Salmon’s Soapbox: Last-day shootout will never happen again

Manchester United and Manchester City are unlikely to ever be involved in a final-day title decider
Manchester United and Manchester City are unlikely to ever be involved in a final-day title decider

Craig Salmon looks at the way the Premier League fixtures are formulated and the apparent policy of keeping the big clubs apart at certain points during the season

Okay, tell us something we did not already know! Reports have emerged this week that the Premier League fixture list is strategically fixed so that certain teams do not face each other on particular weekends of the season.

Those certain teams being the ‘top six’ which means Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool have no chance of facing each other either on the first weekend of the season or the last.

The top six are defined as the teams with the highest average finishes in the Premier League over the past three seasons.

It has always been claimed that the fixture lists are randomly generated by a computer, but I do not think anyone has ever truly believed that.

I am sure the all-powerful broadcasting networks have more than a passing interest over when some fixtures take place – thus maximising viewing figures and the Premier League’s appeal across the world.

It’s certainly no coincidence that both Manchester derbies took place on exactly the same day as Liverpool and Everton clashed in the Merseyside equivalents this season. To be honest, I can’t understand why ‘top six’ games can’t be scheduled on the final weekend.

Imagine United and City or Arsenal and Chelsea going head to head in a potential league title decider on the last day of the season.

The reason why that scenario will never play out is because in the interest of fairness, all of the games on the final day kick-off at the same time and the league – along with the big television companies – are reticent for one big game to take all of the attention away from the rest.

However, I remember the night when Arsenal played Liverpool at Anfield in a title decider in 1989.

It was the final match of the English football season and if my memory serves me right took place on a 
Friday night.

Admittedly there were extenuating reasons why the fixture took place after everybody else had finished.

It had been originally scheduled to take place a month earlier, but the Hillsborough Disaster, when 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives, meant the game had to be postponed.

A draw, win or even a 1-0 defeat for Kenny Dalglish’s men would have been enough to seal the championship for the Reds. However, the Gunners won 2-0 – thanks to a dramatic last-gasp goal from Michael Thomas – to hand George Graham’s men the title by virtue of having scored more goals.

The match is still considered to be one of the most dramatic conclusions to a league season in the history of the English game.

Of course, there are no guarantees that every season will end with two teams vying for the title right up until the end, but the policy of keeping the big clubs apart means another ‘title decider’ like the one in 1989 is unlikely to ever take place again.