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Christmas break? No thanks!

Sprout-ridden floors in Asda. A death in Eastenders. Flimsy paper crowns in crackers. And the ongoing debate about a Premier League winter break.

Ok, so perhaps the latter isn't quite yet entrenched as a bona fide Christmas tradition - but it is not far off. In recent years, a number of high-profile figures have added their weight to the argument that a yuletide hiatus is a necessity for English football.

This year is no different. Most recently, Martin O'Neill has reiterated his desire to see a break introduced to the English calendar. Having experienced such a system in Scotland whilst managing Celtic, he is perhaps more qualified than most to comment.

The winter break experiment was scrapped in Scotland in 2003, and the SPL and Premier League are now the only two major European leagues to hold regular fixtures throughout December and January. Teams from Spain, Italy, France, Holland, Germany and Portugal will this year all take a break of at least 17 days during the winter months.

O'Neill is by no means alone in his opinion, especially in the world of management. Both Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson have come out in favour of a break during their respective periods with England, and Alex Ferguson claims to have been an advocate for over 30 years. Arsene Wenger, Sam Allardyce and Mark Hughes are just a few of the other Premier League managers (past and present) who have publicly backed a rest period.

The players feel the same

And - surprise, surprise - the players feel the same way. In 2007, a BBC survey showed that a majority of the players' union representatives in the Premier League were in favour of a winter shut-down. Phil Neville, a part of that majority, recently renewed his call, saying, "If we want to have a successful national team, [a winter break] is the first thing we need to do."

"A successful national team" - that, it seems, is the crux of the matter. Read any statement in support of a break, and you will almost certainly see a mention of the success, or otherwise, of England. The argument is a familiar one - give players a rest period, and, come the summer, they will be more likely to perform at their peak during World Cups and European Championships.

With so many in the game being such assertive proponents of this argument, it is difficult for the layman (in this case, the fan) to claim otherwise. Whilst it would seem to us that a two-to-three week break may not make too much difference to England's fortunes, it is hard to disagree in the face of the footballing intelligentsia.

What's more, they appear to have stats on their side. According to Uefa, there are four times as many injuries in the Premier League in April and May as there are in leagues with a winter break. And in 2008, a ProZone study showed a significant drop in performance levels in December compared with other parts of the season, with results suggesting that the winter congestion has a real effect on the well-being of players.

But with most fans, this does not wash. We want our Christmas football. And so we should.

Fantastic festive football!

Festive football in England is fantastic. Attendances are high. Snow falls in floodlights. Stocking-filler scarves are wrapped around necks. Selection box favourites are jammed into pockets. Glove-muffled applause accompanies alternative carols. There's a game on Monday; there's another one on Thursday. It has been cherished by so many down the years, and has an important place in our national footballing consciousness.

The fundamental question is this - would you sacrifice your Christmas fix for the supposed good of the national team? It is a 'club versus country row' set in a different context, and your answer is likely to depend on the extent to which you feel club football serves to feed international football.

The fact is that the Premier League does not run the national team. As long as that remains the case, a winter break seems out of the question. For Richard Scudamore and his organisation, the numbers simply do not add up.

And, as a fan, I am grateful that that is the case. Club football and international football are separate entities, and should remain so. It is not the Premier League's job to provide, above all else, for the national team - and with so many fans on its side on this particular matter, why should it attempt to do so?

When it comes to festive football, there is nothing quite like the English way. And that, soccer scrooges, is the way it should remain.

By Joe Hall


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