Has some kind of punishment been issued against Manchester City and Newcastle United? This weekend was supposed to be a battle of the treble winners against a revitalised side who, like City a decade ago, are threatening to gate-crash the top-of-the-table party.
The blues have already accomplished what Newcastle want to do and, rather than be fearful of losing our place, City fans have welcomed with open arms, the Newcastle resurgence that has already seen the Toon reach a League Cup final and qualify for the Champions League.
But, it seems, the powers that be in the FA and Premier League have placed the Geordies in the same category as City – a club outside their favoured cartel of teams that they’ll do nothing for if they can help it.
And nothing says this any more than this weekend’s fixture, where the two bodies have firmly demonstrated that they couldn’t give a flying fig about either club or their supporters.
Let’s face it, of all the fixtures played this weekend, City v Newcastle is the stand-out Premier League match. Two attack-minded teams, two incredible managers and two sets of amazing supporters in one place, is a recipe for what will hopefully be a memorable match in the modern era.
And yet, the FA and Premier League want to destroy it.
First, we look at the fixture itself. City have just come back from Athens after competing in, and winning, the European Super Cup. City requested the match be moved to take into account their European commitments, yet the FA refused, prompting manager Pep Guardiola to take a sarcastic shot at the English game’s rule makers.
“We need to recover as much as possible because from Greece, thanks you so much to the Premier League for letting us play Saturday and not Sunday or Monday. Thank you so much.”
Because TNT Sports are showing the game, it must therefore be played on a Saturday, with TNT not covering any PL matches on Sundays or Mondays. And, with Sky showing the likely borefest of Spurs v Man Utd at 1730, a later kick-off was required.
And the FA and Premier League were only too happy to accommodate the demands of their TV overlords.
Which then brings us to the second issue – Newcastle United supporters.
For many City fans, 8pm is more of an inconvenience than an issue, but the match has wider complications for Toon fans. Getting here isn’t the problem, but getting back to the North East will be.
Even if the match finishes on time, which, let’s face it, with the new laws now in place, it won’t, Newcastle fans will have already missed the train that will get them home just after midnight. That leaves at 2105, arriving in Newcastle at 0013.
They could, of course, get on the 2213 from Manchester Piccadilly, which gets to Newcastle at 1059 on Sunday morning and involves a wait at Doncaster from 2331 until 0936. Clearly, this is not an option.
Toon fans could stay over in Manchester and, although Newcastle and City fans get on well and are generally well-behaved, it still leaves the opportunity for trouble to erupt. This also causes a headache for Greater Manchester Police, who, as well as dealing with their usual Saturday night issues, now have the added pressure to police a football match.
The only option then is to drive, clogging up the roads as 55,000 people try to get home at the same time.
I honestly don’t know why the FA and Premier League continue to bow down to TV companies. Well, we do. It’s the very thing that City have been accused of over the years, but as long as the money keeps flowing into the coffers of both bodies, nothing that the fans or others say will change their minds.
Maybe this is some kind of punishment. I mean, how dare both sides break what has been for years a profitable business for the favoured teams? City, of course, started the ball rolling and we’ve seen how they have been treated and we can only expect the same for Newcastle in the coming years.
And, considering the contempt that they have been shown already, particularly with this fixture, this is just the beginning for our North East friends.