All eyes will be turned to the Vanarama National League this Wednesday afternoon as the Fleet’s 78th set of fixtures are released, with the 2023/24 season due to kick-off on August 5th.
League representatives are the only ones to know the fixtures until their despatch to clubs on Wednesday ahead of public release at 1.00pm – with fans of all 72 National League/North and South clubs eager to plan their journeys for the campaign ahead.
Fleet began our last National League season following promotion with a lengthy trip north to a new destination in Guiseley in 2017 but that was the only away-day opener for the club in the past 10 years. Every other year in the last decade has afforded the Fleet the luxury of a home game to begin the season.
That’s quite a rare run of home matches to begin a season – nine home and one away – and the law of averages would suggest we begin with an away game in 2023/24… but that remains to be seen.
IT company Atos manages the fixture scheduling software for the National League after a series of fixtures questionnaires from clubs are returned plus other dates and concerns pored over in a long and meticulous process.
Once the first draft of fixtures are produced, Atos and the League follow a series of checks and tweaks to iron out any potential issues to take into account local derbies and cut down travel distance in midweek where best they can.
Fleet’s trip to Guiseley in 2017 (236 miles) was our longest first-day trip but we’ve previously had Altrincham in 2009 (220 miles), Exeter in 1951 (215 miles), Barry in 1954 and 1956 (205 miles), Telford in 1979 (178 miles), Worcester on several occasions (176 miles) and Yeovil in 2002 (160 miles).
This coming season, there are potential away days that could beat those records – Gateshead is 300 miles and Hartlepool is 277, while Fylde (270), Oldham (250, Boundary Park pictured above) and Rochdale (246) are all in the running too.
Home openers are definitely much more common for the Fleet down the years with 48 Stonebridge Road starts compared to just 29 on the road since 1946.
If the fixtures were to throw up the 30th away day opener for the Fleet, possible new destinations include Oldham, Rochdale, Southend and York City’s new stadium.
Of the clubs currently in the National League, we have met Aldershot, Altrincham, Chesterfield, FC Halifax Town, Maidenhead and York on the opening day previously.