Bored already, Germany? A whole month without football eh? A whole month watching ZDF’s nailbiting coverage of the skiing. A whole month of Sportstudio guests who everyone politely pretends to have heard of before. Whatever will you do?
You’ll watch the Premier League of course! For in England, we have no winter break. We are men. Strong like old Mother Thames. Hardy like the cliffs of Dover. So long as the erosion is imperceptible, we can pretend it isn’t there. Frostbite may rob us of our toes, rampant hail may see us bleed openly onto the grass, but we shall never stop running mindlessly after the football! Not, that is, until we get a little tired in the summer from all these winter games, and crash listlessly out of another World Cup. A manly fate if ever there was one.
Englishmen will tell you that such hardiness is why we do not have a winter break like every other sane professional football league in Europe. Cynics will tell you the reason is financial. The league knows it can make more money during the Christmas holidays, and so crams as many meaningless fixtures into one short week than at any other time in the year, they will say. Cynical Englishmen will give you a contradictory mash up of both accounts. They are all wrong. The reason we do not have a winter break is because we cannot hold our drink.
This column strives, largely unsuccessfully, never to succumb to lazy national stereotypes in pursuit of a cheap joke. But really, we cannot hold our drink. Go to Oktoberfest, or even the Gendarmenmarkt, and it is the English you will see keel over first. It is not that we have weaker constitutions; it’s just that we have no idea when to stop. We are teetotal for the whole week, and then on a Saturday we drink until we are dangerously close to death. Then we all drink tea and sing God Save the Queen. Honestly.
And so the Premier League, knowing that its ambassadors are largely young men who would normally be succumbing to such fates, endeavours to defend players from the dangers of British binge culture. It gives them no opportunity to go out and get lashed at Christmas, in the hope that it can keep the streets of England just that little bit more civilised. It has a huge social conscience, the Premier League, you see.
Except it doesn’t work. For every year, the clubs manage to find one night on which they can treat their players to a great big Christmas piss up. And the results are typically disastrous.
Highlights of recent Premier League Christmas parties include West Ham’s Haydn Foxe answering nature’s somewhat urgent call all over the bar in 2001, Joey Barton stubbing out a cigar in a Manchester City team mate’s face in 2007, and a story not fit for this newspaper concerning Jamie Carragher, some strippers and a lot of whipped cream. Ho bloody ho.
This year, the paparazzi have been somewhat disappointed. The Daily Mail reported excitedly on Manchester United’s first Christmas party since Sir Alex Ferguson banned them on suspicion of rape. Unfortunately, the only scoop they managed to get was that footballers wear expensive suits and that Rio Ferdinand owns a restaurant. Arsenal’s party was more fun, with everyone arriving in fancy dress. Most costumes were unimaginative, but it was worth all the coverage in the gossip magazines, if only to see Mesut Özil win a prize for the most comatose rendering of superman in history.
On the other side of London, José Mourinho had not allowed his Chelsea players to celebrate Christmas. This is a clever technique employed by a lot of Premier League managers, to make them appear very serious and diligent. Sadly, Ashley “Bring-a-gun-to-work” Cole ruined the whole façade by turning up to Arsenal’s instead. Why he thought they’d let him in, only the football God knows.
The prize this year, however, goes once again to West Ham, whose central defender James Tomkins appeared in a lovely advent youtube video urging West Ham fans to drink responsibly. A few days later, he was arrested for drunkenly assaulting someone outside a nightclub.
Clearly, binge drinking remains an issue in English football. The Premier League needs to go further in its ruthless timetabling. I suggest at least three games a day for every team over a two week stretch, with two more warm up friendlies during the night. It will surely do these overpaid, foreign sissies some good to spend a couple of weeks on no sleep with a diet consisting largely of pukka pies and warm stadium beer, and we need never worry again that we can spend a moment of Christmas not watching the football.
Come on Scudamore, you know it makes sense.