'Utter nightmare' - Why do Brighton play Brentford at 8pm on Boxing Day and who benefits?

The European Super League. Remember it? That so-called elite competition featuring Europe’s biggest clubs that was founded in April 2021.

Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber could face staffing issues this Boxing Day
Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber could face staffing issues this Boxing Day

A closed shop with no relegation worth £350 billion to the founding participants which would have broken apart English football.

Within 72 hours, the concept had been killed because of the backlash from fans. Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and – most laughable of all given that they could not even finish in the top six of the Premier League last season – Spurs and Arsenal pulled out of the ESL with their tails very much between their legs.

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It was supporter power that won the day, even if one media company will try and claim a leading role in it. We are of course talking about Sky Sports, who expressed outrage over the concept of the ESL because of what it would mean for fans.

This of course is the same Sky Sports who decided to take advantage of the fact that supporters could not watch their teams live during the pandemic by attempting to charge £15 on a PPV basis for games not selected for general broadcast.

Supporter power again won the PPV argument. Nobody paid, instead donating to foodbanks the money which Sky and Premier League clubs – Leicester City were the only one to vote against the concept – thought would be gladly handed over to line their already bulging pockets.

PPV lasted slightly longer than the ESL, being in place for a month before it was quietly ditched because of the boycott. Sky must think football fans are completely thick to believe we could be duped into thinking they were on the side of fans during the ESL debacle six months after PPV.

The very clear and obvious reason Sky were against the ESL was because it threatened them. A Premier League without the big six is a less sellable product. Sky would also be in danger of not having the broadcast rights for the new competition, costing them further money.

Profit, cash and the bottom line were the reason that Sky were against the ESL. They tried to dress it up as concern for supporters by wrapping their greed in Jock Stein’s famous quote of: “Football without fans is nothing.”

Brighton supporters were given another reminder of how little Sky and the Premier League care for fans when the latest round of live television fixtures for December were announced. Most notably, that the Albion will host Brentford at 8pm on Boxing Day.

For the sake of supporters, no game of football should be kick off that late over the Christmas period. Let alone a game at a stadium like the Amex which relies on 90 percent of attendees getting there and back via public transport. On a day when there is no public transport.

The match will not finish until just before 10pm. Brentford fans – who will have no choice but to travel by coach – will not get home until midnight. Brighton supporters who live in the city might be able to get to the Amex and back, but those from the outer reaches of Sussex and beyond would find it easier to go into space with Jeff Bezos than get to Brighton v Brentford at 8pm on Boxing Day.

There have been vast swathes of empty seats at the Amex in every game so far this season for much friendlier kick off times. Many season ticket holders resent the club’s new sharing scheme which costs money to join. They would rather let their seat go unoccupied if they cannot attend than pay £20 to join and find a friend or relative willing to pay £25 to become a MyAlbion+ member to take the ticket.

With such a travel nightmare in store for Boxing Day, there is every chance that the Amex could see its lowest ever league attendance – even if it ends up being announced as a crowd in excess of 30,000 because of the club’s policy of basing the figures on tickets sold rather than bodies through the turnstiles.

Less fans in the stadium means less money spent on beer, pies, and £3.20 bags of Starburst. The club will presumably need to find extra cash to put on more buses, acquire extra park and ride sites and convince Southern Rail to up their skeleton or non-existent train service.

Then there are the staffing problems at the Amex itself. Paul Barber has already written to fans to apologise for the poor service at the stadium because of shortages.

Good luck finding the necessary stewards and catering staff willing to work between 5pm and 11pm on Boxing Day – especially at a time when the hospitality industry is struggling to fill vacancies and students from both universities who normally fill the roles will be home for Christmas.

Brighton v Brentford looks like it is going to be an utter nightmare for all parties, bar Sky of course.

The broadcaster has rightly taken a panning but the Premier League and its clubs are not entirely blameless.

They agree these television contracts without putting in clauses that would protect supporters from making stupid journeys on stupid days with stupid kick off times. Yes, restricting the times when Sky can show certain teams based on mileage or the availability of public transport might reduce the value of the Premier League’s broadcasting rights.

It would also make a real difference to supporters who otherwise face the prospect of an 8pm kick off on Boxing Day or trying to get from Brighton to Manchester for a midday kick off on a Saturday a week before Christmas.

If the Premier League and its clubs wanted to do something to help fans avoid this nonsense, then they could. Sadly, we all know what Sky, the Premier League and the 20 clubs prize above all else – money.