Bleak Friday: Why Friday night Premier League football is a bridge too far
Aston Villa v Manchester United was the first Friday night clash in the Premier League era that was not on a public holiday. While the game was switched at police insistence, it provided a glimpse of the very near future as Friday night games are part of next season’s TV deal.
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‘Friday Night and the gates are low.’ As a certified football junkie, when I allow the addict in me to dominate my opinion formation on this, I think ‘fantastic!’ After all, Friday night football is nothing new in England, right?
Once I put my selfish gene back in its box, my rational self comes to the fore and proffers my true opinion on Friday night football. It would be a terrible thing for the game in England, particularly at levels below the Premier League. That aside, I can’t imagine that managers of clubs who are in Champions League action on a Tuesday night are too thrilled at being asked to play on a Friday night either.
If it was a decision that had an obvious commercial imperative for the Premier League, we could cynically nod our heads and say it was “all about building the brand in Asia/the US/South America”.
However, a 19.45pm Friday night kick-off would mean Chinese armchair fans having to wake up at 2.45am and it would be smack in the middle of the working day on the East Coast of the US. It’s hardly a convenient time to pipe a piece of ‘product’ into homes beyond these shores. It seems to be a decision solely based in further increasing the Premier League’s cultural pervasiveness in this country. Which, given that Friday nights are saturated with endless preview programmes across multiple media outlets, hardly seems necessary.
We should also consider the effect this will have on smaller clubs. Friday night football has long been something that lower division clubs have tried to boost attendances, the thinking being that fans of bigger clubs might go and watch smaller local teams without fixture clashes to contend with. The most famous exponents of this ploy in the 1980-90s were Tranmere Rovers, the beloved outfit of the band Half Man Half Biscuit from whom I take my opening quote.
Tranmere, with Liverpool and Everton just a drive through the Mersey tunnel away, played frequently on Friday nights in this period, manager John King building an exciting team containing the likes of the still-potent John Aldridge and Pat Nevin.
Considering these associations, Rovers fan Frank Hamilton said: “I definitely wish we still played on Friday nights. The atmosphere was always very good, and Friday night games became synonymous with the most successful period in our history.”
While Friday night football on the Wirral is not as regular an occurrence now as it once was, Rovers chairman and ex-FA chief executive Mark Palios recently commissioned a survey of fans asking if they wanted to play more Friday night games. It would surely make as much sense for Tranmere, now of the National League, to play on Fridays today as it did 25-30 years ago.
However, should Liverpool or Everton be handed a Friday night away trip to, say, Swansea on the same night Tranmere had agreed to play, say, Kidderminster at Prenton Park, the Premier League juggernaut would roll over their hopes of getting a few extra grand through the gate. When viewed through that prism, the encroachment of Premier League fixtures into the start of the weekend feels like an unnecessary and troubling development.
Do you agree that Friday night Premier League games are an unnecessary addition to the calendar, or do you welcome it?
Read more from Tom Simmonds here!
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