Tradition vs Practicality: Should Boxing Day and New Year’s Day matches be scrapped?
'Tis the season to be jolly, especially if you’re a fan of football in England. Unlike others on the continent, who get two weeks off, we get to enjoy a plethora of games across the festive period that would rival any Christmas night buffet.
But are those rose-tinted glasses affecting the quality of the league or worse yet, having a knock-on effect on the national team when it comes to big tournaments?
The usual outcry comes over the tradition of playing on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day and to some extent rightly so. Not only are they days where plenty of people are lucky to have a day off, they are also one of the final few institutions we still get in the modern game.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about it too, whether you got a slow game or a pivotal title-chasing run or a moment that turned a season around in this hectic schedule. So many things can happen over the course of a season but a good run or a bad one when you play four games in such a short space of time can really turn things one way or the other in exciting fashion.
However, it’s the number of games they play in such a short period of time that knocks against practicality.
Take, for example, Leicester City. The 2015/16 Premier League champions have the most hectic of all the Christmas schedules with Boxing Day being part of a huge roadblock.
The Foxes host Manchester United on December 23rd in the late evening kick-off at 7:45 pm. They then have three days before having to travel to London on Tuesday 26th December for a Boxing Day clash with Watford at 3:00 pm.
They get an extended rest as in four days they need to go back up the country to play at Anfield against Liverpool on the 30th at 3:00 pm, head home for New Year’s Day two days later to take on Huddersfield.
Four games, ten days. Is that not a little impractical?
Take a player like Jamie Vardy too, an England international and a regular starter for the East Midlands club. It’s highly likely that he’ll play at least three games during that spell if he avoids injury, giving him barely any rest period from back in August up until the end of the season on May 13.
Some would mention the month before the tournament starts for England, but there will be warm-up games between then as well. In fact, it’s only this year that they’ve moved that final date back, with other leagues finishing a week later, in order to restore some kind of balance.
Another argument, especially in the modern game, is that it doesn’t just affect English players. While the entire squad plays in the Premier League, it is a multi-national division filled with big players for Spain, Brazil, Germany, France and Argentina, who will all be vying for silverware in Russia.
Admittedly, it’s not their entire squad but still, it’s something worthy of noting.
In the end, the obvious solution will be to balance tradition with practicality. There would be an outcry if they got rid of those games but no one would bat an eyelid if they moved a few things around.
The middle game between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day should be the first facing the chopping block, moving it to a midweek date sometime in the second half of the season. They could also lighten the load the game before Boxing Day, should it fall close as it has this year, by scrapping the two-legged semi-finals in the League Cup and adding an extra midweek game.
You keep your favourite parts of the winter football and players feel a little less on their legs come any summer tournaments. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?