D3D4 correspondent Nathan Ridley looks at the pros and cons when it come to having a Winter Break in English football whilst also canvasing some fans for their opinions…
To Winter Break or Not to Winter Break, that is the Question!
With another season of festive fixtures over and more talk about the congestion of matches from the managers at the top, could a winter break really happen in the near future?
A break would massively change the structure of English football and moreover, have huge implications on League One and League Two – which usually benefits from the period.
The likelihood is that a winter break (at least for the professional leagues) would begin after the final full weekend before Christmas Day and end on the first full weekend of January following New Year’s Day (the FA Cup third round weekend) which would mean a fortnight rest with teams missing out on 3 games whilst still probably training. Devoid of Boxing Day, middle and New Year’s Day matches in which crowds are typically up for League One and League Two sides, it would lead to less financial gain for them as their matches would take place midweek instead. Further to this, the iconic period would no longer bring hype to lower-league football whilst the usual working folk are free however they do sacrifice family time to watch the games so on a social level things are just about tied.
On the pitch, players would have a slightly more consistent season and thus the ‘Let’s assess after Christmas’ expression would fade away too. Little is said in League One and League Two about the schedule (and the Championship for that matter) but in the Premier League bosses such as Pep Guardiola (arguably in the most privileged position in country’s football pyramid) has stated clearly that it is a “disaster” and it will “kill” the players and their own meticulous planning is “crazy” in such a time. That evidently leads to more easily influenced fans of the top-flight to side with the men at the top who dominate the sport. Other gaffers like Jürgen Klopp cannot fathom the idea (much like his former Bundesliga counterpart) and year after year it’s presumed that the country is ‘falling behind’ and for example when the World Cup rolls around this summer & if there’s no success England, the early finger pointing will come the way of the busy winter period. It doesn’t help that there is a live televised fixture almost every day for the fortnight which forces some teams to have different fixture lists; although, if they take the infamous TV money then they have to deal with it. You can’t have your cake and eat it as the expression goes.
Arguably the most valid point in the pro-winter break camp is that injuries increase during the period. An analyst for the Premier League stated that the rate of injuries rose 32% on the monthly average. Players appear to get injured more and more seriously nowadays and with a seeming lack of toughness about them, managers are sharp to say that their men aren’t being protected. However, international matches or warm-weather training camps tire the players out almost as much.
Most importantly, whether it be on the terraces, in the stands or in the pub, the fans are crucial to the existing Christmas stretch. Myself supporting a club that has even had its stadium flooded in the winter and watched ‘home’ matches at the likes of Bloomfield Road and Deepdale (which are both decent journeys from Carlisle respectively), means that I can say with experience that there’s no doubt winter can be a huge problem for football as a fan but that can’t be avoided.
The cost of travelling to matches in a tight period can take its toll on financial situations in families and social groups but on the other hand, there’s a lot more of an event-like atmosphere around the stadium.
In terms of players, the argument is that most other professions work over the festive weeks and are paid far less than footballers. In the end the fans work in order to be able to afford to watch them.
I spoke to some fans asked for their thoughts on the matter.
Firstly Jack, an EFL fan, said that “I don’t think a complete winter break would be good for English football but I do think there are perhaps too many games played over the Christmas period.” but did suggest “Moving one of those league fixtures to a Tuesday night later on in the season or perhaps even extending the season by a week or two could be an option. A complete winter break would be terrible for the game though. These players are professional and should be able to cope with the demands. Boxing Day and New Years football are part of the English tradition and it would be a shame to lose that.”
Another EFL supporter of the same age, Riegan, said “I’m completely against a winter break. I think the Christmas/New Year schedule in England is completely unique and it adds something to the game – you know it can make or break your season.” He also made the point of “If they extended the season by starting/finishing earlier/later you’d still encounter the same problem.” which further validates his original argument. Another factor added to his stance was “There’s a lot of changes in the game right now and I think quite a lot of fans in England are being driven away due to it. Perhaps changing the long lasting tradition of the packed winter schedule could deter more fans away from the game” which links to the notion that attendances increase over the Christmas period as they get lower and lower nowadays.
Conversely Ross, a Premier League fan, stated “I think it would benefit massively, especially to the big teams and those in the European competitions.” and “I think it’s only because it happens in a few leagues in Europe that some people want to have a winter break. It’s halfway through the season and all teams just be at the peak of their fitness. You hear it more from the managers rather than the players and that’s because they’ve been used to it when they’ve managed in other leagues.”
From these views, it’s clear to see that in the EFL where things are more traditional fans would prefer less change but at the top of the tree, progression needs to be made which is a very similar idea to the implementation of VAR into the Premier League.
That could show that the Premier League and quite likely Championship would benefit fans a-wise from a winter break whilst League One and League Two fans remain as they are but possibly could even remove the match between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve/Day if alteration was unanimously agreed between the clubs. It would be a club-by-vote in those pairs of leagues if the FA were to officially raise the idea; but with supporters clubs hopefully getting a say.
So would a winter break work? No matter how many leagues adopt it, there’ll certainly be debate. Let us know what your thoughts are.
words Nathan Ridley, D3D4 Carlisle United correspondent