Football fans complain when fixtures don’t kick off at the sacred time of 3pm on a Saturday, but it’s not late enough, nor early enough to build your Saturday around.
The impression of the Saturday 3pm kick-off being golden is total rubbish, as is everything that goes with it. The handwringing, the notion that something about football is lost if a game doesn’t kick off at 3pm on a Saturday, and the idea that it means something deeper and more significant. Saturday 3pm is untouchable, enshrined in law to protect the noble game and the noble time from the ignoble broadcasters.
Personally, I dislike Saturday 3pm. In fact, I almost hate it. Saturday 3pm is the worst time, of the currently available times, to watch live football at a big stadium, with the possible exception of Sunday midday, which is normally horrific.
Step outside the box and think – Saturday 3pm is nothing; it allows you to neither stick nor twist. A laid-back post-match interlude knocks your Saturday night off course. It’s now 7pm, you’re five post-match pints to the good and whatever you were doing that night now seems a long way off. Saturday 12.45pm is incredible. Go hard and heavy from 11am or ease into the ground terrifyingly sober, but that afternoon opens up. So much room, so many choices. For derbies this effect is multiplied further.
Saturday 5.30pm: wowzer. Pub. Match. Pub. Club. I doff my cap to the 5:30pm. I quietly reckon 6:30pm might be better again, give you more afternoon to play with, but whatever.
Sunday 1pm: the extra hour makes a world of difference, an afternoon you can do something with one way or another, a slight morning rush and not a stampede to get out the house followed by a traffic jam.
A Sunday at 4pm: a man can build a weekend towards that. It’s not perfect but it’s do-able.
It’s tougher for away games but almost any kick off-time is tougher for aways. My choice is a Saturday 12.45pm for an away trip. Makes getting up and getting out very quick, followed by an adventure in the car (coach), and it means you are home in time for a Saturday night. Better than a Saturday 3pm, when you aren’t likely to make it back before dinner.
But, hey, it’s personal preference. I could be wrong. It’s not so much the idea that Saturday 3pm is woeful – although it is – but that it should be untouchable. That a kick-off time is worth going to war over debating. Ticket prices, access questions, safe standing, policing? Forget them. We’re kicking off at 5.30pm and everyone gets to have more fun, but what about the tradition? What tradition are we going to erode next!?
I have a theory about Saturday 3pm: it’s the issue that is easiest to get behind for the press. Saturday 3pm has historically been convenient for them. Imagine football is your job for a second (I wish). Imagine filing times and getting there and getting home. Imagine someone now says: “Get there for 9am.” Or: “You’ll be home after 9pm.” Imagine that in your work. No wonder those bung-placing rebels stoke it all up. Saturday 3pm exists because of the way working patterns used to be and football – as an entertainment, something for people who work to attend to take their mind off things – scheduled itself accordingly. Three o’clock on a Saturday was perfect.
All the hardcore, get to their seat, grab a pie and a bovril, have a sing and a dance, watch the game and then off you go, have a night on the ale. Enjoy. Be entertained. Great. But working patterns don’t happen like that any more. Instead Britons in their hundred of thousands go out after work on a Friday night. Let’s stick a few games on for them, then.
That there are things wrong with football in modern times doesn’t mean everything in modern football is wrong. Yet things just get lashed in. It becomes this catch-all basket of grievances, though I will acknowledge scheduling showpiece fixtures at a time when you can’t get trains – as per the Wembley’s nonsense for the English readers – is ridiculous and gives an easy stick to beat with. But week in, week out inconsistent kick-off times mean I can watch more football. I like that there are a ton of games to watch. I often don’t choose to watch them, but it’s good to know that they are there should I need them. We now have access to all of Europe’s top divisions and European competition which we didn’t in recent history.
Personally, I’d go further though. Want to protect football? Do you really want to do that? Long for the old days? Then let’s say the Premier League doesn’t get a look in from 2pm until 6pm on Saturdays. Leave that to the lower leagues. No games whatsoever. Instead let’s have a Friday 8pm, a Saturday 12pm, a Saturday 6pm, a Saturday 8pm and then flog the Sundays and have the Monday night. Seriously, why not?
Let’s all go and watch Edinburgh City or AFC Wimbledon or Havant & Waterlooville and then go and watch our side either on the telly or in the ground. Or watch two of our rivals and be together, have a drink, a chat. Make a day of it. Just make a day of it. That is what football should be about.
As an Arsenal fan I know too well that the biggest issue football has from the point of view of those going through turnstiles is the price of being in the ground. Pricing people out is by far the biggest problem the game faces. TV and shifted kick-off times can save us. These companies are paying far more money than we collectively manage. Let’s embrace them and win the next argument rather than chunnering on about how things aren’t what they used to be. We don’t get many Saturday 3pm kick-offs anymore. Good. Because we don’t get tickets for £20 either and I know which one I want sorting first.