As a busy period of fixtures approaches, Michelle Owen looks at whether there should be a winter break to refuel English football.
The question whether English football should have a winter break comes up every year as we approach the fixtures in the congested festive period. There are reasons for and against. Festive football certainly feels like a tradition in the UK. Boxing Day would seem strange without the usual fixtures but there is the argument that, by the time the major summer tournaments come around, English players are shattered due to the lack of a winter break, which so many other European countries have. When I hear this argument, I can’t help but think of all the other foreign players that also play in the Premier League.
Michel Platini famously said English players were “lions in the winter and lambs in the summer”, meaning the players are so burnt out from playing all season without a break that by the summer there is simply nothing left in the tank. Outside of the UK, only Israel and Georgia play over Christmas. The majority have a winter break, though many are forced to do so by adverse weather conditions.
So how would a winter break work? It seems there’s no straight answer with so many games to be played each season. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore commented in a Daily Telegraph interview three years ago: “We have tried, but unless somebody is prepared to give something up, it is pretty hard.
“We are not inclined to reduce the number of clubs in the Premier League. Similarly, the Football League don’t want to lose the League Cup. It’s a huge source of funding for the Football League and it is a big solidarity play between the leagues.
“As for the FA, they don’t want to give up replays in the FA Cup, so we all sit down and we all look at each other, but it’s pretty hard for those of us in English football to create that two-week space.”
There are so many people involved in the game to consider, not just the 11 men on the pitch. Stewards, catering staff, cleaners, groundsmen, reporters, producers, cameramen, and technical staff…the list is huge. If there is a Boxing Day fixture, all the people behind the scenes at a club have to work. For many, this means cutting Christmas short with their families. Especially if they are part of the club staff and have to travel Christmas Day evening. I often speak to reporters who are forced to cut Christmas short to face a long away trip the next day. I suspect many of them would welcome a winter break over Christmas.
Perhaps it would be sensible for the players, managers, officials, and all those involved in the game to have a short break. The season is so hectic, two weeks could be ideal. Many clubs have a two week break between fixtures at various points in the season if, for example, they haven’t qualified for the next round of the League or FA Cup and haven’t a rescheduled match to play. It’s not a huge amount of time, but missing just one Saturday provides a gap that some argue teams need. However, it’s still enough time for clubs to visit America or Far East like in pre-season. If one day we do have a winter break, what is there to stop clubs going away and playing friendlies with foreign teams as a marketing activity?
I asked Twitter whether the Premier League and Football League should take a winter break. Here’s the result:
It’s pretty clear from this small poll that a winter break may not be popular amongst fans. A lot of people tweeted their thoughts, which proved very interesting; someone pointed out our weather is too unpredictable for a winter break, which I would agree with.
The only way we would ever know is to trial it, which doesn’t seem practical with the way the season is structured. I would be intrigued to see if it had any effect on England’s form at a major tournament. This argument is a little negated by the fact Wales did so well in summer at the Euros, with the majority of the team playing in England and still appearing to be fit and fresh for each game.
From a personal perspective, I think football over the festive period is a much loved tradition. I am missing my first Boxing Day game reporting for Sky in a couple of years as it’s my Dad’s 60th birthday, but if it wasn’t for the occasion, I would have no issue working Boxing Day each year. From what I’ve sampled, fans love their festive football fix.
Follow Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleOwen7