Festive football is part and parcel of our lives

Russell Martin bagged a brace against the Premier League champions during Norwich City's festive schedule. Russell Martin bagged a brace against the Premier League champions during Norwich City's festive schedule.

Thursday, January 10, 2013
3:30 PM

If, like me, football plays a major part in your daily life, just have a think for a minute how different Christmas and New Year would have been without it.

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For I fear that before long this is the prospect facing those for whom festive football defines the holiday season as much as Brussels sprouts, a turkey-induced doze, moaning about another year of rubbish television and Father Christmas himself.

While the debate about the pros and cons of a mid-winter break is an old one, this season it has picked up momentum due to some significant backers.

To recap, the argument goes that England should follow the route of Spain, Italy, Germany and France by imposing a break of between two and four weeks during winter.

The reason? Well, here’s what Sir Alex Ferguson had to say just last month: “It is not just to give the players a rest. It is to get rid of all the little injuries they carry.

“It would also freshen everyone up mentally.”

So, according to this line of thought, a mid-season break will mean fitter players in the long run, and presumably better quality of football.

Interestingly, this very argument is debunked by the mystery player behind the recently released The Secret Footballer book (which I’d highly recommend).

He said: “The fixtures have to be played at some time, and I don’t see how players would be any fresher come the end of the season for two weeks off around Christmas, when, invariably, some would simply seize it as a chance to go on the lash.”

Another supporter of such a move is England’s manager Roy Hodgson, who claims it would improve our international side’s chances – though I’m not sure exactly how this would work when surely games would end up being played even closer to major tournaments, causing more fatigue?

He was quoted as saying: “It would be lovely to think that one day we could all get together and say, ‘England is important’.”

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, has been even more revolutionary in his thinking.

He has said: “I moved to Japan and the season was in January to November. We started training in January and after a while it was completely normal . . . you would play during the summer period in the best period for football to be played.”

In all honesty such a seismic shift is unlikely.

However, when leading figures like these are making such calls, it may be only a matter of time before those at the Football Association start to listen.

If they do relent, I hope they take heed of the words of Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini, who has a good handle on the importance of football in this country at this time of the year. He said before Christmas: “In England, Boxing Day is a very important game. But maybe English players need a rest sometimes. It might not be Boxing Day but maybe in January you could have a week off for all the players.”

You just need to look back on the last few weeks for proof that festive football should be maintained at all costs.

I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is, but there’s something about Christmas and New Year which brings with it some of the most exciting football.

From December 22 to January 2 inclusive there were 39 Premier League games, which brought 119 goals. This equates to a little over three goals per game, above the average for the league of around 2.7. I know goals don’t always equate to great matches, but games such as Norwich 3, Manchester City 4, Arsenal 7, Newcastle 3 and Manchester United 4, Newcastle 3, will live long in the memory for those who attended.

It isn’t just the football on offer which makes the case for festive football to remain – there’s the impact on society as well.

Over the years football has been a common passion shared between my father and I. And every Boxing Day we’d scour the fixtures and find somewhere to head for the day. It was our annual tradition and thankfully we were able to do the same this year.

But the day is about so much more than football. This is when we have bonded, caught up and spent some all too rare quality time together.

And how many people reading this go through something similar?

For thousands of people across England attending games over the holiday period is something to relish – whether it is because it offers the chance to bond with family members – or to get some much-needed respite from them.

Festive football is all about the fans, satisfying their demands at a time of year when people actually have the time to really enjoy it.

And to take it away would be another kick in the teeth for those who follow our beloved game.

• This time last year Newcastle were being feted by many as an example of how to run a club without access to the mega-millions enjoyed by some. A balanced wage structure, brilliant scouting system and one of the best young managers in the game were just three of the areas they were being praised for. Now, after a few dodgy signings, the departure of a key player and the bizarre decision to hand that manager an eight-year contract, they’re desperate for a win. They looked woeful against Brighton on Saturday and with just 20 points on the board so far cannot be ruled out of the relegation battle. It just shows how quickly things can turn in football and Saturday is a massive match for both sides.

• Pubs rammed with away fans, terracing, a tiny tinpot toilet, weak tea washed down with a pie, loo roll on the pitch and even a flare – on Saturday I couldn’t help feel like an extra in one of my favourite football films of all-time, ID. It was a fantastic day out for all 5,000 Norwich fans, but best of all was the amazing atmosphere created in the away end. You could argue Saturday strengthened the case for a safe-sanding area at Carrow Road. Though I’m not sure anyone under 6ft tall would agree.

• With the transfer window open for business I wonder if Saturday’s game changed any of Chris Hughton’s thinking as to where he needs to strengthen? Hopefully at the very least David Fox proved that he can be trusted to do a good job in the middle and wasn’t third in player of the year awards for 2011/12 without reason. Simeon Jackson, Ryan Bennett and Elliott Bennett all did their causes a world of good. My money is still on us attempting to bring in a left-sided defender/midfielder, striker and central midfielder.

• Our previous chief executive was renowned for facing fans by standing on the corner of Carrow Road prior to home games. David McNally, however, chooses to do the majority of his supporter liaison through social media – and if you don’t already I’d highly recommend giving him a follow. In the last week alone topics discussed with his 13k followers on Twitter include potential and non-potential transfer targets, ticket pricing for the Luton game, trains to Peterborough and even his views on Norwich’s restaurants. He rarely shuns a question and always seems happy to respond to people’s requests and queries. There can be many pitfalls of high-profile figures putting themselves out there on social media but not in this instance.

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