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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 15:39 GMT
League defends festive schedule
Newcastle's game was one of 17 postponed on Wednesday
Newcastle's game was one of 17 postponed on Wednesday
The Premier League has defended its festive programme after complaints from fans and clubs over late call-offs.

But Sports minister Richard Caborn wants the procedures surrounding postponements to be reassessed.

Caborn said: "I will write to the FA and Premier League and ask them at the very least to review the rules.

"They need to consider how far people are travelling, and the likely weather conditions, to stop this unacceptable situation happening again."

He added: "All the weather forecasts on Wednesday said the situation was going to deteriorate, not get better, and yet in Newcastle's case the match was only called off less than half-an-hour before kick-off.

"Clubs of course want to play the matches if at all possible but they should not leave it to the last minute because it is so unfair on the fans.

"It is expensive enough to get into a Premiership football match anyway and if fans have their money wasted on travelling expenses as well then they simply will not be able to afford it."

The game between Newcastle and Charlton was one of 17 postponed on Wednesday as bad weather hit the UK.

Blackburn's match against Sunderland and Bolton versus Middlesbrough were the other Premiership matches games called off at short notice, the latter because the undersoil heating at The Reebok Stadium failed.

And the late call-offs have also sparked anger about impractical scheduling over the festive period, which forces some fans to travel long distances at difficult times.

But the Premier League says it is practically impossible to avoid scheduling matches that involve long-distance travel by football fans.

Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson told BBC Radio Five Live: "We try to ensure holiday games are as close as possible.

"But there are not enough derby fixtures to go around.

"It is particularly difficult this Christmas because we are having to squeeze in an extra game because, after negotiations with the Football Association, we agreed a four-week break at the end of the season for England's World Cup preparations."

Johnson also stressed that a winter break - as happens in most of Europe's major leagues - would not necessarily solve the problem.

"If someone shows how it is logistically possible to fit in a break in the middle of the season then we will certainly look at that," he said.

"But when you are talking about giving England four weeks at the end of the season and we have a full fixture calendar to fit in it becomes increasingly difficult.

"Also, you don't know when the bad weather is going to fall. You could have a very mild Christmas when it is possible to play the games and then have a winter frost in January.

"All clubs have to have undersoil heating but you are still in the hands of the elements to some extent.

"We do advise clubs and officials to try to give as much notice as possible but if the weather deteriorates quickly then the safety of fans and players is paramount."

Charlton chief executive Peter Varney believes the festive schedule has been too demanding for players and fans.

He said: "We all want to help England but playing four games in eight days over the Christmas period is a really tough timetable.

"What should have happened is that we should have set those matches first.

"The north-west clubs, the north-east, the midlands, the London and the south clubs, they should have all played one another over the four days, then the rest of the fixture list should have been sorted out, because there was always the likelihood of some problem.

"I can't believe that is not possible. It would also help the supporters a lot, and we sometimes lose sight that they are the life-blood of the game."

Charlton supporters made a 600-mile round trip for the game and Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd claimed the way the fixtures have been arranged took no account of the problems for supporters.

Shepherd, whose club are away to Tottenham on New Year's Eve, said: "The FA must look at this. Forget the players - it's just not fair on the fans.

"Why are we playing in London on New Year's Eve when we could be playing Sunderland or Middlesbrough?"

"It's ridiculous, we should be playing a local team or even one in Manchester."

Fans' chief Malcolm Clarke also feels more should be done to help supporters.

Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, said: "We would like fixture computer programmed in a way that, for night games, supporters didn't have to travel these long distances.

"What the football authorities have not programmed in is the distance the away support have to travel and that is what we would like to see.

"Often the travelling supporter - the game's best customer - is the most abused. What we can do is stop away supporters having to travel huge distances for night games."

Interview: Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson

Interview: Sports minister Richard Caborn

Interview: FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke

Interview: Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd

Clubs angry at late postponement
29 Dec 05 |  Premiership


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