This summer, if England make a mess of the World Cup and exit at an early stage, one of the first reasons given for our ineptitude will be that we don’t have a winter break and our players are exhausted and broken by the physical rigours of the league. I have to admit to being cynical about this, preferring to blame not being good enough at football instead.
And maybe in June it all makes sense that we should have a two or three-week break like Germany. But, think about it. Can you imagine how we’d all feel now if there was no football until mid-January? It’d be appalling. Life would feel it was not being lived to the full.
It’s Christmas and if you’re anything like me, much of your holiday entertainment will be structured around the watching and discussion of football.
And true fans of the game in this country look forward to this time of year like no other. It has a special quality and to imagine it not existing is impossible. I will happily take England failure in the summer if it means we keep festive season football.
Because, if you’re one of those people, like me, who doesn’t have kids and doesn’t really connect to Christmas and is always vaguely happy when it’s all over, this is a strange time of year. I can never work out what is going on and why.
The whole celebration of the birth of Jesus thing, I get. But I don’t see how that relates to buying £2000 worth of presents from Argos and eating sausage at a German fair and worrying that you’ve not bought your Auntie Sandra something. In fact, I don’t see why it requires giving each other gifts at all. And who the hell is Santa and what has he got to do with anything?
It’s supposed to be a religious festival but unless your religion is Argos, it’s largely a secular gig these days. Also wishing people a happy Christmas, is weird. I want people to have a happy life not just for a couple of days in December. What does it all mean? I have no idea. So I withdraw from all this competitive shopping and gift-buying and it’s only really the football that makes the whole shebang bearable.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this because for as long as I can remember, the Boxing Day crowds were always the biggest of the season. Even last season the Premier League was at 97.2% capacity for Boxing Day. At my own club, Middlesbrough, our record attendances at both Ayresome Park and The Riverside came on the 27th and 28th December.
That’s not for no reason. More people go to see a game on Boxing Day or the day after, purely as an excuse to get out of the house and away from the simmering familial tensions and weeping children. The pressure to have a good time is so great at Christmas, that if you’re not having a good time, it feels like you’re letting everyone down. This builds up even more pressure on you psychologically and soon you’re going stir crazy and considering inserting a yuletide log into an annoying relation.
Death rates are evidently higher on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day than at any other point in the year, brought on by stress, overindulgence and by losing the will to live in the face of receiving another Christmas jumper. More divorces are initiated in January than at any other time of the year too, as people realise they can’t stand being in the same house together for a mere two days consecutively.
Football offers a blessed relief. Of course, there used to be games on Christmas Day and Boxing Day too, until the 1957/58 season, usually against the same club, which was some kind of madness, especially if Plymouth were playing Carlisle.
By the time you build in a couple of pre and post-match drinks, you can have occupied five hours of your Boxing Day and this can be the difference between a happy New Year and a conviction for GBH via the aforementioned yuletide log.
While clubs might complain about the stresses of playing so many games in a short space of time, this is to totally misunderstand the important roles such rituals play in our lives. Boxing Day fixtures are a bookmark in the year. They are part of routines established over generations and these should not be lightly dismissed just because you’re worried a player might get a tweak. This should be the one time of the year where clubs and players stop thinking of themselves and start thinking of us.
The winter break, should it be deemed necessary, would be better off being in late January, anyway. That’s always when we tend to get the worst weather and at the end of January we don’t need to have a break from Christmas insanity. By then everyone is regretting what they spent and consumed and everyone who didn’t is feeling smug and saying “I told you so”.
Christmas is the best argument for not having a winter break at this time of year and no amount of tournament humiliation in the summer will make me believe otherwise.
But whatever you’re doing, take it easy, and if it’s getting you down, you’re not alone in that and it will soon all be over.
Peace to y’all.