We’ve written to UEFA and to the English FA to put the fans' case. As we reference in our letter, this is not the first time this has happened. In 2018 and 2019, Arsenal had Europa League ties scheduled for early kick-offs.
Unless fan groups, clubs and the football authorities together speak up for the interests of match-going fans, it's clear their interests will continue to be disregarded as the game chases the broadcasting pound in a manner that can only damage the spectacle in the long-term.
Our letter is reproduced in full below.
Route de Genève 46
CH-1260 Nyon 2
18 December 2020
Dear Aleksander Čeferin,
We’re writing to you directly after learning that Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League Round of 32 second leg tie against Wolfsberger FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is scheduled to kick off at 17:00 GMT on Wednesday 24 February 2021.
We understand the requirements of competition integrity and TV scheduling, but once again it appears that – despite the fine words we hear from you and other senior UEFA officials – the impact on fans is considered relatively unimportant. This is especially poor after an unprecedented global pandemic has revealed how important fans are to the live spectacle and has placed all clubs under financial pressure. Whilst today we are living under stringent measures to contain the spread of Coronavirus, we have to assume that fans will be allowed to return to our stadium by the end of February, so are expressing our concerns at the kick-off time on that basis, and as a point of principle for future, ‘regular’ seasons.
We do not often find ourselves sharing common cause with our rivals at Arsenal FC, but we must echo the words of their Supporters’ Trust when they wrote to you last year protesting about the 17:55 kick-off imposed on their club in a Europa League tie. To reinforce their points, early kick-off times such as 17:00 or 17:55 are totally unacceptable and inconvenient for many fans who would have to travel to the game in the middle of a working day. Add to this the additional problems caused by starting a game in the middle of rush hour in one of the world’s biggest cities, plus the constraints of what will almost certainly still be social distancing measures, and it is hard to see how UEFA can see this as a justifiable decision.
Fans in England have been denied entry to grounds for months because of the need to stop the virus spreading. Throughout this crisis, we at THST have always placed the priority on public health and have understood the reasoning for playing behind closed doors and at extremely limited capacities, although it’s fair to say there have been times when the treatment of football has not been even handed compared to other parts of the leisure and sporting industries in the UK. This makes it extremely regrettable that by February, when we hope progress will have been made in rolling back this disease, UEFA will be happy to put further obstacles in the way of fans who are permitted to attend games. The result will be greater inconvenience for fans, a lower attendance affecting the value of the TV spectacle, and further impact on gate receipts.
When the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust wrote to you expressing their concerns, you did not respond. UEFA says it does not communicate directly with fans or with club fan groups. And clubs themselves are wary of challenging UEFA because of the power you wield. So, we have had no choice but to go public with our request for you to reconsider the decision on the kick-off so that the game can be played at a more accessible time, without affecting competitive integrity. The lack of any response this time will only serve to convince observers that the fine words of UEFA about its concern for fans are little more than marketing slogans. Actions, after all, speak far louder than words.
Martin Cloake and Katrina Law
Co-chairs, Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust