Tempting as it is to snigger when Newcastle United complain about anything these days, their supporters’ protest during the home 4-4 draw with Luton Town (Saturday 3/2/24) that highlighted a succession of late evening away kick offs, at least have an ounce of credibility about them (certainly more so than Eddie Howe’s moaning about being forced to comply with Financial Fair Play rules.)
Of course, sympathy may swiftly be beheaded when you consider that United’s new-found attraction, bought and paid for by the murdering PIF regime of Saudi Arabia, is at the heart of these televised dates, and to cry foul at a Premier League who allowed your club’s shiny new owners to pass their fit and proper persons test seems a bit inconsistent (though Geordies, by their very nature, are inconsistent, Alan Partridge might have said.)
Speaking more generally, it’s obviously unreasonable that a North East team’s fans should be expected to regularly turn up to a match one day and travel back the next, but then, sadly, reason has little to do with elite football in this country. And of course it’s not just them who get the wrong end of the deal. One of their recent 7pm kick off travels was to Fulham in the FA Cup, but this game was just three three evenings since the West London team were playing at Liverpool in a semi final second leg of another cup competition. Old school football bloke might say they should just get on with it like in the proper days, when there were 12-player squads and men were men, but couldn’t the game have been played on Monday or Tuesday? Chelsea, who court marginally less compassion than Newcastle, played Aston Villa in the Cup on Friday, three nights after their own second leg semi of the Carabao Cup. Why not Saturday or Sunday?
Questions, reason, anger: they will, for all the logic behind them, count for nothing in the end. Take Jurgen Klopp, who has announced his intention to leave Liverpool at the end of the season; a man who has won everything in the club game, a legend, huge personality. Yet for all his on-pitch success he has got nowhere with the comments he’s made about senseless fixture schedules and nation-state clubs. There will have been wry smiles at FIFA and UEFA and at the Premier League when his decision to step down became public. Another giant overcome. Even someone like Klopp is just passing through. Collecting trophies and being mugged off. The authorities just ride it out, knowing it will be someone else’s turn soon. Protesting just becomes part of the story.
Wolves played Chelsea on Christmas Eve. There were dissenting voices, but people still went and watched, tuned in. That we won’t see a Christmas Day match is only because of the threat Julia Donaldson brings. Newcastle fans can protest long into the night of their next midweek fixture in the capital, but it’s as futile, and in their case as unjustified, despite the semblance of common sense, as Howe’s other moan about injuries. These things are happening to everyone, and your own greed will eat you in the end.