Loss of Easter cliffhangers damages sacred tradition

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There will be no escaping the DIY this weekend. Fans of the international game may try to spend the day in the pub; most of those following clubs in Leagues One and Two can attend a match in person; but the motorways of England, usually ablaze with trailing scarves, have been left to the long-weekenders. The Easter programme, that traditional nail-biting watershed of the English season, has been shunted aside by the international calendar.

There will be no escaping the DIY this weekend. Fans of the international game may try to spend the day in the pub; most of those following clubs in Leagues One and Two can attend a match in person; but the motorways of England, usually ablaze with trailing scarves, have been left to the long-weekenders. The Easter programme, that traditional nail-biting watershed of the English season, has been shunted aside by the international calendar.

Many significant matches have happened at Easter. Last season Thierry Henry scored a Good Friday hat-trick as Arsenal, stumbling in the Premiership, rallied against Liverpool to secure a victory which put them back on course for the title. A year earlier Paul Scholes hit an Easter Saturday treble as Manchester United put six past Newcastle, returning them to the summit, a position they maintained.

Every club has an Easter memory. At Crystal Palace they still talk of referee Kelvin Morton awarding five penalties during a match with Brighton on Easter Monday 1989. Palace, who celebrate their centenary this year, have only once previously sat out the holiday, in 1943, when the wartime programme was truncated.

This year, silence. The reason is the double-headed programme of World Cup qualifying matches. Games under the auspices of Fifa, the world governing body, take precedence over all others.

There are stirrings of discontent. The French authorities have noted the steep rise in the number of days taken up by Fifa and Uefa, Europe's governing body. Comparing the seasons culminating in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, the French say the number of reserved dates has jumped from 88 to 144 (not including the Intertoto Cup).

The domestic programme in England has also shrunk. The Premier League has dropped to 20 clubs and cup competitions now hold penalty shoot-outs at the end of first replays. The FA Cup sixth round next season has been shifted to midweek.

While the Fifa-led co-ordination of the calendar has brought order to what had been chaos, has the outcome been in the interests of fans? The attractions of international football are clear, but many believe the club game has suffered.

Malcolm Clarke, the chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, will be among those at a loose end this weekend as he awaits Stoke City's next fixture. "If you look at the message boards of clubs like Stoke City you'll see that a lot of people are suffering withdrawal symptoms," Clarke said.

"The Easter weekend has traditionally been a very exciting and crucial one and I think a lot of football fans feel a great void this weekend as they contemplate enforced trips to B&Q or the garden centre when they would really rather be at a match. Losing the Easter weekend is just the latest attack on the game's traditions."

Comments