View from the Kingsland: Winter Breaks and Transfer Windows

View from the Kingsland: Winter Breaks and Transfer Windows

by Nick Mabey.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Premier League is in the middle of a two-week winter break (23rd January – 7th February). I get a bit twitchy when there is no football at this time of the year. So the idea of a two-week vacuum has not been very warmly received (excuse the pun) in this house.  

Why do we need a winter break?  It’s a relatively new thing for the Premier League, but to me it seems a bit of a nonsense.  Although top-flight clubs are meant to be having a break, the FA Cup 4th round has been shoehorned in – which means only those clubs  that play badly enough to lose in the third round get the full break. Silly Southampton’s 3rd round win away to Swansea has been rewarded with an extra match when they are meant to be putting their feet up by the fire. And even those who could be relaxing during this so-called break, like Newcastle United, are jetting around the world to play in money-spinning friendlies.

Last year’s winter break was cancelled, like many things, by Covid. The shortened season meant that there wasn’t time for a couple of weeks off mid-way through. Somehow the world didn’t fall off its axis and the players managed to complete their games. So why bother?  This year Covid has also interfered with the season, causing 22 match postponements in December and early January. So this break could have been filled with games to prevent an inevitable overload of games later on in the season, but no.

A winter break has been a long-practised custom in many European leagues as a way of giving the players a rest at a time of year when the weather is more likely to inconvenience matters. Many European Leagues use the Christmas and New Year period for their winter break; you can read my view of why us Brits have no time for such crazy ideas in an earlier article (click here).

The climate emergency has also undermined the concept of a winter break, along with the vagaries of the British weather. The original idea was to not play games when the weather was worse but nowadays that is a bit of a lottery, with pleasant December and January days as likely as wild October and November ones.  And in any case, pitch maintenance has been revolutionised – watching our recent home game against Manchester City (if you didn’t see at least highlights why not?!) the action seemed to be taking place on a carpet or a crown green bowls rink in summer.

So in the absence of actual football to watch and talk about we are left with another nonsense novelty, the January transfer window.  I think the idea of transfer windows was designed to bring stability and fairness to the movement of players from club to club without influencing or disrupting seasons.  This might work to an extent in the summer, but not in the January window, which is nine parts hyperbole to one part substance. Most clubs do virtually no business (this year the Saints managed to buy a 16 year-old from Cheltenham and sell no-one) but that doesn’t stop the rumour machine spending 31 days in overdrive.  All of which culminates in a modern-day pantomime called ‘deadline day’, where millions of fans tune in to reports of player sightings in unlikely places, while spurious social media ‘in-the-knows’ splatter the internet with fabricated deals.  The ritual ends amazingly with concerns about the functioning of fax machines being broadcast across the airwaves as the window closes, followed by news that player A didn’t get to club B because the paperwork was not done in time.

You can tell I’m not a fan of either the winter break or the January transfer window.  Perhaps I’m just becoming a crotchety old man yearning for simpler days.  

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