By Tony Attwood
3pm saturday kick offs are sacrosanct. You can’t show a live football match between 3 and 5pm in the major heartlands of football. That is England, Scotland and er… Montenegro.
Ah well that is where it gets tricky. There is the suggestion that 3pm was the historic time to kick off matches, in the Good Old Days (GOD for short) although that is a bit of a misapprehension as the Arsenal History Society review of kick off times in the 1930 Arsenal handbook revealed.
This handbook helpfully carried all the kick off times for the season. But unfortunately for the 3pm purists it showed that the majority of matches in the season actually kicked off at 3.30pm, while others kicked off at 3.15pm, 2.45pm, and 2.30pm. In fact only two games in the whole season (October 25 and January 31) chose 3pm.
So why the excitement about 3pm?
The idea in the pre-floodlight days was to kick off later rather than sooner – hence the propensity for 3.30pm, thus allowing supporters as long as possible in the club bars before the game, while still having a chance to get home in time for the traditional tea after the match.
Which is why the reverence for 3pm has always seemed a bit odd to me – a time chosen to allow maximum alcohol consumption preserved in an age in which maximum alcohol consumption is both frowned upon socially and considered ill-advised medically.
Having been brought up on 3pm kick offs I can understand this and I do have a certain affection for the time – but for me it only works when I pop along to watch my local team, five miles up the road, which I do occasionally when Arsenal are not playing.
So maybe most people do go and watch teams that are close by – in which case surely we ought to make all games kick off at 3pm – whereas it seems more and more matches kick off at lunchtime, (OK for the traveller) or early evening (awful for the traveller). 8pm kick offs are worst of all for me because I am travelling towards London and entering the city in the rush hour, and by the time I hit the M1 on the way back, they are starting to shut it, and I end up in traffic jams with thousands of trucks stranded on minor roads not built to take the strain.
So although I am not a subscriber to Eleven Sports I welcomed their recent challenge by showing European football matches on Saturday afternoons. They chose Italian and Spanish fixtures.
No clubs reported a sudden decline in people coming through the gate, but even so lots of pressure was put on the broadcaster, and the broadcaster gave in.
In a statement the company said, “Fans in the UK should have the freedom and the choice to watch these games legally through the official rights holder, as they do all over the world. Regrettably, intense pressure from stakeholders within the football establishment means that football fans across the country do not have this option.
“We maintain our strong view that the rule is unfit for the modern, digital era – particularly for overseas games which we hold the rights to,. With the best interests of football fans at heart, we are currently considering all legal and regulatory options, including the referral of the case to the appropriate authorities.”
The chief executive of the EFL, Shaun Harvey, is quoted as saying that the ban on live TV at 3pm is there to “protect the interests of the game in this country as a whole, you can’t be half in or half out,” which rather begs the question, “how does it protect anything?” and “what on earth does the half in stuff mean?”
The point is that what would make a good kick off time for me (lunchtime Saturday or afternoon Sunday) would not be any good for everyone. Lunchtime saturday would give me time to get back to the Midlands, have a meal and go out for Saturday evening. 3pm kick offs make that quite a lot harder.
There are of course many occasions now when football is all over the TV (Champions League nights for example) while lots of clubs are playing. I don’t think the crowds noticeably decline.
And that is what always strikes me about the 3pm issue. The arguments are never combined with statistics. Of course I am not providing stats either, but that is because I don’t have them. But the League does have stats in relation to the aforementioned Champs League evening games which clash with Football League matches.
Could it possibly be that their figures don’t actually back up their case, but they are just insistent that having their heads in the sand has always worked in the past, so why not now?
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