In February 2020 â€“ shortly before the season was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic â€“ the Premier League took a two week winter break for the first time. Because of the condensed nature of last season and the summerâ€™s UEFA European Championships, the winter break was kicked into touch and hasnâ€™t returned this year. While there are no more Premier League fixtures until the 5th of Feb, there is of course the FA Cup 4th round taking place between the 28th and the 31st of Jan.
But in the run up to Christmas, both JÃ¼rgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel went on the offensive, calling for a winter break, perhaps with an eye on a continued tilt at the Premier League and the Champions League, while a couple of years back, Louis van Gaal described the lack of a winter break in England â€œevilâ€. Ironically, the lack of a winter break was defended by none other than ArsÃ¨ne Wenger, who said, â€œmaybe itâ€™s because Iâ€™ve been in England for such a long time. I had his ideas when I arrived here but today I would cry if you changed that because itâ€™s part of English tradition and English football.â€
What with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar being held during next winter â€“ a 5-week break to coincide with the World Cup has already been announced for the Scottish Premiership â€“ those noises will inevitably get louder.
The original winter breakers arrived in England a few years after the creation of the Premier League, with a large influx of players from European leagues used to a break from competitive football around Christmas and early in the New Year.Â
The arguments in favour of a winter break were always pitched by the so-called â€˜eliteâ€™ and despite their spin, it was always obvious that any benefits would be shaped in favour of those Big Boys.
We heard that a winter break would be a positive as elite players would be fresher in advance of the latter stages of the European competitions, meaning that the big guns would be in a position to lift big trophies and reap the financial rewards that would follow. However, this has never really proven to be a big issue â€“ in recent times English clubs have tended to be pretty competitive in Europe.
We were also told that a winter break would be a boost to the England team going into summer tournaments, though we have of course heard that sort of thing before when it comes to major changes to our domestic game and how they will benefit the national team. We were promised that the creation of the Premier League would do the very same thing.
And we also heard that it would also be a positive for us â€“ the fans â€“ to get a break from things during what is a busy and expensive time of the year, which is a nonsense. Despite the pressures and challenges that the winter period from Christmas to the end of January brings, it has always been popular with football supporters. We get the Christmas fixtures, the 3rd and 4th rounds of the FA Cup, and the League Cup semi-finals; to disrupt this would prove anathema to the majority.
And Iâ€™m one of them. Iâ€™m someone who has always loved football from during this time of the year and the idea of a break during this period has always jarred a little. This isnâ€™t a xenophobic, â€˜give Johnny Foreigner a kickâ€™ thing; but to join an English club knowing that there is no winter break and then wonder why or complain that there isnâ€™t one is well, a bit weird.
No, the reason that I love football from the end of December until the end of January is because I have some many great memories from games during this time of the year. Memorable Boxing Days wins for Stoke City over the likes Liverpool, Manchester City (â€œwhereâ€™ve yer nanas goneâ€; if you know, you knowâ€), Newcastle United, and the two Sheffield sides. Big crowds, great atmospheres. Good times. Boxing Day games can often mean a clubâ€™s biggest gate of the season. That might not be so important to a Manchester United or an Arsenal, but for those away from the top table, it certainly will be.
And FA Cup third round weekend is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the season. A time when the minnows meet the giants; when non-leaguers can come up against Premier Leaguers. Days when anything can, and often does, happen.
These are the days the football supporters live for.
I think that most accept that English football needs to change in many ways. However, this isnâ€™t the sort of change needed. There is more than enough power in the hands of the elite football clubs and various media companies involved in televised football, and a winter break would be a further erosion of what football supporters hold dear. The Big Boys have already got their own way when it comes to the structure of our cup competitions; this would surely be a bridge too far?
And where would it end? You can bet that if a permanent winter break was secured by the Premier League that Championship clubs would start to make similar noises even though their calendar is congested enough as it is.
And what else would they then demand? The European Super League plan â€“ which Iâ€™m not convinced has gone away â€“ and Project Big Picture both painted a picture of footballing superpowers craving more money, but most critically, even more power.
However, you would like to think that these sorts of things are never done deals. Letâ€™s face it if I feel this way â€“ and I know many others that do too â€“ supporters of the so-called elite clubs will do and would need to face it down in much the same way that they did when the European Super League proposals emerged (â€œwe want our cold nights in Stokeâ€). The suits and breadheads cannot have everything their own way.
Over the past couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some serious cracks in the national game, while the aforementioned European Super League and Project Big Picture proposals tested the patience of English football supporters in a very big way. Indeed, the popularity of grassroots and semi-professional football has grown over the same period of time, and there is a real possibility that further tinkering with the football calendar would push more in the same direction.
If a renewed push for a permanent winter break was to be mounted, would this prove to be the final straw? Would this end our love affair with top-flight football? It may not prove to be so dramatic, but Iâ€™d wager that it would do far more harm than good.
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