Bristol City have kissed goodbye to £100,000 tv jackpot as a result of an Avon and Somerset Police decision that forced a third re-scheduling of the Sky Bet Championship game against Cardiff City at Ashton Gate.
The match has been moved back to its original date of Saturday, November 4 and will kick-off at 12 noon.
When the fixture list first appeared it was due to start at 3.00 pm, but was soon changed to midday on police advice.
Sky TV then requested the kick-off time was moved to 5.30 pm on the Saturday so they could broadcast the game live.
But the police said that they would prefer a switch to the night before and all parties agreed to a Friday match, starting at 7.45 pm.
During the week City learned that the constabulary had change its stance and was no longer prepared to police the game at that time.
After consulting the Football League, it was decided that there was no option but to move the game back to Saturday at 12 noon and Sky consequently withdrew coverage.
The £100,000 paid by them to the home club in live Championship games will now go to Wolverhampton Wanderers, instead of City, as their match with Fulham will be screened on Friday, November 3.
So City lose out on a windfall and the manner in which the matter was reported on their official website left little doubt over their displeasure.
It made clear that Cardiff had been happy with the change to Friday night and that both clubs had been working with Avon and Somerset Police and the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG) on additional measures as a result of “an acceptance that the fixture was not completely without the risk of disorder.”
Those proposed measures included a reduction in the number of tickets being made available for away supporters; Cardiff assisting with the stewarding operation and a review of how visiting fans would be transported to and from Ashton Gate.
The most pertinent comments came from Mark Kelly, Ashton Gate Stadium’s managing director, who said: “We are disappointed that Avon and Somerset Police felt they would not be able to safely resource the Cardiff City fixture if it was played on the Friday night and made the decision to veto the date at this late stage.
“Despite all the measures we had agreed to put in place – including agreeing to meet the costs of police deployed at the stadium – the police still felt they would be unable to resource an appropriate level of public order-trained officers to its other commitments.
“While we, both Ashton Gate Stadium and Bristol City, respect the input of the police on match-days, we feel this decision is wholly unnecessary.”
City chief executive officer Mark Ashton added: “We believe there would have been a safe environment for supporters of both clubs, which is always a key consideration.
“It is hugely disappointing for both us and Ashton Gate Stadium that the match has since been switched back to the Saturday. We apologise to any supporters who have been affected by this late change.”
Clearly, a consideration for the police was that the fixture is on the weekend of Bonfire Night and plenty of parties will be held on the Friday and Saturday evenings.
Their resources will be stretched on both nights and a noon kick-off on the Saturday makes sense in that respect.
But why that did not form part of the original decision-making process and lead to an avoidance of the complications that have followed is not clear.
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey was quoted on the City website as saying: “Despite achieving an agreement in principle, Avon and Somerset Police sub- sequently made a number of representations to the Safety Advisory Group.
“It became clear that they were not prepared to provide the police resources they felt were necessary away from Ashton Gate itself to prevent any possible disorder.
“The safety of spectators at EFL matches will always be our primary consideration when scheduling fixtures, yet we are disappointed at today’s developments and will be seeking a meeting with Avon and Somerset Police force in relation to this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.”
It is not just the financial loss that will upset City.
Friday night football produces a special atmosphere at Ashton Gate, which Lee Johnson believes can inspire his players.
There is also the opportunity for footballers who represent their clubs on a Saturday afternoon to support the Robins.
The presence of Cardiff manager Neil Warnock always raises the temperature a notch anyway and, while that will still be the case with a noon kick-off on a Saturday, it will not be quite the same as if the game were being played under floodlights.
That, in itself, is a shame. No-one relishes the atmosphere more than Warnock himself, who always rubs his hands at the prospect of taking on City.
Matches against Cardiff have often been special, going back to when I first watched them in the late 1960s when John Toshack was leading the attack for the Bluebirds.
A Friday night match would almost certainly have ensured some added fireworks for that weekend and the Cardiff players would have stepped into a cauldron.
Both clubs have started the season encouragingly, so let’s hope by the time the ‘High Noon’ battle commences it is a top-of-the-table clash.