During the Leicester City vs Manchester United game on Saturday night, commentator Alan Parry mentioned the “stresses and strains” on the Premier League players at having to play four games over the Christmas period. “Some of these players face four games in just nine day!” Parry remarked as if this was a massive hardship for them. That will be the same four games in nine days that virtually every club playing at Steps 7 and 8 of the footballing pyramid face over Christmas.
I hear the arguments about the stresses and strains of the Premier League, apparently the fastest league in the world (although I am not sure how that has been measured) but these players are professional. They have the best facilities for fitness and recovery at their disposal – Pep Guardiola’s 16 man management team includes such roles as a Sports Therapist, a Head of Human Performance, a Soft Tissue Therapist and a Head of Sports Medicine. Below them is an army of experts whose job is to ensure that Pep’s record breaking team are in peak condition when they cross the white line. In most instances they are told what to eat and drink, when and where.
Down in the Bostik League South (as with in most other Non-Leagues), today was the first of four games Lewes played in the next nine days. Our players and physios head home to their families tonight for Christmas and some will return to their normal jobs tomorrow and even Christmas Day before regrouping on Tuesday for the next game meaning that they cannot spend any time with the players and their rehabilitation. We share the same concern as Guardiola that four games over the Christmas period is too much, especially with small squads and half way through the season where suspensions are starting to bite. Today was our 33rd game of the season, and whilst our three new signings who all made their debuts today due to the growing injury list took the number of players we have used over the 30 mark, only 20 have played in more than five games, exactly the same number of players Manchester City have used in their 28 games this season.
Ultimately, the commercialisation of the Premier League game means that clubs have little control as to when games are scheduled. Whilst other leagues across Europe have mid-Winter breaks, that simply means the Premier League can charge a higher fee to overseas broadcasters to schedule games at times attractive to foreign audiences – why else would the Leicester City game be scheduled on a Saturday night two days before Christmas? In the Non-Leagues Christmas games bring in vital revenue, with local derbies boosting attendances although the continued lack of public transport on Boxing Day does prove problematic to many – Lewes take on Hastings United on Boxing Day despite the fact there is no public transport running between the two East Sussex towns 29 miles apart.
Commentators and members of the media often talk about Premier League players in revered terms, forgetting the hundreds of other equally committed and passionate individuals give up their time to bring joy to thousands of us who prefer our football a little less sanitised than that at the top level.
Happy Christmas to everyone who will take part in those games over the next nine days and spread the joy of the beautiful game to us all.