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Fixtures questions answered

Paul Fletcher | 13:25 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The other day I posted a blog entitled The Secrets of the Fixtures Computer.

Plenty of the information in the blog was the result of an interview with a man called Glenn Thompson, who works for a company called Atos Origin.

Glenn owns the actual fixtures computer and is very heavily involved in putting together the fixtures for the Premier League, the Football League and the lower Scottish divisions.

Plenty of you posted on the blog asking a variety of questions.

As you can imagine Glenn has had a very busy week but earlier on Wednesday he e-mailed me the answers to some of the issues you raised.

Here is what Glenn had to say:

"I expected the Secrets of the Fixture Computer to be a popular blog but didn't expect as many comments as have already been posted. Well the fixtures were published at 10am this morning - hopefully not too many bad comments but you can't please everyone!

"I thought that I would answer some of your questions, starting with the easy one - which team do I support? I actually support a League Two side, so you can't argue that my involvement in the fixture compilation process has given them any help.

"There were also a few questions regarding Scottish fixtures, the same methodology is used for the Scottish Football League (not Scottish Premier League) fixtures but with a few minor adjustments to the compilation rules.

"There were a number of queries on limiting travel and to my quote that the fixture computer is not aware of distances between clubs. As a number of people have mentioned, it is possible to make the fixture computer aware of travel distances but this has to be considered along with all other constraints and parameters that make up the overall compilation process.

"Some clubs would also prefer to have their local fixtures on a Saturday as this will mean a larger crowd for a local game. This season in the Football League we have considered travel distances for the majority of midweek fixtures.

"It's not always easy to do this especially in League One where you have a majority of southern-based clubs. And due to pairing requests and specific home or away date requests you don't always have the correct mix of teams on the home and away side for a given date.

"Feedback from this season's fixtures will tell if we have made the correct decision to prioritise travel for Football League clubs.

"Those of you who read the blog will be thinking that my example of Southend United and West Ham United's pairing has not been perfectly achieved this season - this year was a good example of how high priority date requests can affect some of the 'secondary pairings'.The V Festival in Essex impacted upon Southend's hopes of alternating their fixtures with West Ham United

"We received date requests for Colchester United to be away on the weekend of the 'V' Festival and also had a number of date requests for West Ham United to be away in August.

"These date requests meant that for a number of fixtures both West Ham United and Southend United had to play at home (and away on the same date). The priority pairing in Essex is for Southend United to be away when Colchester United are at home, maintaining this priority pairing meant that we could not achieve the perfect Southend/West Ham pairing. Additionally a similar issue occurred with Colchester United and Ipswich Town, due to a date request from Norwich City.

"Many of you have also asked why clubs can't have a perfect home/away sequence. Several reasons why this is not achievable given the current compilation rules:

"a) The priority sequence is the Saturday sequence, so wherever possible we try to ensure that clubs go H/A/H/A on Saturdays. As an example if you were to insert a midweek fixture after the first game you will have a H/A/A/H/A sequence.

"b) Blank Saturdays for FA Cup rounds etc and different playing dates in each division will also effect the sequence for clubs. To maintain pairing across divisions we try to ensure that the sequence is common for each division (Premier League included).

"If League One and Two clubs are not playing on the first and second rounds of the FA Cup this disrupts the sequence for Premier League and Championship clubs, there is also a fixture rule that states that wherever possible clubs should have a home and away fixture around a blank (non-league fixture) Saturday for an FA Cup tie.

"If League One and Two clubs have a sequence of home/FA Cup/away then the Premier League and Championship clubs will have to have a H/A/A or H/H/A sequence at the same point of the season. The same is true for the third and fourth round of the FA Cup when Premier League and Championship clubs do not have league fixtures.

"c) Numerous clubs submit more than one date request, an example is Doncaster Rovers who requested four dates where they wished to be away from home due to race meetings at Doncaster race course.

"If there was a fixed home and away sequence for the whole season it may not be possible to meet the majority, or all, of Doncaster Rovers requests to be away when Doncaster race meetings are scheduled.

"The methodology used to compile the fixtures allows the proposed overall home/away sequence to be reversed for a number of matches at certain times during the season.

"Each time we reverse the home/away sequence there is a possibility that a club will have two home or away Saturday fixtures. Again this is a controllable parameter and we aim to minimise the number of occasions where clubs have two home or away Saturday fixtures.

"Hope the above resolves some of the compilation queries."

Many thanks to Glenn for the above information - some of his answers are pretty detailed as you can see, but then again, so were some of the posts left on the original blog.


  • Comment number 1.

    THis season Burnley are away from home on two consecutive saturdays, following the Carling cup 2nd round. Potentially this could mean 3 consecutive away games for the clarets. I am interested to know if there is a reason for this.

  • Comment number 2.

    Us (Leeds) have Carlisle on the Tuesday then Gillingham on the Saturday, both away, I'm sure you could of switched a few fixtures around to avoid this as this is going to annoy away travelling fans

  • Comment number 3.

    Also what were some of the rules that Leeds handed in, due to the past our fans have a bad reputation although it isn't like that anymore but it's hard to get rid of a reputation, so what kind of matches were requested to be changed by the police and also the club

  • Comment number 4.

    I honestly never thought that such a subject could have been so interesting. Maybe it makes me very boring and that it means I would make a good librarian?

    Cheers to Glenn Thompson for his additional comments. An excellent blog subject, one of the best for a while on the BBC.

  • Comment number 5.

    no complaints really, fixtures don't matter where or when, or with who, if your team is good enough to win then they can, for example arsenal, they play MAN U chelsea and liverpool in the same two weeks between jan/feb, but if there good enough they'll win all three and maybe the league, but i doubt it.. this year its liverpool all the way.


  • Comment number 6.

    Why the hell are the Boro away at Plymouth on a Monday night for a near 500mile round trip, when the club asked for it to be on a Saturday? Also why so many midweek away games, especially Blackpool when we would of took thousands their?

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm with the Boro fan above on this - Its completely unfair on the away team to organise these fixtures for midweek. Not many fans can afford to take time off work for these fixtures. The lack of away fans gives the home team an even bigger advantage.

    Sunderland have AGAIN (3 seasons on the trot I think now) got Portsmouth away midweek. Thats a 669 mile round trip on a Tuesday night, last season was a Monday night. Its the longest trip in the Premiership.

    If the computer is so clever why does this happen over and over again. Is it a Portsmouth supporter?

    I'd love to hear Glenn Thompsons views on this......

  • Comment number 8.

    It seems that the people arranging the English football fixtures enjoy problems. In Spain the second half of the season is simply a reverse of the first half. Why do you make life so complicated?

  • Comment number 9.

    In answer to number 9, We have 92 proffesional league clubs to cater for.

  • Comment number 10.

    Just checked and Boro-Plymouth is a 750+mile rund trip. Complete joke to have it on a monday night.

  • Comment number 11.

    So thats about a 7 hour drive each way for you for Plymouth - 9 hours on a coach. If you leave at final whistle and drive all night you will just make it to work the next morning!

    I know the computer has no sense of distance but unless the people who check the fixtures have some kind of sick sense of humour surely this shouldn't happen.

    I notice that Sunderland vs Portsmouth and Boro vs Plymouth are both on a Saturday - at least if the return legs were wid-week too it would even it up.

  • Comment number 12.

    Mixed feelings about suoer whites fixtures. Would have liked derby matches with Huddersfield and Oldham to have been more spaced out.Pleased with Christmas fixtures not too far to travel. Looks like tough run in at end of season but we will do it.

  • Comment number 13.

    Really interesting insight and arguments why the H/A/H/A sequence is difficult. However I still believe the core element should be the league games are on a H/A/H/A basis and no team having both start of and end of season home games. Inequality has set in immediately, everything else should revolve around that.
    Of course, one of the complications is the money aspect, I understand clubs not wanting to lose out, maybe a fairer slice of the cake for the lower division clubs would ease the problem.

    Surely a system can also be found to improve the alternation so that sides dont get a monopoly on the start/end/boxing day dates, there really is no excuse for that.

    How the list makes up after that, yes there will be complications but please at least have some of the basics done as even handedly as possible.

  • Comment number 14.

    Glenn, I think you guys maybe worry too much about the foundation being a H/A/H/A sequence, only to be broken where essential. Sure it's a good idea early in the season, as a league-levelling device (as is, even more importantly, not having to face all the top sides in quick succession). But after that, it makes practially no difference if you break the H/A/H/A pattern -- throw in as many A/A and H/H fortnights (or worse) as you need, if it helps you avoid other problems.

    And as for the ludicrous Monday night round trips -- Monday night games should never ever involve travelling the length of the country. (There's a "foundation rule" for you.)


  • Comment number 15.

    Has everyone missed the point of this blog?
    Obviously, I'm disappointed with some of my team's fixtures, for one reason or another, but at least now I can see that the job of the fixture compilers is a hard one, and that they've done the absolute best they can. If there are a few fixtures you're not happy about, console yourself with the information that everyone involved (including your club) have tried their best to make it as perfect as possible for all of us. For every dodgy decision, there must've been a damn good reason.

  • Comment number 16.

    Is there any other major league that doesn't just have a simple system of playing one round of matches, then reversing them for the second half of the season? So far as I recall, Spain, Germany, Italy, France and the Czech Republic all have two half-seasons. Presumably they have just as many other considerations as we have, so why have we complicated matters so much? Some countries even televise the fixture draw so everyone can see it's above board.
    And I agree that there is something perverse about sending Sunderland to Portsmouth midweek yet again.

  • Comment number 17.

    And you wonder why we antipodeans call you whinging POM's, try supporting your team at away fixtures when you've trips of 2710miles one way melbourne/townsville or 3321miles wellington/perth and those aren't one off distances either.

  • Comment number 18.

    As far as police involvement goes, that hasn't happened yet, they get this list at the same time we do. Where a Force has to cover two or three teams at a time, then they are amongst the "paired clubs" that don't play at home the same weekend. However there is now a period where external forces can ask that games be played in midweek for the reasons you state. the matches must be within the weekend, however the weekend now runs from thursday to tuesday

  • Comment number 19.

    Can anyone explain why Newcastle's midweek home fixtures are always on a Wednesday when almost everyone else's are on a Tuesday?
    Surely can't be anything to do with TV as those games haven't been chosen yet...

  • Comment number 20.

    As a non supporter of the 2 teams involved..... how can it justify making Southampton travel to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night. Also, why... on a bank holiday Monday.. when the traffic is always bad anyway... do my team (Stockport) ave a long trip to Norwich ? Surley we could ave played there on a Saturday... and maybe gone to somewhere miles closer that day...... I know this applies to lots of clubs..... but geez.......

  • Comment number 21.

    The only thing I think you didn't mention was who exactly sets these "compilation rules"? To be honest I think you deserve a medal or at the very least free aspirin, because with 92 clubs all (presumably) handing in 'special requests' you must get one heck of a headache.

  • Comment number 22.

    I can't believe people are actually posting here and complaining! Yes, of course some of the fixtures appear daft, but as both blog articles point out, there are so many complications and factors to take into account that there are always going to be people who are not happy. As mentioned in the first blog, because of the interconnectedness of perameters, swapping just one fixture could lead to rearranging more than half of the other fixtures to accommodate the change!

    As for why we can't simply have half-seasons like other countries, surely this is due to the numerous complications mentioned being compounded by the fact that there are 92 clubs and far far more supporters to consider than in other countries.

    I'm sure it can seem at times like it's always *your* club that misses out because it has had away matches at the end of the last 3 seasons, or is always away on boxing day... but, unfortunately, half the teams have to be away on any given date, teams have to make their long distance journies at some point in the season, as well as their local journies - and really people just have to like it or lump it - and stop whinging and being self-centred!

    And this is from an Exeter fan, supprting one of the teams far out on a geographical limb, where in recent seasons we've had 700 mile round trips in the Conference; our 'most local' derbies had been Hereford and Aldershot; and we (along with Plymouth, Torquay and Carlisle) regularly and by a considerable margin top the 'distance travelled' charts for our respective leagues.

    I'm sure Southampton fans are just glad they're (probably) starting the season at all - and don't really care when they go where... likewise, Plymouth fans are happy they're in the Championship and facing a long trip to Middlesboro rather than a short trip up the A38 in League 1 ;-)

  • Comment number 23.

    A closer look at the Premier League fixtures as a whole, without a team 'prejudice' reveals that they are actually blocked together. Bear with me on this!: Games 1-4 and Boxing day (game 19 - half way through the season) are blocked. By blocked I mean that a group of ten teams all play either home or away at the same time. For example, in the first four games Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Chelsea, Everton, Man Utd, Portsmouth, Stoke, Tottenham and Wolves all have the same home and away sequence (HAAH). They cannot therefore play each other inside a 'block'.
    The second half starts on December 28th with the same five games' reverse fixtures but in a slightly different order (3,1,2,19,4). Games 5,6,7,8 are actually the reverse of the season run-in (games 35-38 are the reverse fixtures of games 6,5,8,7). The pattern goes on - There's a block of 5, one of 4, two of 2 and one of 6 = 19 games per half-season). If you start the season AHHA (as half the teams do) your six games from Boxing Day go HAHAAH. The other 10 teams matches are exactly the opposite. Each 'block' starts afresh after some pairs swap places with each other and move from one 'side' of the fixture list to the other.
    The result of this is that the basic allocation of games is not random but cleverly thought out! For all of you complaining that your first game is away, think of this. This blocking means:
    First game away = second game home (midweek and possibly the only scheduled midweek match where you won't have to dress like John Motson in a snowstorm), Boxing Day home (turkey curry and a pint then off to the match), December 28 away (a well earned chance to get away from the family) and last week of January midweek away. The December and February midweeks will be one home and one away - this is not related to the first match.
    As for pairings of teams that don't play at home on the same day, many are obvious, I suspect the latter ones are just for the internal logic of the fixture program:
    Aston Villa - Birmingham
    Blackburn - Burnley
    Chelsea - Fulham
    Everton - Liverpool
    Man Utd - Man City
    Tottenham - Arsenal
    Bolton - Wigan
    Portsmouth - Hull
    Wolverhampton - Sunderland
    Stoke - West Ham
    As for the (valid) concerns about having to travel midweek to some distant venue, the four midweeks, (three in the depths of winter), and the two Christmas fixture mean that three teams will each have to travel to Sunderland or Portsmouth for a late/unusual fixture. It might seem sensible to many that Sunderland should entertain Hull and a couple of the Lancastrian teams whilst Portsmouth enjoys the company of Chelsea and Fulham but, (a) I suspect that the knock-on effects would be large on the entire list, which is very rule bound, (as we know) and, (b) it just doesn't seem to me very fair on these teams who might, year after year, have to make this same midweek trek, (or, as others have written, not be able to because of work/family commitments).
    And then of course the TV men get involved...

  • Comment number 24.

    what has happened to local derbys on boxing day and bank holidays
    very little transport available , so games should be against the nearest teams
    Also on this subject see some people going on about travel in mid week
    this then must put an end to celtic and rangers joining the prem or any other english league
    We play Exeter 1st game they must think its xmas long trip out of the way and probebly the game the wanted 1st anyway

  • Comment number 25.

    My sympathies go to Carlisle United fans wo have the "very short trip" to ExeterCity to cope with on Boxing Day !!!! That is just utterly shambolic to be put out as a fixture. Also my team MK Dons have finally managed to be given a HOME game on BOXING DAY. It should not matter where and in what sequence you play on a Saturday, but I agree with most of the comments made so far that midweek games should always be kept to a maximum travelling distance of say 100 miles (each way).

  • Comment number 26.

    Can anyone explain why Newcastle's midweek home fixtures are always on a Wednesday when almost everyone else's are on a Tuesday?

  • Comment number 27.

    Re: No.25

    Since when did Carlisle have two games to play on Boxing Day? I think you'll find that they're actually (for the second season running) at home to my team Huddersfield.


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