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How the Premier League and EFL work out its schedule

In the mind’s eye, it is an enormous piece of machinery, rattling, rumbling and flashing its lights intermittently. For minutes it will make an almighty din until — ping! — a narrow thread of ticker-tape paper emerges from its innards detailing precisely how the season ahead will be shaped.

The fixture computer is part of football folklore. It is cursed for sending your club to Norwich City on a Tuesday night and thanked for that gentle start to a season which was absolutely long overdue. It can’t hope to get everything right with its perceived in-built biases against every fanbase but it is cherished all the same. It gives us structure, something to plan for.

Click here to know more about soccer and how these schedules get made.

And all its latest work will be presented for thousands to devour next week as the Premier League and its 20 clubs announce their fixture lists for 2022-23 on Thursday morning (at 9am UK time). The English Football League (EFL) follows suit seven days later, presenting a sheet of commitments to its 72 clubs.

Fixture release day is the culmination of eight months of planning. Those involved call it "the impossible job" but once the world is allowed to see all those fixtures — 2,036 in total, across the top four divisions of English football — there is a collective sigh of relief.

Primarily from Glenn Thompson, who is the man at the heart of it all.

Thompson works for Atos, the IT company that has delivered Premier League and EFL fixtures for the last 30 years. Until 1982, it was done by hand — written out, with pen and paper — but the annual honour now belongs to Thompson’s laptop. In goes all the necessary data, and out come those fixtures.

It is a random, automated process at its core, but with a bundle of caveats that make it a far more complex operation. There is sequencing (more on that later), there are algorithms and pairing grids, and the date requests of individual clubs to consider, before all is revealed.

There will be grumbles. There are always grumbles. But by the end, the coming season will have its map.

"You can’t satisfy everyone," Thompson has said. "It’s a compromise across all clubs. You can’t do anything to favour any one club."

At the peak of his powers, Sir Alex Ferguson was not always a friend of the fixture computer.

"Our programme did not do us any favors and we have been handicapped by the Premier League," the Manchester United manager said in 2009, bemoaning that his side had been drawn away to a string of dangerous opponents immediately after midweek Champions League ties.

"They tell me it’s not planned. Bloody hell. I’ve got my doubts. Next year we will be sending somebody to see how it happens, I can assure you."

Jose Mourinho has been down a similar road. No, really.

At his cantankerous best in 2005, fresh from winning a first Premier League title, he was angered for the same reason, as Chelsea were consistently given domestic away games after Champions League ties. Arsenal, meanwhile, a Champions League fixture in those days, were "always at home". Mourinho inferred this was due to Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein’s position as a board member at the FA.

"Why do you (the media) have nothing to say about that?" he asked. "Is it only Jose Mourinho who looks at the fixtures who finds something very strange?"

Thompson is used to being depicted as the dastardly menace out to sabotage clubs and will knowingly roll his eyes at the suggestion of his fixtures being rigged. "Over the years you get used to it," he said.

The compilation of a season’s fixtures is not a transparent process and nor can it ever hope to be. Unlike a cup draw, televised live for a watching world, it is too laborious and detailed for that.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any sort of approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions held by the editors of this site.

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