Take a look at the calendar and it looks nice. League games today, Saturday and Tuesday. Even though the days when teams played 2 games in 2 days on heavy pitches are gone (and no-one complained), at least we can see interesting games whilst we enjoy our deserved Christmas break.
Only in England, the country that invented the game, can the luxury of games over the holiday be permitted. I remember as a boy, that on Boxing Day I always went to game with my father, brother, uncle and cousins. Whatever the game. It was tradition. We love football, and to be cold for a while watching Northampton against Brentford was to enjoy – being cold just meant the halftime tea or Bovril tasted better and warmed you more. As a teenager Boxing days was derby day, Arsenal v Tottenham, a game never to be missed. I have special memories of a 2 – 0 at Highbury in front of 57,000, or having a tough time getting to White Hart Lane as the Underground didn’t have a full service (apart from the fact that –shit- ground is miles from any station), to see a fantastic 2 – 4 to the Arse. Years later, when I spend Christmas in the UK, we still follow the tradition. Boxing Day, we go to football. No arguments. Not that anyone needs any convincing.
The invasion of foreign managers and players, from cultures where they have a 3 week break over the holidays, will, sooner or later, finish off our English tradition of playing more games at Christmas and New Year. I listen horrified as a player pleads tiredness after just 10 games. I stare open mouthed as Wenger demands a winter break. But I’m not surprised.
Happiness in football is now a precious commodity. It doesn’t really exist. You can still sense a tiny weeny of the child who wants to play day in day out in an English player, or in the fans of clubs like Derby, Leicester, Leeds o Bristol, with their commitment and hope for the future, their faith that this game will be the start of another golden age. That is why, in England, you can have league fixtures at Christmas and New Year. You can play Championship on a Tuesday, even if it coincides with Champions League. You can play the FA cup on a Saturday. You can have a second cup competition in midweek. You don’t see a reduced attendance; you get the same gate, or more.
On the continent, in Italy, in Spain, they have the break. Logical. Why would they play at this time of year? The players certainly aren’t going to demand games. It seems like that once you are a professional, for whatever reason, due to pressure, demands of success, players prefer to play the minimum. The innocence of the child who loved to play all the time, has been crushed by the demand to win. WIN. Not play. WIN. The fans are the same, you won’t see them demanding games over the holiday, maybe only the hardcore few, who, like there English counterparts, still believe in romanticism and that the next game is a new beginning. But the reality is that it’s hard to get fans into the stadiums on a normal weekend. You see swathes of plastic, people constantly complain about times, ticket prices; any excuse is a good one not to go. Then you have the “it’s better those dogs don’t play”, because not every team can win. Set a game for a Wednesday, and lose half your support. Play a cup match and see the gate disappear. Say that we need to reduce the number of teams in Primera and Segunda so they play less, and see them nodding in agreement.
So, enjoy the English football festival over the next few days. I think we have 2, maybe 3 years more before the sad cynicism that rules the game abroad stamps out the little happiness that remains.