I don’t know about you, but I am bloody freezing at the moment. Call me weak, but I have already encountered moments where I have been unable to feel both my fingers and toes and it has only just started to get cold! Since having to retire from a dazzling football career through injury, I no longer have to worry about those cold weekends, braving the elements in little more than shorts and a t-shirt on a Saturday afternoon or even worse, a Sunday morning. Being so cold that when a teammate smashes a ball in to you it may as well be a bullet with the pain it causes and the imprint it leaves on your body – Mitre tattoos have never really appealed. As the snow rolls in to bonnie Scotland and the north of England, it leaves me thinking ‘is it time for football to have a winter break?’
Over the course of the next 3 weeks the leagues of Austria, Czech Rep, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Holland and Spain will all break up for their annual winter break, with only really England and Scotland that do not do this. As the winters seem to be getting harsher, and I seem to be getting through a lot more cuppa soups and cold and flu tablets, it seems that discussions about a winter break should once again be on the agenda.
Last winter was especially harsh with pretty much the whole of the UK enjoying weeks of turmoil as ‘the big freeze’ kicked in. 30 fixtures across England and Scotland’s professional leagues were postponed last year on boxing day and as the snow comes in again, we could see a similar scenario this year. It is amazing to think that countries with climates a lot warmer than ours have a winter break when their winters are nowhere near as brutal. It was on the weekend of the 18th and 19th of December last year where almost all Premier League fixtures were postponed, including perhaps the season’s biggest game between Chelsea and Manchester United.
Postponement of games is frustrating to any football fan or player, you wake up like a kid at Christmas looking forward to the game, then you look out of your window and see a blanket of snow before procrastinating for the rest of the morning about whether the game will be on or off as you watch Sky Sports News. We don’t know what the weather this winter will be, but it could be much the same as last year, despite the mild start to the winter months.
The weather not only reeks havoc with travelling to and from games, but also with the quality of pitches – they become like concrete when frozen, before thawing out in to a boggy quagmire that makes any player feel like David Hasselhoff running in the sea. These types of conditions can lead to players becoming fatigued more quickly as well as presenting more opportunities for injury to occur. Bad quality pitches lead to bad quality football, so teams that play nice, flowing, passing football on the deck are potentially at a disadvantage.
Teams have to spend more money on maintaining pitches as the damage caused during such weather conditions means more time has to be spent on repairing your pitch. Clubs up and down the land have bought inflatable covers, installed under-soil heating and pretty much done everything they can do in the unwinnable fight against the elements…we will be playing indoors next!
Aside from the weather taking affect on almost every aspect of football, there are just a lot of games now over the Christmas period. There are only 16 days in December where Premier League games are not taking place, if you then add on European fixtures then there are only 13 days where teams are not playing. During December, teams face 6 Premier League games and those in Europe will have an extra European match – December will have more games than any other month. The Premier League have decided to spread things out this year with games on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before Christmas and then Boxing day and the 27th also, as well as games on the 30th and New Years Eve.
This is a lot of games to be playing after the fixture congestion that has already taken its toll on the Premier League, with some teams playing 2 games over the course of 3 days. The main ‘longing out’ of this festive period is due to Sky Sports rearranging games for the viewer’s pleasure, which is their prerogative, but it should be the Premier League job to safeguard the teams and the players of the competition. It will be interesting to see how many teams pick up injuries during such a crucial period of the season.
The fact that we do not have a winter break seems inhuman to the players arriving in the UK from overseas, but more than that, in seasons building up to big summer tournaments, like this season, fatigue after a long gruelling season can have a great effect on the performance of players in major summer tournaments. When we look for answers as to why England do not perform well in major tournaments, according to physio’s, fatigue is a huge contributing factor. Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson has backed a winter break, as has current England manager Fabio Capello. Martin O’Neill and Alex Ferguson are also big advocates of the introduction of a winter break, as are players like Theo Walcott and Peter Crouch amongst others. Cold weather is no good for muscles pre-game either – how many times have you heard the phrase ‘he didn’t warm up properly’.
Everything seems to point in favour of a winter break, the players want it, the managers and clubs want it, the only people that do not want it are Sky Sports, the FA and also probably us fans. I am one of the many fans whose Christmas routine revolves around football on boxing day as being one of the highlights of the festive calendar; I mean come-on, it is tradition after all and the players are paid enough to play all year round…I would for £50,000 a week! Jump back to reality and footballers are only human, they want the time off like we all do regardless of the money, they are no different from you and I. Money machines, like Sky Sports, of course do not want a winter break as it leads to less profit for them and the FA just seem to repel change like Jordan repels men.
I am one of the fans who loves tradition, who can let his heart rule his head, but if my team were in the title race or a fight against relegation, picked up a few injuries and lost points over the Christmas period, I would be annoyed. I would also be annoyed if England flopped again at a major tournament, but if they do and it was down to fatigue then I could see the merits of a winter break. I don’t think the winter break is going to happen anytime soon, but if we get another harsh winter and if FIFA start messing with the time of year the World Cup is held, change could be on us in the next few years. As much as it would mess up tradition and my Christmas routine, it may just be worth it.