IAN RI­D­LEY

A WIN­TER BREAK WILL BEN­E­FIT

The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS -

Why the much-ma­ligned idea of a win­ter break could be of real ben­e­fit to Non-League foot­ball

AND SO the rit­ual de­bate had its an­nual air­ing. “We play too much foot­ball over Christ­mas and New Year”, bleated those Premier League man­agers not yet fully in­te­grated into English foot­ball cul­ture and her­itage. “We need a win­ter break”, said even those who do have a feel for the game. On that, I’m with them, though per­haps not for the usual rea­sons and cer­tainly not for a Non-League game which needs reg­u­lar rev­enue. A break might in­deed help the Eng­land na­tional team at World Cup and Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship fi­nals com­pe­ti­tions in sum­mers, so won­der­ful do they look in qual­i­fy­ing, so weary – men­tally and phys­i­cally – when the real thing ar­rives. But it is more than that. It is about im­prov­ing the health of the game at Non-League level, which is of­ten for­got­ten in such dis­cus­sions, as well as na­tional. And to give new im­pe­tus to the FA Cup, which again fell vic­tim to top-flight man­agers send­ing out weak­ened teams in the third round last week­end in front of dwin­dling crowds. A more mod­ern an­nual rit­ual.

Sacro­sanct

The clam­our is fre­quently for a Christ­mas and New Year black­out, or white­out, for top teams and play­ers. It hap­pens in most other Euro­pean leagues, goes the ar­gu­ment. Not here it doesn’t and never should. That pro­gramme is sacro­sanct, in tune with our way of life. The emer­gence into the cold air of Box­ing Day with its foot­balling an­tic­i­pa­tion af­ter the ex­cess and con­fine­ment of Christ­mas Day must never die. Nor the blow­ing away of the New Year cob­webs. It is af­ter that that the break should come, un­til at least mid-Jan­uary, with the top level of the English game restart­ing with the FA Cup’s third round. That way, there would be new ap­petite for the com­pe­ti­tion for fans des­per­ate for ac­tion and top play­ers in need of games who might other­wise have been rested. Ah, but won’t clubs sim­ply go abroad for lu­cra­tive friendlies? Let them in­deed have a week of re­lax­ing warm-weather train­ing if it helps. And if they do play a friendly for money, the an­swer is sim­ple: in­tro­duce a rule to say that no player with an in­ter­na­tional cap is el­i­gi­ble to play. So how does the Non-League game fit into this? It would keep play­ing of course and with no Premier League – and per­haps no Cham­pi­onship games, too, though clearly League One and League Two need to keep play­ing due to their tighter cash flows – the fo­cus would be more on smaller clubs. Then surely with a big­ger in­ter­est would come big­ger crowds and rev­enue from fans hun­gry to get their foot­ball fix. Two birds with one stone – fresher and less jaded play­ers, men­tally and phys­i­cally, for in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments at the high­est level and im­pe­tus for the game’s lower or­ders to thrive.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

COLD SHOUL­DER: A top-level win­ter break might help the Eng­land na­tional team – and, strangely, Non-League foot­ball too

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