Friday night lights – the thrills and spills of Premier League scheduling

Last Friday I came away from the London Stadium with a new sense of positivity about West Ham. Their performance only showed marginal improvements in form, and it was a modest 1-1 draw, but something about the Friday night experience had created a buzz.

This wasn’t my first rodeo. In fact it was the fourth time, this year, I’ve seen West Ham entertain Premier League opposition on a Friday evening. In January they were obliterated by Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup. In May The Irons defeated perennial rivals Spurs, and just last month Brighton won 3-0 at The London Stadium. Surprisingly, despite the mixed results I’ve enjoyed each of these experiences. There is something about getting this emotional trauma out of the way before the weekend kicks in that really appeals to me.

Clearly a good result sets you up for the whole weekend, but conversely the pain of a drubbing, and I’ve experienced a few, is anesthetised by knowing you still have a full weekend to get over it. There were many in Stratford last Friday that clearly shared the same outlook. The atmosphere was as good as it’s been since the move to the new stadium, and as ‘Claret and Blue Army’ chants fizzed around the often derided bowl, so did the positivity.

The main issue levelled at the addition of Friday night games to the schedule is the travel required by away fans. Some previous Friday evening fixtures have involved trips from Liverpool to London or Southampton to Manchester. Many fans simply cannot get back as trains don’t run late enough. Leicester’s travelling supporters came in good numbers last Friday and seemed to enjoy the trip.

When Manchester City visited they brought the additional following a cup fixture allows and filled their allocation. They dominated the game from the outset and were 3-0 up at half-time. Many home fans continued to sing despite the thrashing that was being handed out to their heroes. On this occasion there was a silver lining. It was Friday night, they were out in London. When City returned on a Wednesday evening, a few weeks later, to inflict a 4-0 defeat the defiance became more toxic.

Spurs’ visit in May required little effort on the part of away fans, as the clubs are separated by only a couple of miles. Friday nights are made for local derbies like this. The atmosphere in the stadium was tense but electric, despite a poor game. West Ham eventually won a drab affair, but rejoicing fans stayed behind to sing and make a valiant attempt at drinking the new stadium’s concourse bars dry.

Brighton was the other team to visit the London Stadium on a Friday, and they headed back to the South Coast with a 3-0 victory. Like many other West Ham fans I was glad to have a whole weekend to get over this humbling defeat at the hands of The Seagulls. The reaction to one of the worst performances in recent memory was understated compared to the storm that followed the Saturday evening defeat to Liverpool a few weeks later. Perhaps the numbing effect of a Friday night helped ease Irons’ fans pain.

Mid-week games in the top division have been around for a long time, so fans are used to late night travel. At least a Friday night game prevents many of them from having to get up for work the next day. Spurs’ and Brighton’s visits to East London didn’t require supporters to clock up too many hours on the road or the tracks. Friday Night Football will be a great addition to Premier League calendars providing thought goes into the teams involved in the matches and the distances that need to be covered.

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featured image credit David Holt