At this time of year, when yet another game is called off due to a frozen pitch, or called off due to safety concerns, our attention often turns to the concept of a winter break. The basics of a winter break, as if i have to spell it out, is to incorporate a break in the league during the winter months. The notion of a winter break sounds like the magic wand that will end the increasingly regular occurrence of postponed matches, however there are a number of factors to consider.
The most common proposal is to take a one month break. The main issue with this simple proposal is when to have this month off? Going on past winters, January, or maybe even February, would seem the sensible timing, but the unpredictable Scottish weather delivered the coldest December in 100 years, so a January or February break would not have helped. One solution to the timing issue would be to incorporate a fixed break, say in January, and then use that as a break, or as a time to catch up with games that might have been called off in December. Ironically, if we had a January winter break for the 2010/11 season, we probably wouldn’t have any break at all due to the backlog of matches.
Looking beyond the weather issues that winter brings, the idea of a break in the season would provide much needed rest for the players, especially when a season can potentially contain upwards of 50 competitive games(in all competitions). We do not have the luxury of having strong depth in our leagues, so anything that can be done to help get the best 22 on the park is surely worth doing.
Fitting in a winter break does mean that something has to give, either by extending the season, or starting it earlier.
Extending the season is a non starter for me, due to the occurrence of an international tournament every two summers. You might ask why that is an issue when Scotland haven’t played in one in so long, but we can but hope that one day that will change. In addition to the Scottish national team, we would also have issues with players of other nationalities being called away at the most important part of the season. As I mentioned earlier, we do not have a lot of depth in our leagues, so even a handful of players missing could have a major impact on the quality of our game and even where the title ends up.
Starting the season earlier is the way forward for me. Our UEFA coefficient has taken a battering in recent years, so we have to find ways of improving this. Starting the season earlier will allow our teams to get match practise in before the European campaigns begin. Hibs, for example, in 2010 were eliminated from Europe before the league campaign had even started. I’m not saying that they would have definitely progressed with match practise under their belt, but they would have had a much better chance.
As I write this, the SPL have met to discuss the best way forward for the league, as well as for Scottish football. As part of this I am sure that a winter break will be discussed and I cannot see them dismissing a break of some sorts, especially when there are very few negatives.