Monday 17 June 2013

Perfect match: How the fixture list is compiled

Before release of 2013/14 Barclays Premier League fixtures, we look at science behind the list

The Liverpool v Everton derby is always a key date in the calendar

The release of the Barclays Premier League fixture list is always an eagerly anticipated part of the footballing calendar as fans discover who and when their team will be playing in the campaign to come.

The schedule for the 2013/14 season is released this Wednesday, 19 June, at 9am and you will be able to discover all the fixtures on premierleague.com.

Producing the full fixture list is not just a random draw. It is the result of a meticulous and painstaking process that involves the scheduling of 2,036 matches across the top four divisions.

We spoke to fixture list compiler Glenn Thompson of Atos, an international IT services company, to find out how it all works.

When does the work start?
For me it begins at the start of the year, that’s when I get the playing dates from the Premier League. The whole thing is built up putting in the international matches from FIFA and UEFA, then the European club competitions, then the Football Association adds in the dates for its competitions and what you are left with are the dates when you can play league and Capital One Cup matches.

What is this thing called sequencing?
That's the methodology we use which was created back in 1982, and that is all about breaking the season down into a number of constituent parts, which are called sets. We break it down into five sets, which are reversed in the second half of the season.

Are there any rules you have to adhere to?
There are the "golden rules" of sequencing. In any five matches there should be a split of three home fixtures, two away or the other way around. A team will never have more than two home or away matches in a row and wherever possible you will be home and away around FA Cup ties. A club will never start or finish the season with two home or two away matches because it would be unfair for a team to finish with two aways, especially if they are looking for points. Around the Christmas period, if you are at home on Boxing Day you will be away on New Year’s Day or the equivalent date and we will also try to maintain a Saturday home-away sequence throughout the season wherever possible.

Do clubs from the same area play at home on the same day?
Most clubs will have a partner club that they cannot clash with. There are the obvious ones - Manchester United and Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton - and then when you get into London it gets a little bit more complex and less obvious. For example, you have got the likes of Dagenham & Redbridge and Leyton Orient, who wish to be away when West Ham United are scheduled a home match.

What happens next?
Around about March, the Premier League sends to each of its member clubs a form asking them to fill in three things: Are there any dates they wish not to be at home? That is answered in conjunction with local police. They will also be asked which club they want to pair with and whether there are any teams they do not wish to play at home on Boxing Day.

Can you satisfy all of the requests?
From looking at the sequence we know how many of these dates we can actually meet. When we can't, the Premier League will ask the club which of the requests are most important. We cannot accommodate everything but, on average, we satisfy higher than 85% every year.

How do the fixtures get processed?
We cannot do anything until we know the composition of each division, which is obviously after the last Football League play-off. Then we can start looking at the main bit of compiling the fixtures. It is a matter of placing each of the clubs in a pairing grid which basically defines which dates they will be at home. For every date in the season, the fixture computer knows who is at home and who is away and then it will mix them up randomly to determine which matches will take place on which date.

What happens if there are any problems?
If we have got any issues then we might have to go back and start again to produce a different set of fixtures. I'm reviewing the fixtures all the time to ensure that other things can be met. Last season, for example, there was a requirement from the Metropolitan Police not to play high-profile matches until after 8 September because of the Olympics and Paralympics.

How is the fixture list checked?
The Premier League, the Football League and Atos representatives will sit down and review the fixtures for two days, looking at every date in the season to make sure that wherever possible we have met everything we have been asked to. At that stage the computer is very useful because if we do not want a certain fixture on a particular date, it will give us alternate dates for that fixture to be moved to. It can be that changing one match may require 40 other changes.

We also have a working party meeting with representatives from all of the leagues, the FA and also the Football Supporters' Federation. The fixtures are then looked at by the Association of Chief Police Officers and British Transport Police representatives.

Do you consider travel issues?
Yes. We look at whether we have got clubs from the same area travelling on the same trainlines across the Football League and the Premier League on the same day. We want to avoid having various "pinch points" on the rail and road network. We also tell the computer to try to minimise travel on Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

How are the fixtures released?
After the fixtures have been finalised, it's just a matter of printing them out and sending them to the leagues. The fixtures are then released to the relevant press distributers the night before so they can distribute them on the morning of release

Is it the impossible job?
You can't satisfy everyone. It's a compromise across all clubs, you can't do anything to favour any one club. There are 2,036 matches, across the Premier League and Football League over a nine-month period, and the idea is to ensure that those matches can all be played at 3pm on a Saturday.

To find out the full fixture list for the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season, visit www.premierleague.com from 0900 BST on Wednesday 19 June.

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Key Points

  • Ahead of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League fixture list being released on 19 June, we look at how the fixtures are generated
  • We speak with Glenn Thompson of Atos, the man who compiles the fixture list
  • The fixtures for the new Barclays Premier League season will be unveiled at 0900 BST on 19 June