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So how DO you make a fixture list?

Byline: DOMINIC SHAW dominic.shaw@trinitymirror.com @DOMSHAWGAZETTE

BORO'S Championship fixture list, released this morning, has been seven months in the making!

So with 46 games for each team to play across the three divisions in the football league, how do the EFL go about compiling the fixture list? Who is involved in the process? Both the Premier League and EFL work closely with international IT services company Atos, who are tasked with the generating the fixture list for the top flight, Championship and Leagues One and Two.

They use what is described as "advanced programming technology" combined with human expertise to ensure a date is set for the 2,036 upcoming league games in England in the 10 months of the season.

No wonder the company's "technical architect" Glenn Thompson, who is the man responsible for scheduling the games, was recently named in the top 50 most powerful people in football by the Daily Telegraph.

And when does it start? Believe it or not, the work on the schedule for the fixture list in any given season starts nine months before the big kick-off.

"In essence, the process starts in November when we have a meeting with the Fixtures Working Party to agree a draft schedule for the forthcoming season," says Paul Snellgrove, the EFL's competitions manager, as he explained the process on the organisation's website.

"This is then followed by another meeting in March where processes and policies relating to fixture production are agreed with the clubs, the FA and the Football Supporters Federation.

"Then, following the play-off finals, the button is pressed and 10 days later we are presented with a draft fixture list which we then sit down, review and refine before meeting with the chief police officers to discuss safety."

By the time the meeting takes place in March, all clubs have been sent a questionnaire which is their chance to make any specific requests, so if they'd like a home or away fixture on a certain date.

In the Premier League, for example, Brighton this year requested an away game on September 30 to avoid a clash with a nearby music festival. Birmingham were previously said to have requested a home game to celebrate Trevor Francis's birthday - but the league could not oblige.

Police requests are taken into account as well, with forces obviously keen to ensure they're not short of numbers on days in which race meetings or music festivals are scheduled to take place on the same day as a game.

What else has to be taken into account? The EFL previously revealed that they can have up to 80 date requests to consider as they try to collate the fixture list for every club.

Every club is paired with a close neighbour to ensure, for example, that Manchester City and Manchester United don't play at home on the same day. So requests don't only impact on the club in question but their fixture partner.

"It's a case of knitting together a web," Snellgrove previously explained.

Another consideration is the effort made to maximise clubs' revenue. The EFL and the Premier League say they try to ensure that local derbies and other high-profile fixtures are played on dates when as many fans as possible can attend. And then there are other rules to stick to. Clubs won't play more than two home or away games in a row in any five matches. Nor will they start or end the season with two consecutive home or away matches.

So does the draft fixture list often closely resemble the confirmed schedule? No, that's not necessarily the case.

"Over the last couple of days we've made hundreds of changes," said Snellgrove ahead of today's release.

"When we sit down and review the fixtures, we look at key dates for each club; opening day, opening home game, Christmas, Easter and final day. We look at these and whether or not any of them will cause problems for the clubs or the police.

"We then look at the derbies and when these occur, and midweek travel which is by far the most lengthy process of the lot.

"We try and ensure that most clubs have their local, well-attended games on a Saturday to maximise the game for them. Obviously, this is a balancing act trying to find a happy medium on that score."

So judging by that, expect the games against Sunderland to be scheduled for a Saturday. Until they move when the TV bosses get involved.

"Local derbies are by far and away the most touched on subject on the club fixture questionnaires," added Snellgrove.

"Clubs are very keen to ensure that their local derbies don't pop up on a key date where there may be policing issues and increased charges, if it's a Bank Holiday for example.

"Obviously they don't want their supporters to be unhappy with when the local derby is played, so a lot of it is pre-programmed in around this information. We also have to make sure that local derbies are on a date where they could be played on a Sunday if need be."

Is distance taken into account? Indeed. "Largely it is a random process, however we do have travel issues and long-distance trips to consider with supporters in mind," says Snellgrove.

He explains how that works. "We have a reporting tool that will list each club's away midweek fixtures and home midweek fixtures, and we compare the mileage over those fixtures against the average mileage for the whole division, so the aim is to make sure that a club isn't doing higher than its average overall mileage midweek."

How is it checked? Extensively, says Snellgrove.

"It's checked manually by the League's competitions department. We also have a number of reporting tools and reports that are produced by the IT contractor. Repetition of fixtures is something we look at, certainly over the Christmas period.

"We compare it to the fixture questionnaires and information that is sent in by clubs and any other information that we accumulate from train companies and police forces regarding events that go on up and down the country that may clash with fixtures in that area."

This is said to be only the second season when the Premier League and Football League fixtures are released a week apart. The EFL say they try to work on a "three week turnaround process" from the last play-off final - as well as giving themselves adequate time to check the fixtures.

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Marten de Roon scores against Sunderland last season. Derby clashes are given special consideration
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jun 21, 2017
Words:1097
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