The eagerly anticipated release of the Premier League fixtures marks a significant moment for football fans, as they discover when their favorite teams will face their opponents in the upcoming season. Behind this seemingly simple task lies a meticulous and time-consuming process that spans nearly six months, involving the scheduling of a staggering 2,036 matches across the top four divisions.
Glenn Thompson, the fixture-list compiler from Atos, an international IT services company, sheds light on how this complex undertaking is accomplished.
When does the work on compiling the next season’s fixtures start?
The process kicks off at the start of the year when I receive playing dates from the Premier League. It begins with the integration of international dates from FIFA and European club competitions. The Football Association then adds the dates for its competitions. This groundwork establishes the available dates for league and League Cup matches. Importantly, we also seek input from fan representatives, including the Football Supporters’ Federation, and other stakeholders to consider their perspectives.
Around March, the Premier League sends a form to its clubs, seeking input on whether they have preferences regarding home match dates, often in collaboration with local law enforcement, and if there are any specific teams they’d rather not face at home on Boxing Day.
How are the Premier League fixtures compiled?
We start after the Football League playoffs, once we know the composition of each division. Clubs are placed within a pairing grid, which defines their home match dates. The fixture computer then, for every date in the season, randomly selects pairings, determining which teams play each other.
Are there any rules you have to adhere to?
Certain rules are essential to ensure fairness. In any five matches, there should be a balance of three home fixtures and two away, or vice versa. No team will have more than two consecutive home or away matches. Whenever possible, teams are scheduled to play home and away around FA Cup ties. Additionally, no club starts or ends the season with two consecutive home or away matches, as that would be considered unfair.
Around the Christmas period, if a team is at home on Boxing Day, they will play away on New Year’s Day or an equivalent date. We aim to maintain a Saturday home-away sequence throughout the season wherever feasible.
Do you consider travel issues?
Yes, travel logistics play a significant role. We examine whether clubs from the same area will be traveling on the same train lines on the same day. Our goal is to prevent congestion on rail and road networks. We also instruct the computer to minimize travel on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day or equivalent dates.
Can clubs from the same area play at home on the same day?
Most clubs have partner clubs with whom they cannot overlap in terms of home fixtures, such as Manchester United and Manchester City, or Liverpool and Everton. In London, the situation is more intricate and less clear-cut.
Do last season’s fixtures influence the list for the next season?
Previous seasons’ fixtures can indeed influence the next season’s schedule. If a club faced unfavorable fixtures one year, we aim to consider this when creating the schedule for the following season, striving to avoid repeating undesirable combinations.
What happens if there are any problems?
When issues arise, we may need to reevaluate and generate a different set of fixtures. I continuously review the fixtures to ensure that all requirements are met.
For instance, in the 2012/13 season, the Metropolitan Police requested that high-profile matches not be scheduled until after 8 September due to the Olympics and Paralympics.
How is the fixture list checked?
Traditionally, representatives from the Premier League, the Football League, and Atos meticulously review the fixtures over several days. We scrutinize every date in the season to ensure that we’ve met all the criteria. The computer system is a valuable tool during this review, suggesting alternative dates when needed. Sometimes, changing one match might necessitate adjustments to 40 others.
Is it the impossible job?
Satisfying everyone is impossible. It’s a balancing act across all clubs, with no favoritism shown to any one team. With 2,036 matches across the Premier League and Football League over nine months, the ultimate goal is to ensure that all matches can be played as scheduled.