As the Premier League steams through December at a canter, English football’s greatest festive gift to football supporters up and down the country, is already well within sight.
The hectic festive fixture list is of course, something of a top-flight tradition on these shores. This season, teams can expect to play around five games in 14 days during the Christmas and New Year period, culminating in the third round of FA Cup on Saturday 5th January.
Even for the Scrooges amongst us, as the cold keeps biting and the bank balance keeps dropping, you can’t turn your nose up at the unrelenting giddy gift of continued Premier League football to keep us going over the end of the year.
Although while we the people possess an unrequited love for the fixture list’s most entertaining time of year, it doesn’t come without its critics.
Calls for a winter break have evolved from what were once distant whispers to prominent bellows for change. And what’s more, where as English football’s governing bodies used to palm off the idea as continental posturing, it now seems a very possible reality indeed.
Support for implementing a winter break has hardly been a relatively recent phenomenon. The likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have always been long-term proponents of such an idea (not neccesarily motivated by a desire to aid England, mind) , but you can’t help but feel that momentum is beginning to gather with a little more poignancy of late.
The relationship between the Football Association and the Premier League, the two most important governing bodies in English football, has always been staggeringly frosty, with neither seeming to serve much in the way of a common goal past serving their own interests. But in Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore’s recent sentiments, there was reason to believe a breakthrough could potentially be made.
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Speaking to The Telegraph back in October, Scudamore insisted that the Premier League was open to the idea of a winter break, but that something had to give in order for it to be implemented.
“We have tried [to devise a winter break], but unless somebody is prepared to give something up, it is pretty hard,” he said.
Scudamore, who claimed that the league had offered to start the season a week earlier, believes that while themselves, the Football League and the FA are right to naturally defend their own interests, it could be the cull of the FA Cup replay – a fixture that takes potential fixture space on four midweeks during the season – that offers the most scope for change.
“That [the scrapping of FA Cup replays] will be up to the FA, but unless the FA decide they have different priorities, where the England team is more important than something else they own, then that might be for them to look at.”
For the romantics, it would represent yet another nail in the coffin of English football and a further dent to an already struggling domestic cup competition. Furthermore, given the globalised aspirations of the Premier League, the concept of teams jetting off to play a lucrative friendly abroad during such a break, would render the whole break futile as well as enraging the majority of supporters.
And it’s interesting that, within the whole realm of debate that surrounds a winter break, all parties appear to have shown little interest in the desires of those who make up the lifeblood of the game – the supporters.
Because let’s not forget that the positives of the festive fixture list stretch a lot further than merely offering Sky Sports subscribers something to watch while the in-laws are round on Boxing Day.
While this isn’t applicable to every industry within the United Kingdom, the Christmas period is one of the times a year where most of us are universally given an extended period of time off work. It’s the one time of the year many supporters can relax and indulge themselves in going to a few games, devoid of the worries and time restrictions of the workplace. For some supporters too, it’s one of the few times of year they can attend any games at all. Tradition yes, but meaningless nostalgia? Not by any means.
The common argument here is that the England national team is floundering without the luxury of a winter break. Given the success that both the Spanish and German sides have had at recent major tournaments, many have suggested that the breaks that both La Liga and the Bundesliga have afforded their respective football associations, has greatly helped proceedings.
And while in many ways it’s difficult to argue how a break could in any way hinder them, if English football truly believes that the answer to our troubles lies in having a week off on holiday in December, then we really are looking in the wrong places. Would a bit of extra rest prevented Roy Hodgson’s men from getting passed of the pitch by the Italians during Euro 2012? Has the long English winters really served to detriment the Spanish, Dutch and French contingents that play on our shores at major tournaments?
It may appear a very superficial way of looking at things, but curing the failings of our national team require an awful lot more work than merely the addition of a fortnight’s rest. While it’s perhaps an inevitable addition, those looking to a winter break as some form of magic overnight cure are sorely mistaken.
A Premier League season lasts from August to May and given the constraints of European football and international friendlies, a peak period of fixture congestion is inevitable. But perhaps instead of taking away one of the real highlights of the paying supporter’s season, helping to kill off the FA Cup in the process, the Premier League could simply reduce the number of teams in the league? Although if it comes to putting the supporter first, don’t hold out much hope.