For so many of us football fixtures are just another part of the Christmas holidays. Boxing Day would just be ‘the day after Christmas’ without the traditional match, and what better way to start the year than to watch your team on 1 January?
But what is common for English leagues is not the norm in most of Europe’s top divisions – Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga – where teams and players enjoy a winter break.
In England, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures means most years (including this year) Premier League clubs face the exhausting burden of having to play four games in little over a week’s period.
The fatigue suffered by many players in English leagues is not present for those on the continent, who have time off to spend on rest, recovery, and recuperation. Top European clubs embark on circuit training, travelling to train (often in warmer climates) to maintain endurance and fitness.
“lack of break hinders CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PROGRESSION”
The lack of a break arguably hinders English teams’ chances in the Champions League, coming into the round of 16 tired with baggage from their domestic league, having to face comparatively fresh opposition.
It is undeniable that players would benefit from a winter break, but the issue is muddier than that. One primary reason there is no winter break is to stop congestion over the rest of the season.
With some Premier League teams having to deal with up to four competitions post-New Year, the five or six Premier League games the winter break would omit would have to fit in somewhere in the busy schedule of the second half of the English season.
This would probably extend the season into June, which is just not practical – especially when international competitions take place over the summer, and players are still entitled to a four-week holiday away from the game.
“TV RIGHTS MUDDY THE ISSUE”
The issue is muddied even further when we remember that sovereignty over Premier League scheduling is exercised by television deals. The FA have said that, although they are favourable to having a winter break, it cannot be seriously discussed until the current TV rights expire. Clearly, any change would be tricky even before considering the sentimental value of the Christmas fixture.
England’s first division has a long history of outrageous Christmas matches: 1963’s Boxing Day saw 66 goals scored – including a 10-1 thumping of Ipswich Town by Fulham – and although Scotland no longer continue their domestic league over Christmas, their holiday history has been characterised by the infamous Rangers – Celtic Ne’erday derby.
This year, however, isn’t filled with many huge games – the most high-profile being Chelsea’s trip up the Piccadilly Line to Arsenal as the first game either side will play in 2018. The only other top six match-up is Liverpool’s visit to Arsenal three days before Christmas; considering the congested period, the teams near the top of the table might be content with avoiding one another.
The sentimentality of the Christmas fixture is undeniably powerful; there’s something magical about being able to pair football with festivities at this time of year.
“ARE WE READY TO GIVE UP OUR TRADITIONS?”
Despite Jürgen Klopp’s criticism of the tradition, his forefathers played a part in one of the most famous football matches in history – one that took place on Christmas Day itself. All the way back in 1914, English and German soldiers stepped out of their trenches to exchange gifts and, amongst the unimaginable devastation, find some pleasure. Incidentally, Germany won 3-2.
It seems rational and fair to employ a winter break, but for now, at least, the TV deals won’t allow it. Perhaps more importantly, are English fans ready to give up their tradition?