It wasn’t a huge shock that the BIG MEETING today with the Premier League clubs, managers, and assorted captains resulted in no change whatsoever. The Premier League, and those below it, will attempt to plow through the country’s latest COVID spike, as it decimates rosters, to try and preserve as much of the country’s holiday footballing schedule as it can.
We talked about the reasons last week. Much like the NHL, games around the holidays are some of the best attended for most clubs, especially further down the food chain in the lower leagues. Clubs would be loath to give them up, and there are a fair few who need the money desperately after having no fans last season, and possibly facing reduced crowds later on in this one.
But how much of the schedule the leagues can get through, given the news today, is a dim prospect:
They’re going to salvage what they can and hope it’s not an utter disaster, though. Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea’s manager, made his thoughts clear yesterday on whether or not his club should have been made to play, given what his roster currently looks like. He’s not the only one feeling that way.
And the thing is, the Premier League’s “festival of football” over the holidays, as NBC puts it, is pretty wonderful. You’d be hard-pressed to find a soccer fan who doesn’t love it. The league throws an unfathomable amount of games at fans from just before Christmas to just after New Year’s. Before the outbreak, teams were scheduled to play this past weekend, Boxing Day (the 26th), the 28th, and then on New Year’s Day, with some games moved a day or two later for TV. Still, just about everyone was slated for four games in two weeks, and three in just five or six days. The 26th-to-28th turnaround is particularly egregious, and feels the least necessary.
Still, there are few better feelings than waking up the day after Christmas — almost certainly hung over, certainly sick of the people you’ve had to spend far too much time with — and curling up on the couch, and watching soccer for basically the whole day, even the next whole three days. Same goes for New Year’s Day, though maybe not with the family frustration but probably with a bigger hangover. Or, if it’s all gotten too much, reporting to your nearest pub to join your fellow can’t-stand-the-in-laws-anymore crowd to throw down some Guinness before 10 a.m. and enjoy the Sunday Ticket experience, but for footy (though obviously reporting to a crowded pub these days is not advisable).
It’s not like anyone works all that hard at this time of year, and more and more companies are just turning everyone loose for the duration of the holidays. One can contemplate utopia, even just briefly, during a three-to-four-day stretch of never getting out of one’s pajamas and having Premier League on the telly all day. It’s like getting to watch Price Is Right when you’re home from school sick as a kid, except you don’t have to get sick, it’s more than an hour, and there’s alcohol.
However, the schedule has always been far too oppressive. It’s actually refreshing that the Premier League has been able to ignore its compatriots in every other league in Europe taking some form of a winter break and never adopt one for itself. Even Scotland has a two-week break in January while keeping its own Boxing Day traditions. Italy, Germany, and Spain don’t play over the holidays at all. Maybe English families are just that much harder to deal with (clearly)?
This is far better for players, not only not asking them the maximum but actually giving them time to recuperate for the second half of the season. Meanwhile, England has them trying to play two games in three days, and this year amongst a pandemic that has shorn most squads of rotation options. The actual soccer on display during this time ranges from chaotic to haphazard to simply awful, not that anyone cares, because it’s two hours you don’t have to talk to any of the far too many people in your house. But that’s what happens when players are simply exhausted.
The Boxing Day tradition seems too entrenched to ever go away. The answer, though, is pretty simple. Take Premier League teams out of the League Cup to install one or two more midweek fixture dates early in the season, and have PL teams cut a check to lower league teams for whatever they lose out on in the League Cup by not having the top teams there. Institute an actual break, either right after Boxing Day, or New Year’s, or the third round of the FA Cup which takes place the first weekend in January (though they’ve moved that into December at times, too).
Three games over six days is a ridiculous ask, and it’s long past that the Premier League and Football League stopped requiring it. While they didn’t take the opportunity to back off of them this year with the added pressure and challenges of COVID, that doesn’t mean the discussion should stop when (if ever) COVID is no longer a factor.