1. The Ryman League’s – and Alan Turvey’s – ridiculous obsession with empire building means that 46 league games somehow have to be squeezed into a season that also includes the FA Cup, FA Trophy, County Cups and the all-important Ryman League Cup. It’s insane. If the idea was to provide clubs with more matchday income over the course of a season, then it wasn’t properly thought through. There’s evidence from sporting competitions all over the world – the MLB in the US, T20 cricket in the UK to name but two – that all cramming more fixtures into a season achieves is to maintain the same aggregate attendance over the course of a season, but cut average attendances over the medium-term. So in practice, that means two more bills for overheads for home games, two more coach bills for away games, and fewer people in the ground on matchday. It’s counter-productive.
2. But credit where credit’s due: if clubs are going to have to play 46 league games, it’s an eminently sensible move to front-load the fixture list with the vast majority of midweek games scheduled for August and September, when a) the weather is guaranteed to be decent, b) people feel like spending their evening outdoors as it’s a decent temperature and fairly light, and c) the Champions League isn’t on the telly. The knock-on effect is that K’s (and everyone else in the league) will have played 15 games by the end of September. In other words, a third of the season will have gone by the time teams are normally ‘settling into a rhythm’ and other cliches to that effect.
3. As such, clubs need to radically re-think their traditional approach to budgeting. Rather than seeing how things are going, and then if they’re going okay, splash some cash just in time for the FA Cup and Trophy qualifiers, clubs need to spending a big chunk of their annual budgets up front to secure an excellent, competitive squad for August and September. Squads can then be trimmed in November (especially if the Cups haven’t gone well) as the fixtures dry up, and then added to again in late March if a top 5 charge is looking on the cards.
4. In this respect Kingstonian have done well. The squad has real depth through its spine: three top-class centre halves, four proven central midfielders and three big-name strikers have all signed on for a full pre-season with the club. It is debatable whether the realignment of fixtures helps or hinders moneybags Margate. While they have an embarrassment of playing riches to choose from – and as such will find it easy to cope with two games a week for two months – it may take time for Terry Brown to find his best eleven and the best system for them. For that reason it’s certainly true to say that the best chance opposition teams will have against the cash-rich Kent club will be early in the season, and as such perhaps the early weighting of games has done the rest of the division a favour.
5. Kingstonian’s fixture list is a mixed bag. There are some excellent outcomes – Bognor away on an August Saturday, and the traditional raucous visit to Lewes in March being the main two – but rather more disappointing ones. VCD (whatever that is – it sounds like it causes a rash) represent the August bank holiday fixture and we also play them away on New Year’s Day. This means the two clubs have been ‘paired up’ by the league. Why?! Clubs with no fans should be forced to ‘pair up’ together. If K’s were playing Dulwich instead of VCD in those two fixtures, there’d no doubt be 500 added to the aggregate gate over the two games. In my opinion, that fact should play a direct role in fixture lists at this level, where every penny counts. Games likely to draw bumper crowds – bank holiday games, Christmas, Easter, the last game of the season – should be marquee fixtures. A radical idea? Perhaps – but nobody would lost out if it were implemented.