Fixture release day - this year, 17th June - is one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the football calendar.Surrounded with excitement, it marks the start of the countdown to the new campaign for supporters, players and managers alike, and is the moment many begin their preparations for the upcoming nine months of compelling football.
Deciding when teams play one another doesn't happen overnight, though, and here, we discuss the process behind compiling the fixture list with The Football League's Fixtures Officer Paul Snellgrove...
When does The Football League's fixture compilation process start?
The process usually starts in November, when we have our first fixtures working party meeting. There, clubs get the chance to review the draft schedule and the policies put in place for the compilation process for the following season.
The working party consists of officers from The Football League, the Premier League and the Football Association; along with a cross section of club representatives – two from the Premier League, two from the Championship, one from League 1 and one from League 2.
Also, the Football Supporters' Federation are represented as well as the fixture compilers Atos. Atos are an outside IT contractor who run the fixture compiling software, which is unique and owned by The Football League and the Premier League.
We then meet again in March, which is when schedules and policies are finalised prior to the compilation. At that point, all clubs are sent a fixtures questionnaire which is their chance to have their say on their fixtures for next season regarding specific dates and pairing arrangements.
Any date requests, for example if they'd like a home or away fixture on a certain date, will go on that form, and are signed off by the police. There are generally a significant number of police requests for away fixtures due to events such as race meetings, music festivals or political party conferences.
As well as the yearly festivals and other events, we have the Rugby World Cup this year - how has that affected the fixture list?
We've got numerous clubs involved with the Rugby World Cup across all leagues, not necessarily hosting games but being used as host cities, and that will have an impact on their local infrastructure. Exeter is one, and Cardiff is another.
There's been a number of requests from the Rugby World Cup organisers, who we've been liaising with for a couple of years to make sure we can get the games on at our stadiums, which is in the clubs' interests, and in the World Cup organisers' interest that they can get their games played on schedule.
As always there are a number of clubs refurbishing their stadiums over the summer, which has had an impact around the opening set of fixtures in particular. Those clubs ideally want to buy an extra few days at the start of the season by playing away first, just in case they have a slight delay in building work.
It's not just events you have to consider when compiling the fixture list though, is it?
No, we also have a responsibility to maximise clubs' revenue. We try to ensure that local derbies and the other high profile fixtures are played on the best days possible, so as many fans as possible can attend.
Midweek travel is another one of our big issues. Clubs and their supporters don't want to be travelling the length and breadth of the country in midweek. That said, this can be unavoidable on some occasions.
It's a fine balance between making sure clubs have their more lucrative fixtures on prime dates but also ensuring they have acceptable travel on midweeks. Over 72 clubs, this balancing act proves to be a challenge.
What will you do on the big day, when fixtures are released at 9am on 17th June?
Hopefully there won’t be too many unhappy clubs come 9am on 17th, however we recognise that a fixture list is one of those emotive subjects – they are very rarely described as good, but 'not too bad'. We take those comments as praise, somewhat. Ultimately, clubs have to play each other twice over the course of the season.
I welcome reaction but personally I try not to look on social media as I could be looking all day. We'll have a team of people pointing things out to us and undoubtedly there will be a lot of reaction on The Football League's social media feeds, which we'll respond to if need be.
What would you say to supporters if they're unhappy with a midweek long journey that they've been given?
During our extensive review process we do look at all long journeys significantly and try to achieve the best solution overall. We will try and balance it out – if a club has five away trips, we'll do our best to make sure three or four out of those five aren't excessive in distance.
One might be, but it will never be a case of every away trip being long distance, as we will always try to achieve a balance over a batch of away trips.
It must be hard – you tend not to realise how much of a jigsaw puzzle the process is...
People don't realise exactly everything but, of course, they're not expected to. In all, we have around 80 date requests across 72 clubs and the Premier League with more on top of that.
Each of those requests has an impact on not only that club's fixtures, but the club they pair with, and if they're in a multi-club policing area, then those clubs also. In the West Midlands, for example, one date request will have an effect on all six clubs within that area. It's a case of knitting together a web.
It's not a case of hitting publish and there's the final fixture list, though, is it? You also have postponements to deal with through the year...
Yes, and we also lose fixtures for cup runs, which has been more prevalent over the last three or four years with increased representation of clubs from League 1 and 2 in the latter rounds of the cups.
They have an impact overall on the fixture list – more midweek fixtures come in; home and away sequences go out of the window a little bit – it's a case of trying to slot those in within the gaps that are available.
In the last two or three seasons we've lost games to the weather in months like August and May, so the weather plays a big part as well. Ultimately, we treat every club equally and fairly in considering the placement of re-arranged fixtures.
Do you enjoy your role as Fixtures Officer, and has this year been like your previous ones?
Yes I enjoy it, in the main - you have to! I've been doing this particular job for seven years now but have been involved in some capacity for the last 17 years.
Trends change, policies change and evolve constantly which means each season is very different and brings new challenges.
What's next, after the 2015/16 fixtures are released?
We're very much tied up with 2015/16 fixtures over the next couple of weeks then once they're released, clubs have a 10-day period to request any changes to kick-off times, and minor day changes to Friday night or Sunday, then it's a case of getting them finalised and re-submitting the finished list.
We also review the software every season and try to come up with enhancements. This is all to try and improve the process for the clubs. Often you can go round in circles and waves – what's in fashion one season goes out of fashion the next. It's a case of sticking to principles and seeing what can be improved, season on season.
Once that's complete, we'll then go again and look ahead to 2016/17.
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