Having set something of an unwanted record last season by playing only 40 games, Tottenham will finish this term with 59 matches under their belt. Extended runs in the Carling, F.A. and UEFA Cups added 19 more games to the season.
But this success brings its own problems in the form of fixture congestion. Luckily, Spurs has its very own decongestant: Club Secretary John Alexander. It’s his job to fit the quart of fixtures into the pint pot of dates. An email asking why we were playing three games in the last week of the season brought a generous offer from John to explain what goes on behind the scenes.
So why ARE we playing three games in the last week, John?
Fixtures Announced - All Change!
“It’s something we’ve been battling against most of the season”, he says “and it’s impossible to get the best for all worlds. The fixtures are published in June, and these are followed by TV requests, which are then discussed with the police before the fixtures are finalised with the FAPL before July.
There are certain constraints around the TV selections, for example it is highly unlikely you would ever see a Saturday 5.15pm kick-off in the Metropolitan Police area.
“From that point on, there will be further changes due to TV coverage and the influence of various clubs’ progress in European competitions. But changes for other reasons have to be with the agreement of both clubs and the FAPL; no one club can force a fixture change on another".
Europe: The Final Countdown!
One of the main difficulties as the season progresses is the situation that arises when two Premiership teams in European competitions are due to play each other between Champions League/UEFA Cup weeks. With Champions League games scheduled for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and UEFA Cup games on Thursdays, clearly there can be situations where one club will be left in the difficult position of having to play twice in 3 days and unless both clubs and the FAPL agree someone has to lose out.
Such was the situation at the beginning of April when we played in Sevilla on a Thursday night and at Stamford Bridge on the following Saturday afternoon. But as Chelsea had a Champions League game the next Tuesday, and their remaining fixture programme offered no free dates through to the end of the season, the game had to remain on the Easter Saturday as originally scheduled.
However, John had greater success when switching the Blackburn home game, due to be played two days after the Chelsea fixture. With the full cooperation of our opponents and the FAPL, he was able to move this match to the last Thursday in the season.
The Charlton game is now being played on the previous Monday because it was chosen for live broadcast by Sky. Tottenham, like the other 19 Premiership clubs, has signed up to a rights agreement with broadcasters, which gives them the ability to select matches for live coverage at agreed slots over Saturday, Sunday and Monday. So we can’t really join the club and then ask to change the rules.
As well as working with the Premier League, John also lobbies UEFA to get the best for our team in Europe. Through his efforts we were able to have a UEFA Cup-free week leading up to the away game at Arsenal last December.
Such is the importance of giving the team the best opportunity to prepare, Tottenham gave up the opportunity of a live broadcast on a Saturday evening for the Manchester City away game. This followed our UEFA Cup match with Dinamo Bucharest, so the TV money was lost to give the team an extra day to prepare. This paid off with our first away win of the season on the Sunday.
Will We Go Intertoto?
Given that we have three games in seven days in May, what are our chances of playing in the UEFA Cup next season? Well the good news from John is that it’s better than you think, and it’s all down to that often-derided tournament, the Intertoto Cup.
“The deadline for entries for the Intertoto Cup is early February”, said John “And we entered along with 6 other FAPL Clubs: Blackburn, Newcastle, Boro, Bolton, Everton and Fulham. This season the place is open to the highest-placed team in the four spots below the normal UEFA Cup positions.
“As those are 5th, 6th and 7th this season, the Intertoto Cup place will go to the highest entered team from 8th to 11th.” At the moment Fulham is in 16th place, Boro 14th and Newcastle 12th so they are all outside the minimum qualifying spot, Blackburn is 10th with Bolton and Everton in automatic UEFA Cup slots .
Obviously we’re all hoping for a strong run-in and a top seven finish to guarantee us a place in the UEFA Cup. But it’s good to know that if we don’t achieve that, we need only to finish as the highest team of those entrants finishing in 8th – 11th place – to get the Intertoto spot.
If it comes down to that, we would then play a two legged tie (first leg away against a team from Lithuania/Wales or Poland) to get through to the UEFA Cup, one round before the clubs who finish 5th, 6th and 7th. The first leg of any Intertoto Cup tie will be over the weekend July 21/22 with the return leg the following weekend.
As a result of being the club that progressed furthest in the UEFA Cup having qualified through the Intertoto route, Newcastle United has been awarded the Intertoto Cup for this season.
John then revealed a little-known curiosity of the Intertoto Cup. If no team from the Premiership is able to, or declines to take up the FA’s designated place in the competition, the FA faces being fined by UEFA.
We all want the best players, coaches and manager at the club. But for them to be able to do their job as well as possible, a top team is also needed behind the scenes. With his skill and close control, John Alexander is clearly the Dimitar Berbatov of the fixture list!