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The Ben Smith column: To break or not to break?

With the arctic conditions we are currently experiencing, which as a result, have decimated pretty much the entire lower league football programme this weekend I thought this may be a good time to re-open the debate on whether or not we should have a winter break in this country.

First things first, I don’t think anyone, bar the odd player, is in favour of closing down football over Christmas. From the clubs perspective this is one of the most lucrative times of the year, regarding gate receipts, with a lot of teams recording their highest attendance of the season. This clearly illustrates that supporters also love these fixtures.

I think the majority of players enjoy playing over the festive period too. As a player you would much rather play than train so having four games in a ten or twelve day period means you are either playing or recovering. Also with the bigger attendances these games attract you are playing in front of bigger and more vociferous crowds. Playing in lively and sometimes hostile atmospheres against your local rivals is the sort of thing that motivates players to push themselves that little bit harder in training. Most of us are happy to sacrifice our Christmas and New Year to be involved in such games.

However a football season is long and demanding not just physically but mentally. Every player will suffer a dip in form over the season and maybe this can be rectified with a winter break. As a lower league player I have spent many winters training on pitches that can only be described as ‘bogs’. As I’m sure you can imagine these pitches get really heavy. This in turn takes a lot out of your legs and can lead to muscular fatigue injuries. A week or two rest normally rectifies these types of ailments.

I know players’ moaning about being ‘tired’ is one of the issues which annoy fans more than anything but it does happen. Especially with younger players who are playing in their first couple of seasons as first team players. I remember that during my first few years as a recognised first team player I found it hard to produce a consistent season and often had to have a spell out of the team to get that freshness back into my play.

Mental fatigue

Not only is there the physical fatigue but there is also mental fatigue. Continuously preparing yourself for a game is hard work even more so at the top level where your every move is scrutinised. I have mentioned previously how stressful I found it leading up to our cup game against Manchester United last year and that was just for a week. Those boys at the top level feel that pressure every day of the week.

Having a scheduled winter break would also give teams the opportunity to take their players away to help recharge their batteries. I know some clubs in the Premiership would probably abuse this privilege and drag the players to the Far East or some Arab country on a marketing mission but that is there prerogative.

At Crawley Town we have just come back from an excellent trip to Portugal. I know I should realise how lucky I am but I must admit that when this idea was first put forward I wasn’t overly keen on the trip. Seems mad that you would moan about getting a free five day holiday in the sun, doesn’t it? I have a lot going on away from football and these trips can often be quite boring affairs. However on this occasion I was definitely wrong.

The facilities were superb as always. This is the third time we have been to this resort and we are always well looked after. The weather got up to about seventeen or eighteen degrees in the day, perfect weather to train in. The management got the blend of training hard and relaxing just right. The training pitch at the complex was immaculate so it meant that when we did train we could get some real high quality work done. On top of that it just slowed down the pace of life for a few days. For players like me it meant I didn’t have to fight my way around the M25 for a few days. Someone, probably famous, said, “A change is as good as a rest.”

On top of the benefits I have put forward we also have the argument that a winter break could enhance the national team’s chances at major tournaments, although I don’t think that is something that I need to worry about!

Of course we can’t legislate for when the bad weather does come. Last season we didn’t play a league game for the whole of December. If we had a winter break for a couple of weeks in January what would we do if that scenario happened again?

I am not saying we should definitely have a winter break I just think it is a discussion worth having.

Whether you agree or disagree with me follow me @bsmudger7 on twitter and give me your opinion on the subject.


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