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