by Susan Gardiner @susan1878
Recently I became quite exercised about the possible change to the date and time of a football match when the team I support, Ipswich Town, was scheduled to play Norwich City. This fixture, our “local derby” – even though the two places are over 40 miles apart – is almost always moved. There’s a genuine, sometimes fierce, rivalry between the two clubs, and sometimes there has been trouble.
Fans of both clubs are used to the fixture being moved, because – for some illogical reason – the police and other authorities appear to believe that there’s less likelihood of serious trouble between fans if it’s held at a different, often inconvenient, time. It might well be true that playing the derby match at three o’clock on a Tuesday morning in February would reduce the risk of violence, but I’d guess that it would also seriously reduce the crowd.
In the past, matches have started at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, presumably in the belief that no-one drinks before the sun is over the yardarm (it’s my belief that the early start encourages people to drink with their breakfast) and that we all turn to saints on a Sunday. In fact, the only thing I recall about matches at Portman Road being held that early on a Sunday morning, is the priest at nearby church, St. Mary Elms, complaining that his morning service was being ruined by the sound of police helicopters.
I wrote about the rescheduling of our most recent match making some of these points, but I became aware of how, for some people, playing at different times suits them. I’ve always felt that football matches should start at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, unless they were midweek games or there were compelling reasons to move them. Sky has, of course, changed all that. It’s one reason that I wonder how much I’d enjoy it if my club were promoted to the Premier League. I recall Middlesbrough fans complaining that in one season in the PL, they didn’t get to see a home game at three o’clock on a Saturday until about February. Supporters of other clubs, like Hull City and Stoke City, have also grumbled about it.
However, I can see that for some people who work shifts, and lots of people who have to work on weekends, Saturday afternoons are not an ideal time, so perhaps I’m being selfish demanding that matches are always played at one time and on one particular day. In addition to this, I can imagine that a key fixture played on a Friday evening might be quite exciting.
And, after all, the reason that football matches have traditionally been played at 3 p.m. on a Saturday is simply due to a historical accident, just as the school holidays are when they are because children had to be available to help with the harvest. The 19th-century Factory Acts improved the working conditions of workers in many ways, including placing restrictions upon the hours that some people were allowed to work. This included a law being passed in 1850 that factory workers should stop at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. It’s absolutely no coincidence that football boomed as a spectator sport after this date.
So, as those social conditions no longer apply, why should we stick to an outmoded tradition, if it doesn’t suit everyone?
I’d still argue that three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon is a great time to start a football match. It gives people who have to travel a long distance – not just away fans but supporters who live far from their own clubs – time to get to the match. It gives people a chance to meet up with their mates and have a few civilized drinks or a civilized lunch, whatever they like to do to enhance the pleasure or assuage the pain to come. It’s a good time for young children, neither too late nor too early. It may be an outdated tradition, but it’s a good one. Not all traditions are worth hanging on to, but I think that this one might be.