Given the increase in games and general travel chaos around Christmas, it seems a good time to look at fixtures, why they change, and what you can do to avoid being caught out.
We regularly hear from fans who’ve bought rail tickets that are now unwanted, lost deposits on hotel rooms, and wasted annual leave for games that have been rearranged.
Thanks to the numerous “stakeholders” involved such as European and domestic football associations, clubs, leagues, police, local council officials, media companies and so on, it’s not always clear to fans why games have been moved.
There isn’t a magic bullet to stop this happening but there are recurring themes which fans should be aware of and we thought it’d be useful to list them.
We hope this helps fans avoid being unnecessarily hit in the pocket although - disclaimer! - this list doesn't claim to be exhaustive and unforeseen circumstances can arise. We'd advise fans to contact their SLO if they have specific queries.
- Europa League
- Fixture pile-ups
- “High risk” games
- Local rivalries
- International weekends
- Friday nights
- Protest marches
This is probably the most common frustration in relation to fixtures.
While top-flight clubs are more likely to have games moved for TV (around one in three) it’s an issue that exists throughout the Football League and beyond. The problem stems from the different timelines used by football/TV to announce fixture changes, compared with rail companies.
Many fans choose to travel to games by rail and the cheapest way of doing this is often with single tickets released three months in advance of the travel date. However, these tickets can only be used on one specified date and this causes obvious problems when fixtures are moved for TV, to a different day or time, at less than three months notice.
For example, the most recent batch of top-flight TV fixtures were announced on Wednesday 9th October. This gave eight weeks notice that the Premier League’s longest trip (Swansea-Newcastle) was being moved from Tuesday 3rd December to Wednesday 4th December. If you bought advance rail tickets, alternative arrangements will have to be made (more below on that).
This situation can also occur on FA Cup weekends. If one of the teams chosen for the Sunday TV fixture has a game already scheduled for the following Tuesday, that game will almost certainly be moved to the Wednesday (thanks to Jon Keen for highlighting this example).
While we’d like to see league TV fixtures announced more than three months in advance, that doesn’t look likely to happen at present. He who pays the piper calls the tune and football pays more heed to TV’s billions than it does to relatively small bands of travelling fans. We don't agree that's right, but that's how it is at present.
The only way to avoid being stung is not to pre-book travel until after TV fixtures have been announced. Of course rail tickets might also have gone up considerably by that point. Catch 22. Advance tickets can be swapped for a £10 admin fee, although you have to pay any increases that have occurred in the meantime. More on that here and here. Back to top.
As Europa League games take place on Thursdays, competing clubs see their Saturday league games moved back. If your club competes with Europa League entrants bear this in mind and cross-check to see if your club meets them on a European weekend – see all 2013/14 Europa League fixtures.
If they do, there’s a very good chance it will be moved to Sunday. In past seasons, that meant 3pm kick-offs although even that seems up in the air now with games like Swansea City v Stoke City kicking off at 4.10pm.
You should also bear in mind there’s no 100% guarantee that fixtures after Europa League match days will take place on the Sunday. Other factors could still override that (TV choosing the game for a Monday night or policing decisions) so it’s best to double check.
The Europa League issue is most likely to affect top-flight clubs although it’s not unknown for Championship sides to find themselves in European competition, as Wigan Athletic have this season, and Birmingham City/Millwall in recent memory. Back to top.
Almost every season at least one team finds it has a backlog of fixtures thanks to cup runs, European matches, or games previously abandoned due to bad weather. This can lead to games being shuffled around and it needn't even be your team, keep a close eye on opponent’s results and upcoming fixtures too. As well as your club's official site, fans’ forums, and local papers can be a good resource for possible fixture permutations. Back to top.
It’s not unknown for police to request that “high risk” games are moved on public order grounds. A common example might be a 3pm kick-off changed to midday, the theory being that “risk” supporters have less time to drink and cause aggro pre-match. When the fixtures come out your local derby might be publicised as a Saturday 3pm kick-off but there's no guarantee it'll stay that way. Back to top.
Alternatively, two local rivals might both be drawn at home in a cup competition on the same day. If this happens, beware, as there’s a good chance the police will request that one of the fixtures is moved. Even if a club has publicly announced a date, it’s not unknown for all parties (clubs, police, football authorities, Safety Advisory Groups) to backtrack and move the fixture after police advice.
A recent example of that was the League Cup match between Sunderland and Southampton. Ten days after the Capital One Cup fixture was confirmed on both clubs' websites it was moved on police advice because Newcastle United were also playing at home on the same evening. Unsurprisingly this didn't go down well with fans, particularly those who faced one of the longer round-trips in British football.
We've even heard of decisions relating to fixtures/local rivalries being decided on the toss of a coin! Plymouth Argyle's 3rd round tie at Port Vale was moved back 24 hours to avoid Port Vale/Stoke City playing home games on the same day. Argyle fans left facing a near 500 mile round-trip on a Sunday were less than amused. Back to top.
Premier League and Championship clubs know that international weekends are empty but it’s not quite so clear for clubs lower down the leagues. Leagues One and Two usually have fixtures scheduled in but if a team has three or more players called up games can be rescheduled. See FIFA's International Match Calendar for scheduled dates. Back to top.
Clubs like Southend United and Tranmere Rovers have moved home games to Friday evenings in order to avoid clashing with larger, local rivals (the idea being that some West Ham United, Liverpool or Everton fans might get along). Similarly, Macclesfield Town once moved a game to avoid clashing with Manchester United on TV and it caused chaos for Lincoln City supporters. Back to top.
Britain is pretty far north, it can get cold, it can snow, and games can be postponed thanks to the weather. Generally this is to be filed under “stuff happens”, although we do think clubs can be a little quick off-the-mark in cancelling games.
Nonetheless, it’s best to keep a close eye on the weather forecast if you’re planning an away trip, particularly over winter. Obvious advice, we know, but people still get caught out by it. You should also bookmark the FSF’s Transport Hub page which links to a whole host of useful external sites (AA, BBC Weather, Highways Agency, National Rail etc).
Games can be moved to avoid clashes with local marches. In January Millwall moved an FA Cup match against Aston Villa to avoid clashing with a march opposing NHS cuts. Last month Bradford City v Tranmere Rovers was moved on police advice after the EDL announced a march on the same day. Back to top.
Certain scenarios are so unpredictable there’s little can be done – Princess Diana’s death in 1997 saw Liverpool v Newcastle United called off while Boro’s Bryan Robson refused to field a side at Blackburn Rovers in 1996. The London riots put paid to an England international and various league and cup games in 2011.
- If there’s a category we’ve missed, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer! This article is an attempt to collate an informative list of reasons for why games are moved. It doesn’t claim to be exhaustive and unforeseen circumstances mean a game could be moved for reasons not covered here. We can’t be held responsible for that and we’d advise all fans to contact their club's SLO if they have concerns or queries relating to specific fixtures. Back to top.
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this article.