Footballers can be selfish. Shock, horror. Pick yourself up off the floor because, yes, I’m afraid it’s true.
Now the fixtures for next season came out yesterday and while it’s an exciting occasion for football fans for players it’s always nice to be able to, not necessarily plan your next 10 months out, but know where you are, where you’ll be.
That’s the selfish bit.
You look at Christmas and New Year. Are you at home on Boxing Day, so you can spend Christmas Day with the family? Will you be away on New Year’s Day, and in a hotel the night before?
I guarantee 99.9% of professional footballers playing in England checked the fixtures yesterday – even on their holidays, or at the World Cup – for that reason.
But don’t get me wrong, it is an exciting day for players too.
You’ve spent the last three or four weeks recharging your batteries, then all of a sudden you see who you’re playing in your first game.
There’s definitely a buzz. And there should be at St James’ Park on Saturday, August 16 (all fixtures subject to change by football’s governing bodies, Sky and BT Sport).
Manchester City at home is a tough start, no doubt. But I’d rather that than, say, Crystal Palace, Leicester City or Burnley.
For one, you want one of the big boys to guarantee a full house and help create a good atmosphere in the stadium. It helps with the hangover from last season.
That’ll only kick in if you have a bad run for the first half a dozen games.
And that’s the other good thing about starting against City. It’s a free hit, a semi-get-out clause. Win, great. Lose to a lesser club and it’s all doom and gloom. Lose to City? It’s not the end of the world.
I heard that in 21 years of the Premier League the champions have never lost their opening fixture of the following season.
That sounds incredible at first, but how many times were they at home? How many times do they seem to play a newly-promoted team?
Now, having said that, Alan Pardew does need some early wins.
I’ve said before that with last season’s rap sheet, I don’t know how he stayed in a job. Some of the things he did were outrageous.
So he needs a fresh start, he needs wins. Four or five opening games without a victory and his job will be back on the line.
He needs wins, and he needs a good transfer window, too. The same goes for Sunderland. A good start is imperative.
If both clubs get off to a winning start, nobody drags the statistics from the back end of last season into the new one. You get that monkey off your back.
In that respect, you want a couple of relatively easy home games at that time of the year, when the euphoria of the fans can play its part. Then, it’s a breeze.
Pyschologically, for some reason it’s tougher playing away in the August sun. I remember going to Preston North End on the opening day of the season after West Ham were relegated to the Championship, in 2003.
We won 2-1, but it felt like the hottest place in the world. We were 1-0 down after two minutes, I turned to Jermain Defoe and said: “How are you?”
“I’m ******!” he said, “I can’t move.”
It was boiling, and although we won that day – Jermain actually equalised minutes later – if you lose those sort of games, you’re treading water and the pressure’s on.
Looking at the fixtures, I think the real pressure will be on Pardew in December ... and February, March and April!
You run through their opponents in those months and it’s tough – Chelsea, Arsenal, Sunderland, Manchester United and Everton in December, then the likes of City, United, Arsenal, Sunderland, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur over about eight weeks.
It sounds like they’re playing everyone a good three times! But you always get a tough month or two. Check every club’s fixture list. They’ll have a difficult-looking spell, because you’ve got to play these opponents at some point.
Plus, it does balance itself out. Look at Newcastle’s run-in.
I’d like to think that if they’re struggling, there are games there they can win. And if they’re mid-table or higher, hopefully they show some ambition this season because they could push on with a strong finish.
Sunderland have a tough little spell too, when they play Chelsea, City and Liverpool at the end of November and the beginning of December.
But they’ve had some decent results against the first two in recent years. Remember towards the end of last season when they drew at City, won at Chelsea then a couple of weeks later won at Old Trafford.
They can take points off the big boys again, and their opening few fixtures don’t look too bad either. There’s no reason why they can’t take three points from West Brom.
Then they’ll welcome Manchester United to the Stadium of Light with a spring in their step, against a club who’ve had a difficult year or so, with a new manager and players still new to one another.
Get a result against them and it’s a great start. Three points out of six isn’t bad either, mind.
But what is key to it all comes before then. What’s key is that both clubs have a good summer.