Yes, it’s that time of the year again. A time when talk turns to the notoriously hectic festive football schedule, which will see teams play four games in less than two weeks.
For me personally, it’s a fantastic time of the year that is made even better by the constant broadcasting of live games. As a fan I’ve enjoyed many Boxing Day games supporting my team just hours after the big day, still very full up from copious amounts of pigs in blankets.
Selfishly, I love it. But, as I’m fully aware, there are far more factors to football than my enjoyment, which was evident in Jurgen Klopp’s recent comments. After over five years managing in the Premier League, the German still can’t get his head around the fact that there is no Christmas break, saying it’s ‘not right’.
This is why I’m going to take a closer look at the festive schedule without my fan hat on, delving into what it means commercially, as well as to players and fans alike.
The commercial side of the festive football schedule
As fans we often forget that football is purely a business to so many and Christmas time represents a huge opportunity to make a few quid, it’s fair to say that broadcasters seize the moment. There’s no doubt both Sky and BT will be licking their lips at the footballing schedule, with a 12:30pm kick off on Boxing Day with Liverpool v Leeds. I mean, what are the chances of that, two of England’s biggest clubs going head-to-head to kick start the Boxing Day bonanza – it’s almost as if it isn’t chosen at random!
The regularity of football during Christmas is worth millions to these huge companies, the Premier League alone makes £1,600,000,000 every season through Sky, BT and Amazon. To put that colossal figure in to some kind of perspective, Burnley FC is currently valued at £130.7m, meaning you could buy them outright more than 12 times with the £1.6b paid to the Premier League every year – mind boggling stuff! Especially when you consider how many teams in the lower leagues of English football are dangerously close to administration, and some, liquidation.
How does it impact the players?
The next aspect is the players, how do they feel about the relentless regularity of games? Well, for us mere mortals, it’s hard to sympathise at all, I think the majority of us would go and kick a ball around during Christmas if it meant picking up our ginormous salary at the end of the week… having said that, I did say I was going to write this blog without my fan hat on.
So, looking at it objectively, I can imagine it can get quite tough on the players and their families. After all, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones and realistically, players will end up spending far more time with their teammates than they will with their own partners and kids.
When talking about the festive schedule you can’t ignore the high risk of injury. Four games in two weeks, combined with the blisteringly cold weather, can be a recipe for disaster. Sure, it’s easy for outsiders to just say ‘rotate the squad’, but for those in charge it’s not so easy, they still want to win every game possible meaning they’re likely to field their best players even when they don’t have much to give. This fatigue turns into injuries, and injuries can lead to the downfall of a team’s entire campaign.
I also think it’s clear the excitement for the players comes far more naturally to those from the UK than it does for those from further afield, and this is most likely down to the fact that for our homegrown players, it’s all they’ve known. They were once fans themselves, tuning in every single day to watch the best games, the only difference now is, they’re playing!
Us, the supporters
Finally, and this is where I feel most comfortable, what does it mean to the fans? In short, IT’S ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC.
The Christmas period is a huge part of the football calendar and no doubt adds to the festivities, so much so that so many actually prefer Boxing Day to Christmas Day, they’d sooner rather just get it out the way and crack on with what really matters, THE FOOTBALL!
There’s also the classic commentary line ‘the league starts to take shape around Christmas’ which has often proved to be true, with those leading the pack on the 25th December going on to secure silverware at the end of the season, unfortunately it’s also the same for those at the bottom, so Christmas isn’t always so merry.
The festive football schedule will always divide opinion, but one thing is for sure, love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. And if you hadn’t realised it already (slim chance of that), I wouldn’t have it any other way!