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Fixture Frustration Not New at Leeds United

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It's an old story, but with a new twist, as the League and Sky TV use Leeds United for their own benefit at the expense of the players and fans.

Cellino fights for his bottom line (and the fans?) on fixture changes.
Cellino fights for his bottom line (and the fans?) on fixture changes.
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

As the 1971/72 season worked towards its climax, Leeds United had to play three crucial games in one week: Chelsea away in the league, the final of the FA Cup, and their final league game away to Wolves less than two days after that FA Cup final.

At that time, Don Revie made an official request to the Football League for fixture changes due to the congestion and high importance of the games. The Football League, however, were unable to change the fixtures. Leeds only had to draw against Wolves to win the League title, but they were beaten. The league went to Derby County by the slenderest of margins: 1 point.

Leeds finished the season as FA Cup winners but could have finished as worthy champions and could have achieved a rare double if the League were as fluid with their calendar then as they are now.

Last week, we saw the opposite. This time a needless fixture change against Wolves saw league football moved to Thursday night, for the benefit only of Sky TV viewers. This meant that Leeds United’s game versus Preston North End would also have to be moved from the Saturday to Sunday.

Leeds came away from Molineux as victors on this occasion but according to Leeds United Head Coach Steve Evans the team didn’t arrive back in Leeds until 3am the next day. Evans was quick to point out that this affected his teams overall performance in their laboured victory over ten man Preston.

So far this season Leeds United have featured in 8 televised league and cup games with 4 more already arranged to be shown between Christmas and February. This is more than any other football league team and prompted the President of Leeds United Massimo Cellino to take action. First, he attempted to get other clubs organised into lobbying the Football League for changes, but he couldn’t muster enough support. His next step was to cap the sale of tickets to away games to the contractual limit of 2000. Cellino's reasons were many:

- As games are televised, less fans will attend games in person leading to loss of revenue from tickets, merchandise and catering.

- The financial compensation from Sky TV is less than the revenue lost.

- Leeds United fans travel in high numbers and their attendance at away games brings in more revenue to clubs than followers of other clubs.

- Leeds fans are subject to higher ticket prices due to the classification of games involving Leeds United.

- The constant changing of dates affects the team and the match preparation.

- The fans are being unfairly treated as some often have already purchased match tickets, accommodation and travel.

- Other teams are losing out on Sky TV money and coverage because of the unequal distribution of TV games.

Whites fans quickly turned on Cellino, however, as they thought the capping of ticket sales to away games was the wrong action. Leeds fans are proud of their away support and didn’t want it restricted, some fans had bought memberships purely so that they could purchase away tickets, and there was also the notion that the dedicated fan would even purchase tickets in the home sections of away fixtures which could lead to trouble.

Cellino overturned his earlier decision after consultation with fans groups, but the issue still remains. The Brighton fixture has recently been changed for TV from a Saturday to a Monday Night. The 527 mile round trip on a Monday night has brought angry responses on social media and some fans believe the change has been made out of spite by Sky TV in reply to Cellinos attempts to stop the fixture changes. Again, hotel rooms and train tickets had already been purchased by many fans.

At the moment, no compensation is offered to fans who lose out on travel and accommodation cost; the club will only refund match ticket costs.

Leeds fans are everywhere from Leeds to Sydney to North Carolina, and the flip side is that having Leeds United on TV means fans not able to get to the games physically can see more of their beloved team (on TV). It is always going to be hard to please everybody. Thursday night the fans in the United States were hard at work whilst those in Ireland were able to watch the game in the pub.

West of Ireland Leeds United Supporters take advantage of the Televised Wolves match in a Galway Pub.

(West of Ireland Leeds United Supporters take advantage of the televised Leeds-Wolverhampton match in a Galway Pub, photo from Facebook)

Currently on the Football League website, there only appears a guideline on advanced warnings for matches that may be subject to fixture changes. Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) are calling for a minimum of 3 months advance warning with a limit to the number of games shown of individual teams.

Each year, the teams that wish to play in the Football League have to sign a contract that allows for fixture changes for TV coverage. Leeds United have of course signed this and do receive compensation from the League/Sky. However, if Massimo Cellino is still president next year will the contract be signed without amendment?

What are your thoughts? Love the TV-friendly changes or loath them? Should there be a limit to the amount of games shown of individual teams or do you prefer it that Leeds are on as much as they are? Do you agree with a minimum of 3 months advance warning of fixture changes and no travel compensation? Let us know your thoughts below (it's free and easy to sign up).