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Club News

On This Day: First Professional Sunday Fixture

6 January 2024

Club News

On This Day: First Professional Sunday Fixture

6 January 2024

The introduction of football on Sunday was controversial, but that didn’t stop Latics taking part in the first professional football match to be played on a Sunday, on this day, 50 years ago.

In the 21st century, football’s played every day of the week. You’ve got evening kick-offs on Fridays and Mondays, fixtures spread out across the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, and if that’s not enough, there are a host of European fixtures on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The footballing authorities frantically seek to squeeze another TV slot into the weekly fixture schedule every time the broadcasting contract comes up for renewal. If there were an eighth day of the week, they’d be playing football on it.

If we cast our minds back to a time in living memory for a good chunk of the population, we find a drastically different football fixture schedule.

No Soccer Saturday, Monday Night Football, or evenly spaced timetables to maximise the amount of eyeballs on the television screen - football was played on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

That began to change though, but not due to the demands of television broadcasters, but because of something happening over 2,000 miles away.

A combination of Arab nations refusing to send oil to western countries and a series of strikes led to the government introducing measures to conserve electricity.

Known as the Three-Day Week, commercial uses of electricity were limited, and with football not being near the top of the priority list, the use of floodlights was banned.

This was disastrous for football clubs during the middle of winter, kick-off times had to be moved to avoid the use of floodlights.

Clubs experimented with different times, aiming to strike a balance between times attractive to supporters, whilst also avoiding playing games in the dark.

The idea of playing games on a Sunday was floated, and despite some opposition to football being played on The Lord’s Day, it was believed that it would allow clubs to use limited electricity as part of their operations, whilst not dissuading fans from attending.

There was just one issue though, the Sunday Observance Act 1780.

The act prohibited club’s from charging admission to matches played on Sundays, but directors had a bright idea.

They could circumvent the law by making entry dependant on the purchase of a match programme, upping the price of the programme to reflect admission prices.

Four matches were switched to Sunday for that FA Cup weekend in 1974, Nottingham Forest vs Bristol Rovers, Bolton Wanderers vs Stoke City, Bradford City vs Alvechurch, and Athletic’s clash with Cambridge.

The other three were scheduled for later in the day, meaning Latics’ tie at Abbey Stadium, kicking-off at 11:30am, would be the first ever professional football match in the UK to take place on a Sunday.

8,479 spectators packed inside the Abbey, with gate receipts totalling £3,156, which is just under £30,000, adjusted for inflation.

Racing into the lead after 22 minutes through Paul Edwards, Jimmy Frizzell would have thought Latics had the tie in the bag when veteran striker Andy Lochhead headed home George McVitie’s corner with just over 15 minutes to play.

Oldham’s defence up until that point was described as ‘immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar’, but an Ian Wood own goal and Terry Eades effort in the last 10 minutes brought Cambridge level.

Frizzell’s team were stunned at the result in the dressing room after the match, but had to regroup for the replay two days later.

Playing out a 3-3 draw at Boundary Park, a second replay at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground was needed, which Latics came out on top in, by two goals to one.

Did the idea catch on?

Sort of, a few league games were played on a Sunday in the following weeks, but when the electricity restrictions were dropped two months later, there was no need to move games, and kick-offs reverted to their traditional slot.

Sunday kick-offs reared their head again in the 1980s, setting the stage for the explosion of televised Premier League action in the 90s, but that’s a story for another time.

The story of our 1973/74 Third Division title-winning season is documented in each edition of this season's Boundary Bulletin matchday programme.

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