Why your alarm will go off at 05.00 on Sunday
Sheffield is not, joking aside, the end of the earth. How did it come to pass, that in order to watch a football match there, more than 5,000 Charlton fans will be up at 05.00, or in some cases even earlier? How is it possible that the kick off was timed so early that train travel to the game was impossible? And given that the tickets have been sold at a rate which has astounded the ticket office, does it mean that nobody is bothered, and that the Trust should not worry itself about kick off times or the cost of travel? We welcome your views, but what follows will show you that it will not be easy to win better conditions for fans.
In this case, there were five parties involved in deciding the kick off date and time, namely:
- Sheffield United
- The TV companies
- South Yorkshire Police
- the FA (although their exact role is far from clear)
You will note the missing sixth party in that list : the fans. But I'll come back to that.
We have no reason to believe that either club made a decisive case for this particular day and kick off time, so this leaves the TV companies and the police. All four ties were contracted to be televised, but only at times to suit the TV company schedules. Soon after the Sunday 12.00 decision was announced, a tweet emerged via a fan from the FA. It implied that a Saturday 17.15 slot had been requested but the police had refused it, ‘due to their resources being committed’ at Championship games at Barnsley and Doncaster. So, not for the first time, the police appeared to be the 'villains' of the piece, especially when it was discovered that had the Blades not been playing us, they would have had a tasty Yorkshire derby against nearby Yorkshire rivals Rotherham, which presumably would also have stretched police resources.
So, on behalf of the Trust I called South Yorkshire Police and asked if some kind of a explanation was available. And it has to be said that, after an initial need to be assertive in order to be put through to someone with direct responsibility, I got some answers.
I spoke to an officer called Lynn from the operations centre (I did not presume to ask her full name and rank) was ready to explain everything we wanted to know.
She answered in plain language (in contrast to the sometimes stilted English of police statements) and appeared to be highly sympathetic to the imposition on Charlton fans.
She said that the options had been discussed at Gold Commander level to try and find a solution which gave us more reasonable travel options.
She explained that the police really believed they needed a much bigger presence for our game than for the Blades - Rotherham game. Because of our 5,000+ presence?
No, Charlton fans are not considered to be a problem, rather that there is so much more riding on this game. And, although she chose her words carefully, it was clear to me that SYP were feeling bruised by the unexpected 'issues' of the Blades- Forest game.
They didn’t want to be caught out again. She went on to explain that normally they can call on extra resource from surrounding counties, and tried to do this, but at the late kick off time the other counties had commitments too. It just wasn’t possible to get enough manpower.
However when we came on to the Sunday slot, Lynn made it very clear that the police would have been perfectly happy with a 13.30 kick off time, to allow train travel. But they were told it wasn’t possible. Why? TV. 12.00 was the only time the TV company was prepared to offer.
I felt one of the lessons of that phone call is that if the police would explain their decisions in the way Lynn did, they’d have a lot more support, and a lot less undeserved criticism. Certainly we felt that way, but where is the mechanism for this? Normally, we fans never get to talk to the police about this. In fact, we never get to talk to any of the parties to the decision.
Back to Sunday 12.00. It might now be tempting to regard BT Sport as the villain of the piece. It is fair to say that the TV companies don’t give a hoot about the plight of travelling fans. BT Sport are no better or worse than Sky in this respect. But who can put pressure on them? It is not clear what would have happened if both clubs had refused the 12.00 time. But it is fair to say that in their current situation neither club could afford to turn down the broadcast fees on offer. And indeed, individual clubs who get stroppy fear they could be discriminated against in future. What is clear from the sale of such rights is that tw
If Charlton are to be criticised at all, it would be for not apparently showing more concern for our extreme travel imposition. But on its own, one club cannot take on either the TV companies or the police. On this occasion, SYP have clearly tried hard to take us into account. There have been other cases in my view where the police were just arranging things for their own convenience (e.g Watford at 13.00 on New Years Day), but any club which vexes its local force risks being saddled with future police ‘resources’ which have to be paid for by the club.
So that brings us to the FA. This is the body that has negotiated the TV rights for the FA Cup. When negotiating these rights it could have laid down some guidelines to help protect travelling fans. It has not done this (and neither has the FAPL for league games). Both authorities could have negotiated a fund to be paid by the TV companies to help pay for free or subsidised travel for away fans who face extreme travel demands. This has never been suggested, because the fans are never at the discussion table.
And finally we must look at ourselves. In both Sweden and Norway, fans have taken on the TV companies with spectacular protests, and won. You can see them here (protesting against Monday night matches in Norway, which have been stopped) and here, where deadly rivals in the Stockholm derby joined together to stay silent until after 2.30 minutes, they start the noise, start the flares, and eventually the televised game is brought to a halt. Can you imagine Arsenal and Spurs fans getting together to protest against Sky and the FAPL in this way?
So next Sunday, despite the KO time, 5,400 fans, who snapped up the tickets as fast as the club could sell them, will head up to Bramall Lane. In one sense it is a fantastic statement of loyalty and commitment. But in another sense unless something is done the message to BT Sport, and the FA is, ‘we can get away with this, if the game is big enough, the fans will get there’.
There is no way at present we as fans of one club, nor indeed our club on its own, can influence these issues. What is needed is for fans to organise nationally and demand their role in agreeing kick off times. Both Supporters Direct and the FSF have a remit to address these issues. But they need to show that they have general support from fans. As a Trust, we can support these bodies in their efforts - but we in turn need to know that enough of you think this is important.
(Fans may also be interested in Chris Powell's comments on this issue here).
So what do you think? We’d like to hear your views....