The Premier League holiday programme is a proud tradition , producing exhilarating contests and devastating muscle injuries to the delight and despair of fans every year. Where most European leagues either stay on their regular schedule or impose a Christmas break on their clubs, English teams are expected to be made of sterner stuff than the soft continentals, and thus double their match volume instead.
It’s pretty silly stuff, inciting vociferous debate annually, but the Festivus and Boxing Day fixtures are seemingly non-negotiable events in the eyes of the FA and whichever broadcaster most recently paid a considerable fortune for the rights to air the games.
Until 2017, that is, the year in which Sky Sports have decided to shake it all up and suggest that games be played on different dates this Christmas. Did you think they were suggesting better dates that would be reasonable and practical for players and fans? In that case, I suspect you’re also still eagerly awaiting a certain pivot.
Sky Sports’ suggested adjustment this year is to adhere to the Saturday/Sunday schedule, which in 2017 results in games being played on Christmas eve. Beyond being both unbelievably impractical for players and staff looking to celebrate the holiday with their family, and likely to draw extremely low ratings due to fans doing the same, it would be an absolute logistical nightmare for those intending to attend the actual match, looking at a return journey late Christmas eve or on Christmas day.
Naturally, obviously, there has been resistance.
“We hope that common sense will prevail and that both clubs, police, television companies and the Premier League decide against such a move,” said supporter group Spirit of Shankly in a statement.
“Changing to Christmas Eve would have an untold impact on staff and supporters, particularly away supporters. Supporters would be faced with the prospect of getting home in the early hours of Christmas morning.
“We are in the process of contacting the relevant personnel to make it clear that it would be completely unacceptable to expect supporters to travel back from the capital at that time.”
Spirit of Shankly aren’t always entirely reasonable in the statements and stances, but it is difficult to find fault with their logic here. It is similarly tough to make any sense of Sky Sports’ position, and one imagines following through on this idea would see a degree of fan action take place, likely some form of boycott. Hopefully the broadcaster comes to their senses before such measures become necessary.
On the bright side, at least it isn’t in the hands of the FA.