The inability to confirm the time and date of the Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United Premier League fixture in late December is both unacceptable to fans and symptomatic of a deeper problem in the relationship between football and television.
A commitment was made to fans to confirm all fixture changes for TV a minimum of six weeks ahead. It’s now just over four weeks until the original fixture date of 30 December. Fans are unable to make travel plans at a complex and expensive time of year, and there is the added complication of the game currently being scheduled – but not confirmed – for New Year’s Eve.
We welcome the statement from THFC and the Premier League apologising for the delay and acknowledging the problems this causes for fans. And we know that both Clubs wanted this situation to be resolved weeks ago. But the fact remains that the game is still not confirmed.
As is too often the case, it has proved difficult to establish the facts. This is especially frustrating as fan representatives have been in regular discussion with the Premier League and the TV companies for the last year in order to resolve the issues around fixture scheduling. That constructive relationship enabled us to avoid a situation where fans had to travel to and from games late on Christmas Eve, a time when the entire UK transport network is shutting down. And there has been some initial progress on mitigating the effects of fixture changes on supporters.
But the conversation over this proposed New Year’s Eve game has proved less productive. The statement from THFC and the Premier League made reference to the “many elements” that need to be put in place to enable fans to “enjoy the game safely”. That would seem to indicate that staging a London derby on New Year’s Eve provides serious challenges for those who must decide whether the event can go ahead safely. And this raises serious questions.
If safety is the issue, the last word should rest with the authorities responsible for safety. If they are expressing doubts, and we must assume in this case they are, then those considerations must come before the commercial interests of private organisations.
We accept that the broadcasters have paid a large sum of money to the Premier League to cover football, and so that will mean the broadcasters want to maximise audience opportunity. We believe we have shown we recognise that in our contributions to discussion throughout this year.
Sky’s decision to publish the date of the game as 31 December, but with a proviso that it was not confirmed, in our opinion goes against the spirit of the agreement to confirm fixture changes at least six weeks ahead. And it put both Clubs and their fans in a difficult position.
If Sky is insisting the game goes ahead at a time when safety authorities have expressed doubts, we must express serious concern as representatives of the fans potentially put at risk. And ask if it is time to reassess the relationship between football and TV.
For now, we are calling for the immediate resolution of this issue. The date must be confirmed without further delay. After that, we call for the immediate resumption of genuine consultation between all parties concerned to avoid issues such as this arising in future.
Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust
West Ham United Independent Supporters Association