Christmas congestion caused by World Cup break

The Premier League have claimed the Christmas fixture pile-up is partly due to the four-week build-up desired by Sven-Goran Eriksson for his England players ahead of the World Cup finals.

The Premier League have claimed the Christmas fixture pile-up is partly due to the four-week build-up desired by Sven-Goran Eriksson for his England players ahead of the World Cup finals.

Criticism came flooding in last night after Charlton fans made a 600-mile round trip to Newcastle only to have their match called off 30 minutes before kick-off.

Sunderland’s trip to Blackburn and Middlesbrough’s match at Bolton were also among 17 games in England and Wales that fell victim to the freezing temperatures.

In the Football League, some of the wasted journeys for fans involved Preston at Plymouth in the Coca-Cola Championship and Torquay at Stockport in League Two.

There were some local factors involved, such as claims of not enough gritting vehicles around St James’ Park and the under-soil heating system not proving adequate at Bolton and Blackburn – let alone the weather itself.

But while some fans have called for compensation for wasted journeys and a fixture schedule with more derbies over holiday periods, the spotlight has intensified on the fixture logjam over Christmas.

Managers, including Newcastle’s Graeme Souness and Charlton’s Alan Curbishley, had already complained about their teams having to play four matches in eight days.

Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson insisted: “It is particularly difficult this Christmas because we have to squeeze in an extra game.

“After negotiations with the Football Association, we agreed a four-week break at the end of the season for England’s World Cup preparations.”

Asked about the lack of a winter break, which would – in any case – be held in January, he added: “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.

“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.

“You also 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.”

The FA insisted the four-week build-up ahead of the World Cup finals was not only desired by Eriksson to give England a better chance of success but also initiated by FIFA.

An FA spokesman said: “The four-week break before the World Cup was laid down by FIFA to enable players competing in the tournament to get proper rest and recuperation.

“In order to give the England team the best possible preparation time and chance of success in Germany, it was agreed the FA Cup final would take place on May 13, with the Premier League season finishing the weekend before.

“This was to allow Sven a level playing field with the other nations competing at the World Cup.”

Although the FA, who could have held the FA Cup final on May 20, also moved the sixth round to a midweek date, there has still been a pile-up of matches over Christmas.

And to compound last night’s weather problems, many fans were making long journeys, leading to supporters’ groups calling for more local derbies in holiday periods.

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

Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd, whose club were criticised after the late decision to postpone because of the state of the roads around St James’ Park, agreed with Clarke’s view.

Shepherd told BBC Radio Five Live: “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.”

The FA Premier League stressed they had tried to ensure clubs travelled the shortest distances over the Christmas period.

Johnson added: “We do work very hard with clubs, supporters’ groups and the police to ensure the holiday fixtures are as close as possible, but there are not enough derby fixtures to go around.”

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