When I was a player it wasn’t uncommon to play two games in two days at Christmas time. In 1980 Brighton played Leicester away on Christmas Day and won 1-0, on Boxing Day we were at home to Crystal Pace and we won that one 3-2.
I can remember coming into the Goldstone Ground in the morning before the Palace game and the manager Alan Mullery, his assistant Ken Craggs, the kitman Glen Wilson and the physio, Mike Yaxley, were all giving the players a soap massage on the treatment tables to try and get some blood into the muscles and get rid of the stiffness so you could play that afternoon.
Back then the squads were much smaller and there was only one sub. So a manager might use the same 11 players two days in a row, but there’s absolutely no way a player can perform at 100% for 90 minutes and then do the same thing again the following day.
It was difficult back then but it would be impossible today. Everyone is finding ways to improve performance, players are covering more ground, doing it at faster paces and being pushed to the absolute limit and the game is much faster now then it was in my day.
The winter break hasn’t exactly gone to plan with Liverpool ending up with an FA Cup replay while they were supposed to be on holiday and Man City’s game with West Ham getting called off, although you can’t legislate for the weather. But the important thing is that almost all the teams got a two week holiday.
The Bundesliga took a break from December 23rd to January 18th. But they only have 18 teams and there is only one domestic cup competition. Cup competitions and a busy Christmas calendar are traditional in England and I wouldn’t like to see either scrapped.
Scrapping replays and extra time for the cups is one solution to fixture congestion. Just play 90 minutes and then go straight to penalties if a match is drawn, that way there can’t be any unexpected surprises on the calendar like Liverpool and Shrewsbury going to a replay.
The winter break was brought in so that the top players would be fresher for the international tournaments in the summer. Nearly everyone in the England squad plays in the Premier League so it will be interesting to see if there is any obvious benefit when Euro 2020 comes around.
Even if England don’t do well we won’t know conclusively whether it was due to fatigue or other factors. So I think the winter break is here to stay, and staggering it means the Premier League can still put on a handful of matches every weekend for the broadcasters.
In 1982 I was in the Brighton team that lost 1-0 at home to Southampton on December 26th and then were beaten 2-0 by Spurs in an away game the following day. 1983 wasn’t much better, I was in the Spurs side that got beat 4-2 by Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Boxing Day and then drew 0-0 away to Aston Villa 24 hour’s later.
Today’s players don’t have to deal with that sort of a schedule and neither should they. The Premier League is watched by millions of people all over the world in the modern era and it is only right that the people on the pitch should get a bit of protection to ensure they can perform to the right level come match day.