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‘Tis the season to be… playing football

‘Tis the season to be… playing football


We’re not going to start feeling too sorry for professional footballers. But if there’s any moment in the year when they deserve a tiny bit of sympathy, it’s Christmas and New Year when the league schedule can be punishing.


Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story, every day, to make sense of the world of football.

Today, spare a thought for those working hard this Christmas… professional footballers.


This time next week – with any luck – we’ll be settling down with our nearest and dearest ahead of Christmas Day festivities.

And over the festive period, there will be drinks, games, food, and for many of us, football to watch from the stands or on TV.

But for a few thousand individuals, Christmas means working harder than ever.

I’m talking, of course, about our heroic professional footballers.  

The relentless schedule – starting on Boxing Day – means most footballers will be playing three times over the course of Christmas week. 

Now, that’s not unusual for some at the top end of football, who play in European competitions, but most of those clubs have big squads.  Players can be rotated. 

But what is life actually like for a professional footballer over this period?

Well, you can’t get much more professional than the former Arsenal legend, Nigel Winterburn. 

He made more than 700 appearances in his career, so I called him up for a Christmas chat…

It’s very hectic, there’s no recovery periods. You know, game on top of game. I think if I go back to not long after I first started I mean, we played two games in two days at one stage, but it’s a little bit more spread out now. But it’s still, it’s still very hectic and it’s pretty similar to you know, my time at Arsenal really. And it’s not… listen, as a player, it’s not great. If you are married with a family, because I knew my wife and kids knew that. Once it got to half past three, maybe? Yeah, about half past three on a on on Christmas day. That was it. I was off. 

Nigel Winterburn

For footballers, Christmas just isn’t very… Christmassy. 

Don’t worry, I know there are plenty of people who work over Christmas – many of whom do far more important jobs than playing football. 

But spare a thought for the footballers….

Until only a couple of years ago, the Premier League was the exception to the rule in Europe that Christmas means a winter break.  

They kept going while their counterparts in Spain, France and Germany had Christmas to themselves.

But after pressure from the likes of the Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, who accused the Premier League of ‘killing’  players with the schedule, a compromise has been reached.  Players will keep going over Christmas and the New Year but they now have a break at the end of January and the start of February.

Guardiola still isn’t impressed by the Christmas scheduling.  Here’s what he said before his side’s match against Wolves last week.

When we play two days, rest, between Christmas time and New Year’s Eve, there’s no time to recover for the players. Every year we’re scheduling, for the last 20, 30, 40 years about this statement, and nothing changes, so… you adjust, and pray your players don’t get injured.

Manchester City

Christmas is undoubtedly a great time for us as fans – wall-to-wall football, surrounded by friends and family, without the stresses and strains of normal life is, well, brilliant.

And as for New Year’s Day football, the former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has his own thoughts on that…

“I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Eve, I must say – never been – I’m glad, I don’t actually go out, or I was playing football, or to watch it, I’ve got no time for New Year’s Eve at all, I just don’t get it. Everyone’s shaking hands with you, you haven’t seen them all year, everyone’s just being a phony, shaking your hand, saying all the best, they’re probably slaughtering you.”

“Why don’t you go somewhere where you like everyone?”

“That’s very difficult when you’re Jamie Carragher…!”

Sky Sports Football

Hopefully, we’ll still get to see some football over the Christmas period.

And that’s all from us here at Playmaker and Tortoise for Christmas. 

Thank you to you for listening – whether today’s episode was your first or 94th. 

We’ll be back in the New Year, bringing you one story each day to make sense of the world of football. 

If you’ve enjoyed listening, do share it with your friends and family, it’s the perfect Christmas dinner conversation… trust me. 

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Katie Gunning.