Leeds United Supporters’ Trust say that the marginalisation of match-going fans has become a huge issue in modern football. We spoke to Graham Hyde, the trust’s Vice Chair, after fans’ plans for Leeds’ trip to Selhurt Park to take on Crystal Palace later this month were thrown into chaos by a late fixture change.
The Premier League clash, which was originally scheduled for Saturday 23rd April, will now take place on Monday 25th April, with an 8pm kick-off in the capital. The fixture was changed last Friday, a little over three weeks before the game is supposed to be played, with Sky Sports selecting the match between the two teams as part of their Monday Night Football TV coverage.
The announcement, particularly at such short notice, will undoubtedly throw the plans of many Leeds supporters into chaos. Those who have already booked travel for the original kick-off time will likely be out of pocket. Meanwhile, those travelling to the game will struggle to make it from London back to Yorkshire late on a week night.
Speaking to The Leeds Press, Mr Hyde said: “The impact will be significant. It will be felt financially, but also there will be huge disruption. For the majority of Leeds fans, it has become a logistical nightmare. Many people will have to take a day off work, many people will have to seek alternative arrangements for travel. Given the 10pm finish… there will be only one opportunity to get a train back to Leeds. That is dependent on a gap of about three minutes between leaving the tube and getting the train, so the impact will be huge.”
The Premier League state on their website that “match dates can change for a variety of reasons, including live TV broadcast selections, and also to accommodate matches in European and domestic cup competitions. For this reason, Premier League fixtures are always advertised as being subject to change”. However, Graham says the decision to change the dates of the Whites visit to Palace was taken after the Premier League and Sky’s own deadline for fixture changes.
“Once again, the Premier League and Sky have missed their own deadline in terms of announcing TV changes,” added Mr Hyde. “The deadline for this particular fixture was a week before they announced. This leaves fans just 21 days to make changes to their arrangements. They’ve missed the deadlines I think on at least six occasions this season. They’re not sticking to the agreement that lets fans know what they’re doing. What is the point of having a deadline if you’re just going to go steaming past it and announce things a week later?”
This decision is one of many controversial ones involving match-going fans of all clubs this season. Recently, Liverpool and Manchester City supporters’ groups released a joint statement condemning the decision to hold their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on a weekend when there will be no trains to London from either city.
They claimed that the FA’s decision was “purely financial and an insult to both sets of supporters”. While their anger was directed at the FA, it is the Premier League and Sky who face the ire of Leeds fans. One thing is certainly clear, supporters around the country feel that their needs are not currently being met by English football’s governing bodies, and that opinion is echoed by Graham.
“Ultimately, we are increasingly seeing the marginalisation of the match-going fan in favour of the global audience or the non-match going fan” he said. “That shift towards prioritising non-match goers has been happening over the last few years. It was accelerated because Premier League clubs found that they could survive without us during the pandemic. They realised that the greater percentage of their income comes from the TV revenue, not match-going fans, so we have been marginalised.”
Despite the thoughtlessness towards supporters, all TV broadcasters currently connected to the game continue to use fans as a marketing tool to promote matches, ironically on TV. Despite the general consensus being that football became harder to watch on TV during the pandemic without the supporters there, it seems their importance within the game has quickly been forgotten, and Graham believes something needs to change with talks of an independent regulator continuing as fans search for a voice of authority within the sport.
“it’s deeply frustrating, but ultimately we are part of the product,” Mr Hyde continued. “Sky market the atmosphere of fans and that fans are at the heart of football. The fact is they are much more bothered about their armchair supporters paying subscriptions. It’s galling to once again be an afterthought to the financial revenue streams that we help provide.
“The hope would be that an independent regulator would be able to challenge, fine or sanction the Premier League and Sky when these deadlines are missed. At the moment they basically just go ‘oh well tough, we don’t care, we own football’. Any notion that football is for the fans is effectively for the birds. One would hope that the implementation of a regulator with some teeth would mean that legacy, community support is given a voice. Because actually, we are the people that have sustained these football clubs, that are connected to the communities, that provide revenue into the local community, not just the football club.”