Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s digital programme notes for the Liverpool game were sent to season ticket holders on Friday night. “I’m writing these notes ahead of our Europa League semi-final with Roma,” they began. It is unclear whether there will be a rewrite.
The Thursday-Sunday schedule has enforced early deadlines on Solskjaer and his notes may as well be as short as the succinct Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves. For Leicester next Wednesday, one page would not sufficiently cover an address to Manchester United supporters following the scenes at Old Trafford and The Lowry Hotel at the weekend.
Solskjaer is addressing supporters, via the press, on today’s pre-match Zoom call and he spoke eloquently about the fan backlash to the Super League 12 days ago. He has gone six days without engaging with the media, which is just as well, and has had three days to dwell on his Lowry lock-in. He will have known he had no chance of negotiating with those outside had he emerged from his hotel room.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s notes used to span two pages and, were he still writing them, the club would doubtless tag ‘EXCLUSIVE’ on programme covers. Journalists used to collect early copies on Deansgate to mine Ferguson’s nuggets and it was remarkable how profound his words in a club publication could be. Solskjaer has the platform to save some of his feelings for page three in an effort to get disgruntled United fans to turn the page, in both senses.
Perhaps the time for that will be against Fulham the week beginning May 17, slated to be the first fixture where Old Trafford welcomes back matchgoers for the first time in 62 weeks.
By the time those turnstiles are reopened, it will have been 436 or 437 days since season ticket holders last shuffled through. The exact number is not known because the Premier League has still not scheduled the date.
Disruptors outside The Lowry permitting, United-Fulham is due to be played within two weeks. It is nothing new that the Premier League is inconsiderate in delaying the announcement of a kick-off date and time, or that some have contempt for paying supporters.
Up until now, the fallout from the Super League experiment has largely spared the Premier League. The Super League is being used as a lightning rod for change and a bolt needs to shock the Premier League.
Some of the United supporters planning on ending their exile from Old Trafford in a fortnight live outside Manchester. Fulham is certain to be a midweek kick-off, so travel and accommodation are essential and yet, with the game set for the week after next, there is still no official confirmation on the game’s date or time.
On its website, the Premier League lists all 10 of the matchweek 37 fixtures as 7.45pm kick-offs on Wednesday 19. Obviously, this is false. The Premier League would never settle with 10 simultaneous kick-offs in a free midweek ripe for a carve-up. Those matches will be spread across Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly Thursday.
Plenty of opposition supporters have taken the chance to degrade the United protesters at the stadium and at the hotel, when they are actually fighting their fight. That blue smoke outside the Etihad on Tuesday night did not signal a solidarity protest but City fans congregating for a competition they have despised so much they boo its anthem.
City and every other Premier League club have been shafted over domestic kick-off times. This behind-closed-doors season has been manna of heaven for the Premier League, as literally every match has been televised live and granted them permission for such ludicrous kick-off times you wondered whether supporters were present. United were at Newcastle at 8pm on a Saturday night and City are at St James’ Park at the same time next Friday.
Between October and April, United did not play in daylight at Old Trafford. The ratings emboldened the Premier League to regularly schedule nocturnal United kick-off times and you would not put it past them pulling that with fans in attendance.
The Football Association was imitating the Premier League with its FA Cup schedule long before the pandemic. Nobody puts a red ring around FA Cup third round Saturday, once a highlight in the sporting calendar, any more.
There should be some reasonable ground rules: every club has a minimum of home and away league Saturday 3pm kick-offs and there is a cap on Saturday and Monday night matches.
The lamentable Saturday lunchtime and occasional Sunday noon kick-offs should be between clubs geographically close. So no, not Watford-United – as was the case in 2016. United’s last two trips to Bournemouth both kicked off at 12.30pm.
Clubs in European competition scheduled for Thursday nights should never play on the Monday beforehand. United have had Monday-Thursday-Sunday weeks in 2016 and 2019.
Ticket prices have been a recurring topic since time immemorial and there is a £30 cap on away tickets but Arsenal reduced United’s allocation in the January 2019 FA Cup fourth round tie at The Emirates. The FA has to pull rank to ensure away followings get their 15 per cent cut of the attendance.
The supercilious Super League co-chairman Florentino Perez claimed ‘young people are no longer interested’ in football. He is risibly wrong but, to ward off the scaremongering, ticket prices for 16-24-year-olds should be subsidised. United announced a planned trial for rail seating in April of last year and have to make good on that.
Solskjaer has a fine line to tread with his Floridian paymasters and keeping supporters who serenaded him on Sunday onside. He is on their side. Solskjaer expressed his disgust to two fans about the Monday night slot for the fifth round FA Cup tie at Chelsea in February 2019, when United still sold out and were roared to victory by 4,000 away-dayers in the Shed End.
He mentioned them in his next programme notes – against Liverpool.