and Plymouth away in winter. Maybe will get Bournmouth in the cup oh sorry we got a bye.
    Yawn any signings yet or are we still waiting for our bank loan to be approved?

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