Ah, the Premier League fixture list is out. It’s that time of year again. When you all get together, friends and family, around the TV – Sky Sports News – and wait for David Bobin or Millie Clode or John Davies or Sean Fletcher or Kirsty Gallacher or David Garrido or Olivia Godfrey or Vicky Gomersall or Pete Graves or Alex Hammond or Charlotte Jackson or David Jones or Adam Leventhal or Graham Little or Hayley McQueen or Alex Payne or Natalie Sawyer to tell you the order in which some things are happening.
The kind of day you’ll tell your grandkids about. ‘Of course, I remember when I was in my mid-twenties. We’d all sit around watching Sky Sports News on Wednesday morning, all fresh faced, waiting to hear who would play who and in what order. We’d all have an orange juice and just enjoy the moment.’ ‘But didn’t you already know who would play who?’ ‘Oh, I guess we did. So it was just the order in which they would play.’ It will not make a very good story, but you will persevere regardless, out of necessity, having only Sky Sports News-based anecdotes to tell about your youth, except for the time when you briefly tried Setanta Sports News before it closed down. Not ESPN though, you never went that far.
Yes, today, as you will have heard, the Premier League unveiled its fixture list. That is: the order in which the teams – teams which we already knew, remember – will play each other in some month’s time. And on this day, people – not me, but you; I am not one of you – spend some of their time analysing what these fixtures mean. They really do that, in real life.
It’s only at this time of year that I realise just how many people like lists of the order in which events will happen, and just how much they like them. The fact that in a league – almost the definitive characteristic of a league, in fact – all of the teams – which, once again, we knew in advance – play each other an equal number of times, thus rendering the lists just a simple way of organising information for the time being, does not bother them. These lists are even liable to change, but that does not bother them either.
I’ll be honest – as I often can be in these columns – every year this day makes me feel a bit left out. Because I, a man in possession of my senses, simply can’t manage to get excited about the order in which some things will happen at some point in the future. For me, the analysis of football fixtures holds no appeal. I sit there and wonder how and why (you) people can manage to come out with things like ‘Oh, David Moyes has a tough start’ or ‘Oh, Jose Mourinho has a tough start’ and ‘Oh, Manuel Pellegrini has an easy start’ – all relating to the start of the season, of course, because even the hardcore can’t really commit to sifting through these lists to the end. It all feels so alien to me.
And I think, if I analyse why it feels alien to me, which I have done today and every other day since this began, and will continue to do forever, it’s because it doesn’t actually make any sense. None at all. You are all entirely unreasonable people for taking part in fixture unveiling day and you deserve to be punished for it.
The defence of fixture lists as an import part of football – as something of value – is that momentum plays a part in deciding how well or badly a team might or might not do in a season. I agree that it does. But the fixture lists, alone, give almost no indication as to where that momentum will be generated. Manchester United play Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive games very early on this season: what does it tell us? Little-to-nothing, other than the fact that Manchester United play Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive games very early on this season. If they beat Chelsea they might have momentum and beat Liverpool. But if they lose they might not. Or if they lose to Chelsea they might be desperate and beat Liverpool because of that. Or Liverpool might just be terrible and they’ll beat them because of that.
There is a multitude of ways momentum can be generated. The fixture list is all but a blank canvas, only ready to be stained once the latest football season starts.
You probably didn’t start the whole process of analysing the fixtures for meaning. My guess is it started with Sky Sports News, who are paid to fill empty spaces with content. But you followed them with it and now the fixture list has become a commodity which you actually have to pay to publish. Imagine a world where the order in which some things are happening is considered to be of inherent value. Well, that is the world which you have created. Not me; I told everyone ‘no’, but they were all ‘yes yes yes.’ Shame on you. I won’t be silenced. For too long this has gone unsaid. The silent minority must speak.
‘Can you tell me the order in which some things are happening, Ethan?’
‘No, that is an event in itself now and you will have to pay for access to it’
‘You are not very nice, Ethan’
‘I am a product of the world I live in’
‘Give me back my cake then’