It has been a tradition in the English footballing calendar for there to be a post-Christmas feast of Boxing Day football, since forever. Then again all the games used to kick off at three o’clock on a Saturday and this “tradition” went up in smoke. Could this be the latest piece of footballing culture set to fall? Is playing these matches just an unnecessary hassle? Aren’t we all scrooges for making the footballers not able to enjoy Christmas, sweating on a match the next day?
The fixture certainly is unnecessary but the problem is more widespread. The issue is the fixture congestion and the fatigue players have, due to the cramming of games. TV companies have a ludicrous monopoly over when football is played to crucify teams and they show no sign of relenting. There is high demand to see Premier League games on their channels. Boxing Day may be sacred to the fans that see the game as part of their festive celebrations, but maybe football needs to take a long term view, rather than being so fussy over one day.
This is not to suit our Premier League prima-donnas. I don’t feel sorry for the footballers one jot having to make a sacrifice of not eating and drinking too much as many of us up and down the country does on Christmas day. As fans we expect footballers to be at the peak of their powers because they are paid so much and we pay so much to see them. In an ideal world expense would be a word not associated with football but sadly it is. The one cost the players have is maintaining their fitness during the season, Christmas included. The players must believe in Santa every time they receive an exuberant wage slip, so no crocodile tears are needed here.
This being said the footballers do leave the festive period with a hangover just like many of us have on New Year’s Day. Their hangover is one of fatigue, rather than being alcohol induced. A winter break midway through the season is essential if we are to avoid this. In a typical stiff upper lip English attitude we continually ignore the success of a break in other leagues. It keeps the league fresh and would provide teams with a renewed impetus for the rest of the campaign.
Fabio Capello regularly called for one in his time as England boss and Premier League bosses seem heavily in favour of a winter break away from football being introduced. Paul Lambert said the theatre of it in Germany was fantastic as the players could re-group. Then as the campaign got closer to re-starting there is a mini pre-season a build-up and a buzz for the season to kick off again. The footballers don’t get the whole time off either. They still train indoors and work on their fitness.
The Premier League is a product which needs to be maintained and if it goes stale we are simply cheating the fans of good football. There will obviously be some who will moan about the thought of no football for a three to six week spell, but maybe it is time we consider that attitude to be selfish. It would help the England national team for starters. There is a beautiful state of the art national centre in Burton we have finally got. Would it be so crazy to give Roy Hodgson a week to work with a national pool of the top players there in the middle of the season, so he can see how his squad members function in full swing and then he can know how to tailor to their needs? It would be much easier for him to see how what levels his players are at when they are tuned into the season. This is preferred to seeing them as dishevelled messes at the end of the season, with their minds away with the fairies waiting for the next campaign.
It could also help provide a much needed boost for the FA cup, if we say put a 6 week period aside where only cup games are allowed to be played. This would shift all focus to our country’s oldest cup competition which is desperately in need of being resuscitated back to life. This can also make the league a fairer playing field. The teams punished by Europa League runs could recuperate and have a fighting chance of recovering. The teams decimated with injuries would have time to recover.
Germany, Spain and Italy continue to flourish on the international stage because they have adapted to the modern demands of the game and give their players a rest. Is it about time that we let go of the notion of tradition and avoided the unnecessary fixture congestion at all costs.