Each summer football fans anxiously await the announcement of the upcoming season’s fixtures. And each summer, without fail, football fans start panicking and arguing with one another when a “leaked” set of fixtures is mysteriously published a few days in advance.
True to form, this summer’s “leaked” fixtures made something of a splash on Monday, with newspapers and media organizations around the world quick to jump on a set of suspiciously grainy screenshots leaked on social media.
The first purportedly showed the first eight rounds of matches from the 2022-23 Premier League season, from August 6 to September 24, with the third displaying the eight fixtures after the Qatar World Cup, spanning from December 26 to February 11.
But at least one of the “leaked” screenshots had actually been doing the rounds as early as June 7, when a Twitter user shared it to their 565 followers. The tweet only received two likes — as well as the responses “someone’s got too much time on their hands” and “this is fake” — but that didn’t stop it from making the news a week later, exposing the invented schedule to millions of people.
They made for exciting reading, at least, with Liverpool starting the season at Eddie Howe’s new look Newcastle United and Manchester City scheduled to host Chelsea on the third weekend of the campaign.
And they immediately caused a number of arguments online over which club had been the most harshly treated by the Premier League.
But there were also a few problems.
For one, no midweek fixtures were included on either list. Which was something of an oddity, considering the Premier League has played midweek matches ever since its inaugural 1992-93 season, and this year’s campaign is set to be the busiest on record because of the interruption caused by the first ever winter World Cup.
The list also ignores the first international break of the season, which is scheduled to take place in the final two weeks of September, with England due to take on Italy and Germany to conclude their underwhelming UEFA Nations League campaign.
Which would make it difficult for, say, Manchester City (five players in Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad) to host Crystal Palace (one) on September 24, just one day after England travel to play Italy in Milan.
And then there was the not insignificant problem of the May 13 fixtures being replicated a week later on May 20. Nobody needs that much Wolves vs Southampton action in their lives.
But, regardless of the numerous red flags the supposedly leaked documents raise, The Athletic understands such a leak is all but impossible in the first place.
It’s true that the process of drawing up a fixture list begins weeks in advance, due to the labyrinthine complexities that have to be taken into consideration. But it takes time for an entire list to be generated.
As Philip Buckingham explained in this recent article, fixture release day is the culmination of eight months of planning.
It is a random, automated process at its core, but with a bundle of caveats that make it a far more complex operation. There is sequencing, there are algorithms and pairing grids, and the date requests of individual clubs to consider, before all is revealed.
Questionnaires are sent to every club in early spring, who are asked for views and observations on the schedule placed in front of them. The authorities are also heavily involved, with the 12 weeks leading up to fixture release day seeing a host of bodies included in the Fixtures Working Party, such as the Football Supporters’ Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Transport Police.
But the list itself is a closely-guarded secret and The Athletic understands even a majority of Premier League employees are not made aware of the entire set of fixtures until the hours immediately before they are announced to the world.
A provisional list is also generated which is then worked on by various stakeholders, usually in early June, to ensure that essential rearrangements can be taken into consideration.
A completed set of fixtures being leaked as early as two weeks ahead of the official announcement is therefore next to impossible — and certainly not something supporters should spend time worrying about every summer.
For more on how the Premier League and EFL compile their fixture lists — and how they have responded to criticism of their process from upset fans and irate managers — click here.
(Photo: Getty Images)