‘Tis the season to be jolly and all that, unless you’re a Wigan Athletic fan then the run of games over Christmas usually end in disappointment.
Traditionally Boxing Day games for Latics fans usually consist of wearing Fancy Dress and, for many, this is the highlight of the season. But what if that was taken away and a Winter Break was brought in? What would you do with your time if there was no football to watch over the festive period? England is one of the few countries which doesn’t adhere to a winter break and attendances usually increase over the festive period.
As some of you may know, I am a fan of Italian football and they have had a winter break in the top divisions for over 20 years now. Matches in Italy used to be played on the 26th December until the 1994/95 season when, under pressure from the players’ association, the league agreed to implement a winter break. This break was timed to coincide with the school holidays, with football coming to a stop on the weekend before Christmas and returning at Epiphany (usually a week after New Year)
This three-week hiatus remained until a few years ago when Serie B (Championship level) added two games over Christmas to its fixture list. The second tier has managed to retain its winter break, but this has been moved into the middle of January instead.
This has come at a cost though, with the traditional Epiphany bank holiday games exchanged for those on Boxing Day. In the last few years, attendances would suggest that the change has been a relative success. Boxing Day 2015 saw a 20% increase in crowds across Serie B, compared with the season’s overall average and a pattern has emerged of many clubs recording their highest gate of the season over Christmas.
There had been plans for Serie A to follow suit and bring in Boxing Day games for the current season but these were postponed. There were also issues around how to fit in a three-week winter break, as fixture congestion means that Serie A cannot shutdown as late as the second division does, due in part to the Coppa Italia which continues to be played over two legs throughout the whole competition.
For now England still gets it festive fun, and the talk of a winter break still rumbles on but, if a break did happen in the English leagues, it would be the fans who suffer once more.