The Days of 3pm Kick-Offs and Why They Matter

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Merchandise is seen for sale prior to The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Aston Villa and Peterborough United at Villa Park on January 6, 2018 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Merchandise is seen for sale prior to The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Aston Villa and Peterborough United at Villa Park on January 6, 2018 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) /

Aston Villa’s home weekend 3 p.m. kick-offs are dwindling down to nil this spring.

With the arrival of the so-called ‘Beast of the East’ (that rules out Ian Holloway) this week, Villa’s fixture against QPR was forcibly postponed at the last minute. Undoubtedly, it is not a decision the club would have taken lightly. Ground staff worked tirelessly through the night to ensure that the playing surface was suitable. Nevertheless, the game has now been rescheduled for Tuesday, the 13th of March at 19.45pm. Following the release of further televised fixtures, this revised kick-off currently leaves the club with only one game scheduled for a home 3 p.m. kick-off. That is the penultimate game of the season against Derby County in April.

This scenario has left many Villa fans exasperated. However, where does our obsession with the 3 p.m. kick-off come from? And why should we protect it?

‘3pm kick-offs are the opium of the people’

If Marx said that religion enabled the workers to survive Victorian capitalist conditions, then football would also play its own role in the second-half of the nineteenth century. The nation discussed the need for improvements in the factories regularly but only implemented gradual change. In 1850, this change would accidentally alter the course of the nation’s history. The growth of football.

The Factory Act 1850 introduced, most importantly for our story, a restriction on Saturday working hours. Factories could no longer keep their staff any later than 2pm. The recreational weekend afternoon arose and the people had to find a way to spend it.

Ironically, it was the churches that initially began forming football teams to prevent the workers from turning to drink during their free afternoon. Of course, alcohol seemingly holds a permanent position in many people’s match day experience nowadays, however the fondness towards an afternoon 3pm kick-off remains widespread.

The Rest is History

Football’s development as a sport and then commercialised has been astronomical since those small, local beginnings. In 1874, as our own club was founded, football was beginning to become a worldwide phenomenon. The film Der Ganz Große Traum documents the introduction of football to modern-day Germany in the very same year. Its growth soared across the planet.

Technological development would result in television posing a threat to the size of crowds in Britain. This led to the introduction of the 3 p.m. Blackout laws in the 1960s which still affect football broadcasting to this day. Football between 2.45 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. is exclusive to those who enter the grounds up and down the country.

Protecting This Tradition

Now, at this point, it would be naive to ignore issues such as the rise of illegal streams and the price of football when discussing the integrity of 3 p.m. kick-offs. They exist and people watch them to access these matches. The bottom line is that the public would much rather be in the grounds, amongst the atmosphere. And clubs must strive to work harder to accommodate fans at affordable prices. Many people are therefore pleased with Villa’s promise to freeze season ticket prices next season irrespective of which division we frequent.

However, the 3 p.m. kick-off remains important to those supporters who can afford to watch football from the stands. On the contrary to this report by Neil Atkinson in 2016, 3 p.m. is a perfectly suitable time for football to be played. The most recent grievances towards other times centre around travel. Later kick-offs provide transport difficulties or extremely late nights for supporters. Granted, this is perhaps less unavoidable for Football League teams due to the midweek games. But the truth is that this is no less inconvenient at the weekend. Meanwhile, 3 p.m. kick-offs allow fans adequate time to get to a ground and get home. That does not just apply to away fans. In the modern world, some fans travel the length and breadth of the country to come and see their club. As every Blues fan knows, none of live in Birmingham!

Detaching From Its Roots

The 3 p.m. kick-off is the symbol of football as the people’s game. The time, to a certain extent, enabled the sport to become what it has. It is a tradition which purists will hang on to for as long as possible and its ultimate loss would perhaps signal the television broadcasters’ full appropriation of the game. Fans will always be there for their clubs, but with the loss of the 3 p.m. kick-off, supporters would know that their game is longer in their hands.