As we now enter the latter half of march, we say goodbye to midweek fixtures and hello to the seemingly unusual idea of Saturday/Saturday fixtures. I’m sure, amongst players and fans alike, the midweek fixture divides opinion. For me personally, there’s nothing better than playing under lights and having games coming thick and fast. It really can be a long tedious week of training and anticipation in build up to Saturday/Saturday fixtures, so a congested fixture schedule usually reduces the work spent on the training pitch and allows us players to get into a flow.
There’s no truer test to a clubs squad, management and physio team than the crammed dilemma a Saturday/Tuesday/Saturday schedule brings. Injuries need to be managed, players need to be rotated and decisions need to be made to keep the squad fresh and competitive. The Saturday/Tuesday timetable allows a bad result to be quickly erased, a good performance to be built upon or, indeed, can also lead to a bad performance being further exposed. This season, we have had, in all competitions, 23 midweek games resulting in 10 wins, 6 draws and 7 defeats. We have witnessed the crazy month of January which takes the prize of being the most hectic month of my career containing a grand total of 9 games which works out as a game every three days.
Midweek games have undoubtedly provided some of the most memorable moments this season, made all the more special in my view by the glare of the floodlights and shadow of the moon. Maybe that’s being a bit too romantic and I can’t quite explain it, but there’s just something quite unique, almost nostalgic, about tuesday night matches. The highlights of my “midweek season” are witnessing the fantastic Pompey crowd at Fratton Park, the victory over Brentford live on sky which kick started our season, Coxy’s goal up at Walsall and outplaying Sheffield Utd at Bramall Lane and hearing them booed off by their own fans. Unfortunately, highlights walk hand in hand with lowlights and the obvious ones being both legs of the JPT area final against Southend where we let a possible Wembley appearance slip through our fingers and our extra time last gasp defeat against Hull which provided more sting than a ball to the hamstring on a cold January Tuesday night.
Early on in the season, a quick succession of games allows us players to get our eye in so to speak, get up to match sharpness and get our fix of competitive football which we’ve been starved of throughout the summer. Admittedly, that’s all fine and well if you’re playing, but if you’re one of the ones out in the cold for the first few weeks after grinding through a rigorous pre season, then the Saturday/Tuesday fixture list can be a chief tormentor of mood and frustration. The Saturday/Tuesday brings with it a training schedule that pretty much takes care of itself: Saturday-Game, Sunday-Rest and recovery, Monday-Light session/match debriefing and preparation, Tuesday-Game, Wednesday-Recovery day or Golf day depending who you talk to, Thursday-Game debriefing and a near on full session tailored to sat, Friday-Game preparation, and then the cycle starts all over again. This will largely remain unchanged throughout, with a rotation of yoga and swimming pool activities included in the contents of the light session/recovery and maybe a short sided game or three throughout the week depending on league form and manager preference.
Without question in my mind, there’s nothing better than Saturday/Tuesday congestion. Obviously, it’s taxing on the body and gives little recovery time but I’d much rather play three games a week than train and I’m sure many players would agree. Playing in a confident team, like we thankfully are just now, you want the games to come thick and fast. The end to Sat/Tues has perhaps come at the wrong time for us in regards to the form table, but perhaps the right time of the season as I think the fixture schedule was beginning to catch up with us physically, but I suppose the great thing about winning is you simply don’t notice the aches and pains. Winning is, without question, a footballer’s best anti-inflammatory, caffeine and Viagra pill all wrapped up in one. Maybe that’s being a bit too graphic but I’m sure you get what I mean, although it’s probably a picture you don’t want.
Contrary to this, when the boot is on the other foot and you’re on a losing streak, the Sat/Tues fixture list provides very little respite. The congestion of fixtures can provide a sense of fear for players low on confidence and can result in chairmen and club owners around the country getting a very twitchy trigger finger. Losing games in a Sat/Tues sequence is a disease that, if left untreated, will ultimately lead to a terminal outcome for the manager or, more tragically, the team and club. Like ourselves last season, winning games after January was harder than finding a solution to the Olympic Stadium dilemma.
A football pitch provides little shelter from criticism at the best of times, and being short of confidence or form in a Sat/Tues sequence can expose a player to a whole new fear factor. As the saying goes, “winning builds character but losing reveals it”. What I won’t miss about Tuesday games, is Jeff the bus driver taking roundabouts at 70mph, although, to be fair, he does that regardless of what day it is and we’ve never been late to a game so I’ll give him his dues on that. I won’t miss the hours spent on the motorways of England, burning my hand with spilt tea whilst hurdling over Matt Baudry as he sleeps in the aisle. I won’t miss the late nights, getting in after midnight, especially after a defeat when the journey can seem twice as long, (I’m sure the away fans can relate to that one), and I certainly won’t miss the post match ‘farters’ on the bus that the night air seems to target. I could name and shame but I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on who the perpetrators are. So on that bum note, until we meet again next season Sat/Tues, thank you for being kind. Can the last person to leave please switch off the floodlights!!