So the hectic Christmas fixture schedule is coming to an end and although it’s been a blessing to spend a special time of year with family and friends in my hometown of Cork, something which I’ve not experienced in over 5years, it was difficult to experience not being involved in the craziness of English football’s most iconic time of year. Four games, which can either consolidate or derail a season, in under two weeks made all the more frantic as they are sandwiched either side of a Christmas and a New Year.
Without a shadow of a doubt there is something very romantic about this time of year that puts the rest of the footballing calendar in the shade and the abolition of which should be a complete and utter non starter. Preparing and training for games, doing the Christmas shopping, preparing for the visits of friends and family, arranging accommodation, getting tickets and travel sorted for games, getting the right present for the missus which can be a more daunting challenge than the actual games themselves and can potentially lead to a bigger cold shoulder than any manager can give you and am I forgetting anything….oh right, the small matter of performing consistently in four games in twelve days.
It makes me exhausted just writing about it but would I change the festive madness in favour of a christmas break…absolutely not…and I can now see, having both been involved and not been involved in festive football, the validity in the debate about having a two week break after the New Years fixtures, if for nothing else just to recharge and take stock.
It’s a time of year for a footballer, moreso than any other, where football completely consumes your life and energy, factor into this the previously mentioned Christmas checklist and it makes perfect sense to have a footballing equivalent of parents leaving their young kids with the in-laws and having a weekend away to themselves in order to reconnect and recharge.
Christmas is a time of year renowned for festive cheer and goodwill, but as we all know being fans, it’s hard to enjoy the festivities and be fully buoyant when your team is struggling for results. Now multiply that feeling, square it and add a few numbers and you might still be short of what it feels like to be a player or manager involved in a team that’s struggling with the hurdle that is the Christmas fixture list. In such a congested fixture timetable, it’s a fact for footballers that you see your colleagues more than you do your own loved ones. If the fixtures are unkind and you’re unfortunate to play away on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day then you usually spend Christmas night, New Year’s Eve or sometimes both in the not so romantic ideal of rooming with a farting team mate at a team hotel instead of sharing it at home with those you love. Being part of a successful side undoubtedly helps with this, however being part of a side with a great camaraderie and character is the force that drives a successful team, not only over Christmas but usually over the season as a whole. Being without results and without togetherness can breed contempt and resentment in a team and the Christmas/New Year schedule does it’s very best to challenge all quarters.
With small squad sizes now being more commonplace throughout the lower leagues especially, a two week January hiatus makes perfect sense in allowing players the opportunity to not only recuperate from physical injury but also the mental fatigue that is so often overlooked. The benefits, in my opinion, far outweigh the negatives and perhaps would reduce the dominance of club budgets in determining promotion/relegation outcome and provide the smaller clubs with a recovery platform to further compete and sustain a promotion challenge or relegation escape without threatening the financial structure of their club.
If the importance of time away or down time, call it what you will, is recommended to parents, both young and old in times of stress, in order to regain perspective, appreciate and recharge thus supposedly help them cope better with the trials and tribulations of the most stressful job that is parenthood, then surely, by the same token, a two week breathing space in January, allowing footballers and managers alike time away to re-energise, reflect and plan for the challenges that lay ahead can only be a positive addition and further add to the romance of the game. Let’s have more Yeovil Town fairytale stories and why not give a helping hand to the clubs that are punching above their weight.