Manchester United’s game with Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Saturday has become one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in recent years.
That’s all because of the return of one Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, but there’s another reason for supporters to relish this particular encounter.
Discussion regarding the start time of the game – Saturday 3pm – has been rife in the press, with the TV blackout meaning only matchgoing UK fans will be afforded the opportunity to see Ronaldo’s likely second debut live.
Of course, you can follow all the action on ManUtd.com, MUTV and in our Official App, but it really is quite a coincidence that Ronaldo’s return won’t be televised live.
The clash with the Magpies marks the first time United have kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday since a 5-2 win over Bournemouth on 4 July 2020 – a whopping gap of 434 days, or 62 weeks!
A previously sacrosanct time, the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off dates back to the Victorian era, when games started then to fall in line with factory workers clocking off from their early shifts.
They have become less and less common during the Premier League era, with broadcasters ‘owning’ their particular slots and United often in high demand to feature at those lucrative early Saturday or Sunday afternoon times.
The coronavirus pandemic has also complicated things.
Bar a brief, month-long spell between September and October 2020, every top-flight fixture from June of that year until May 2021 was broadcast live on TV in the UK, meaning kick-off times were usually staggered across the weekend.
No United matches took place at 3pm on Saturday during the 2020/21 season and you’d have to go back to a 4-0 win over Norwich in January 2020 for our last fixture played at that time with fans in the ground.
Meetings with Crystal Palace and Leicester earlier in that 2019/20 season were our only other ‘traditional’ Saturday kick-offs, with the involvement in the Europa League often requiring us to play on Sunday afternoons.
All of our last 12 Saturday 3pm kick-offs have come at the Theatre of Dreams.
A Turf Moor outing in January 2018 was our last away Premier League clash in that slot, with Anthony Martial’s goal giving us all three points in East Lancashire.
With fans now finally back in stadiums across the country, that run will soon be broken as we face Leicester on Saturday 16 October, at 3pm.
It’s great to have as many people in the UK, and around the world, be able to watch our first-team fixtures live as possible.
But those fortunate enough to go to matches know that a Saturday 3pm kick-off can’t be beaten.