It is around this time of year when just about everyone from pundits to players and managers to fans are talking about the possible inception of a ‘winter break’ in British football.
The United Kingdom remains the only country in Europe to still play football during the Christmas period, and the fixture schedule is well known for it’s gruelling nature. With four fixtures in just 12 days the argument for a break in football is one of the hottest topics in town.
Of course, like every argument there are always pros and cons for the topic and this debate is no different. So I may as well jump on the bandwagon and throw my tuppence worth in.
For me, football is all about traditions, whether that is going to the same pub before every fixture to meet up with your mates to discuss last week’s disappointments or triumphs, or having a burger from the same dodgy fast food van outside the ground. And there is no doubt that the winter fixtures are one of the last big traditions that the UK game holds.
The British game is unique for holding fixtures on Boxing Day as the rest of Europe tucks into their Christmas day leftovers; fans around the United Kingdom jump in their cars and drive to god-knows-where to watch the team they adore in sub zero temperatures.
If you look back into your footballing history books you will see that not only did they play on Boxing Day up until the late 50s but on Christmas Day too. It is something that makes the British game unique and it is always something that whets the appetite of the footballing traditionalists.
It’s often one of the first fixtures fans look out for on the fixture list. Whilst it may well be great for the fans, how does this gruelling week-and-a-half affect our superstars in the long run?
Here is where the cons come into play. It is well documented that our national teams struggle at major tournaments as our top players suffer from ‘burn out’ and therefore England always flatters to deceive when it comes to the big stage. And I am sure this topic will raise its ugly head if/when the Three Lions’ disappoint us again in France next summer.
It is of course a valid argument, if you look at some of the more powerful national teams in Europe, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – who all enjoy a festive break they tend to thrive at major tournaments, as they seem fresher than the likes of Wayne Rooney and co.
It isn’t just the physical side of things that are affected during this busy period, but the mental. Mentally players are drained come the end of the English season, having had such a hectic schedule. And it’s during the festive fixture when the mental side of the game really hits home.
After a heavy defeat players are usually given a week to recover and recuperate and analyse where things went wrong, but during the December fixtures players are back on the pitch within a matter of 48 hours. It is why Christmas is such a crucial period for teams looking to survive or challenge for honours.
Talking of the mental side of things, you cannot underestimate the word ‘momentum’ in sport. And if you take a three-week break in football it can crush a teams winning habit and can suck the life out of a campaign.
Take Leicester City for example. Right now they are on the run of their lives, turning over the likes of Chelsea, drawing with Manchester United and they are currently sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League. I am sure if you asked Claudio Ranieri if he wanted to take a break, his immediate response would be ‘no’.
On the flip side of that, if you asked our main man Slaven Bilic if he fancied a break, he’d turn round and say ‘yes please’, given the amount of injuries the Hammers have at the time.
What a winter break would bring is the opportunity for players like Diafra Sakho, Dmitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to work the way back to fitness and miss a game or two less, which could completely change the way the season pans out for the Irons, so there is definitely a pro and con on that side of things.
Going slightly lower down the league ladder now and looking at clubs in Leagues One and Two is where this debate really becomes interesting. As we all know, playing on a Premier League pitch can be like playing on a carpet. But lower down the spectrum it can be slightly more boggy and muddy. This is where a winter break could really help teams out in the lower leagues.
A break would allow the grass to recover and give the pitch the opportunity to recuperate ahead of a busy second half of the season. It is well documented that fixtures are regularly postponed during the festive period due to the often-freezing conditions leaving pitches unplayable.
Postponements bring a fixture build up as the season goes on and therefore a season can be made or broken as fatigue sets in. This happened to the Hammers in the 1986 season with the Irons chasing their maiden top-flight title, disaster struck as number of abandoned matches left us having to play four games in one week meaning the Hammers faltered during the final few games and ended up missing out on the title by just four points.
It is a common tale in the lower leagues as clubs find fixtures building up thick and fast as the winter fixtures have to be played again later in the season. On the flip side, if you can get your fixtures on, it can be a great boost in revenue if the club can attract its punters. With the school holidays on, fathers and sons can trudge to their local team and it really boost the clubs bid for financial stability.
A final point to add before I give my final view on this hotly debated topic is the idea of the most traditional thing in the English game having to be moved to accommodate this break.
The third-round of the FA Cup has always traditionally been held during the first week of January, but with a winter break intertwined into the British football calendar it is likely to have to be moved.
In Germany and France, cup games are often during midweek to allow the winter break to take place, could you imagine the FA Cup being played midweek? I certainly can’t.
So, here is where I finally weigh up the pros and cons, and come to my conclusion as to whether in my humble opinion the British game should undertake a break.
I am a traditionalist and with the game slowly losing all its traditions it would be a great shame to see what makes football in the UK unique fade and die. However, I do understand the need for players to rest and recuperate and I do want to see England one day win a major tournament in my lifetime. But, I believe England’s failings haven’t been down to tiredness and fatigue it has been down to poor management and tactics over the years.
Therefore, I am going to declare that in my opinion there shouldn’t be a break in the British game. It is one of the last standing traditions we have, and we should hold onto it as dearly as we can.
And as West Ham United captain Mark Noble once said, if Soldiers have to do battle during Christmas, then why shouldn’t footballers have to run around and kick a piece of leather around a football pitch. Heck, they are paid enough.
Come on you Irons!