The complexities of football scheduling

The second talk on that evening was on the scheduling of the BPL matches. A rather mundane topic if you are not a football fan. But the talk was peppered with anecdotes and light- hearted comments and it turned out to be very enlightening. By the time one Dr Kendall started his lecture it was already 7.15pm, almost maghrib.As he slowly unravelled the complexities of scheduling football matches, I realised that it was not simply a matter of matching two opposing teams home and away. Among the factors to be considered is what is termed as pairing systems. Under the pairing systems, some cities have more than one big teams. Liverpool has Liverpool FC and Everton FC and a smaller one called Tranmere Rovers. Like wise Nottingam has Forest and County and to the lesser extend Mansfield Town.  London has Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Fulham , West Ham and smaller teams like Millwall, QPR, Crystal Palace etc. And of course Manchester with Man U and their noisy neighbour, Man City. Birmingham with Birmingham City and Aston Villa. The North East has Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough. Under the pairing system, the number of local derbies on the same day on the same city must be minimised. For example if Spurs is to meet Arsenal in London on a certain day, Chelsea cannot meet Fulham in London on that day. It is all about security. And the police had the final say whether a match can go on or not. All these measure were taken to reduce the possibility of the terraces and the streets as well as railway stations becoming battle grounds for opposing fans. Researches and police files have shown that, children as young as  7-8 year old were already polarised and passionately supporting their football clubs. In the 80s and 90s, football hooliganism were the fodder of British football and it has been eradicated somewhat due to intelligence work by the police.

The Hillsborough tragedy resulted in Taylors report that recommended all seater stadia in BPL.
fans can turn rowdy very quickly
Spurs football club
Arsenal's emirates stadium

Then there is this thing called calendar events to be considered. The two most important days in the football calendar is Boxing Day and New Year Day. All teams must play on these two days, unlike other weekends where some teams do not play. Further, no two local derbies involving the same teams should be played consecutively on Boxing Day and New Years Day. Take for example, if Liverpool play Everton at Anfield on Boxing Day, they should not meet again in Goodison Park in New Years Day. If Spurs meet Fulham on Boxing Day at White Heart Lane, they should not meet again in Craven Cottage on New Years Day. Mr Kendal said this is to give the local supporters some sort of emotional respite. Very interesting!

The other consideration the scheduler must take into account is the geographical locations of the team so as to minimise travelling of the teams and supporters especially on simultaneous weeks. If you are familiar with UK’s map you can see that the distance between places like Newcastle and Swansea is almost 500km. If Newcastle were to play Swansea this week and Southampton  (well for argument sake, I know Soton is no longer in the BPL) the next, they may have to chalk up thousands of km in a couple of weeks. Mind you most teams travel by coaches. They do not take flights unlike our manja but underperforming Liga Super teams.

Another interesting point about geographical locations is the fact that, they must minimise the possibilities of two opposite sets of travelling supporters meeting on the road or railway exchange stations. For example,  Norwich supporters travelling to Swansea may meet Cardiff supporters travelling to Ipswich somewhere in London. That will put extra strain on the London police who may already have to contend with Arsenal versus Chelsea match on the same day.

Brum fansEnglish fans and their merry drinks before football matches

All very complicated indeed. No wonder they got to use a very complex mathematical model to simulate these schedules. And things got even more complex when the weather disrupt the already complicated schedules. Not to mention the FA and League cup matches and their replays. I do not envy these schedulers, maybe they should go and explain this to the perennial schedule whingers like Sir Ferguson and Mr Wenger. Little wonder why BPL is not considering winter break for that will throw another spanner into an already complex scheduling. But on the other hand, if the Bundesliga can do it, why not the BPL? I reckon the conditions are similar.

Dr Kendall also mention that the TV stations got nothing to do with the scheduling unlike what most people would like to believe. The stations only get to cherry pick the matches to air once the schedule is ready. But I reckon they may have a say in the starting time of the matches. As Dr. Kendall said, ultimately it is the local police which decide whether the matches can go on or not and at what time.  Unfortunately I had to leave the lecture before the Q&A session as maghrib is about to end. I definitely have a question or two to ask Dr. Kendall.


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