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Opinion

At least we’re not Stoke City

1 year ago
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It’s been a busy couple of weeks, what with Christmas, New Year, and four Newcastle matches in quick succession. Some of the players would barely have had time to dry out their socks for the next match by the time it came around.

Can’t complain at not losing to the teams around us and only taking a one goal hit against Citeh. Well, you can, because we still need more players, and we still need a new owner, but from a league position and goal difference point of view, we’re in a better place than Stoke City. Maybe most places are a better place than Stoke.

Having a bit of a read of some forums, Christmas has reopened the argument about the number of matches played in just a few days, and it not being a good idea, and footballers being paid a fortune. Well, there are loads of arguments to say we should stick to tradition, and loads of arguments to say we should spread matches out more, for the sake of fans and players alike.

After all, this run of matches comes at an expensive time of year, when travel disruption is likely, and when pitches are at their worst. Or second worst. It’s a time of year when some fans are juggling time with family and time with football, and when relegation and winning become stronger in the mind of everyone.

But then, this is also a time of tradition. Matches used to be played on Christmas Day; the euphoria of the (festive) season can happily spill over into football stadiums; and there’s almost a mini-league of Christmas matches, in which we have just about come out ahead, certainly on the league table. Had we lost that mini-league, would it change anything, really? Psychologically, maybe yes.

Footballers are certainly fitter than they used to be. The vast majority don’t smoke, and most don’t drink anything like as much as footballers perhaps even twenty years ago. Recovery is a huge part of modern fitness, and not just in football; we know that muscles rebuild and strengthen following activity, not during. This is maybe one of the reasons why injuries such as muscle strains are perhaps less likely now than in decades past, in which we glorify the heaviness of pitches, the need for an orange ball, and the toughness of footballers who had careers that might not have lasted quite as long as they should.

Overuse injuries are also a problem, and footballers and an ACL injury; well, this is still big news. Football is celebrity. Football is entertainment. Football is… discuss.

Footballers are certainly paid a lot of money, money which has been injected into the game/sport/insert title here, by TV and huge sponsorship.

Should those injectors of the cash have a say in their investment?

A say in where their money goes and when it goes?

I’m not so sure; it’s a bit like saying, well, I’ve bought a new toy, so it’s up to me if I don’t take care of it. Modern TV deals invented a schedule that takes very little notice of the lives of fans, particularly away fans, but it didn’t invent the Christmas schedule.

It might well be that the arguments about how much footballers are paid is linked to the standards of living the rest of us hold. There are groups of workers who work much longer hours over Christmas and New Year, looking after the rest of us, and they don’t get paid as much as most of us probably think they should. And I agree; it isn’t fair. Sadly, however, the astronomical wages of the players are unlikely to be magically diverted into pockets of other deserving workers, though I am sure that the players do charity work that goes quietly unnoticed.

You could argue that the more wadded the club, the more likely a recovery period for players covering a lot of ground; the bigger clubs, and by bigger I mean those who opened a new blank cheque book in their Christmas Away Stocking, can afford to have a deeper squad.

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The players at the biggest clubs can enjoy and utilise more of a recovery period –they’re athletes, so I’m not calling this a break- than those playing in more threadbare squads.

And that’s where fairness goes out of the window, I’m afraid, as far as footballing reasons go. We could have a bigger squad. We could have more resources. Not on a Chelsea of Manchester City scale; but certainly on a more options scale. Rafa’s team selections, and tactical decisions, may well not be based solely on who scores highest on the Newcastle United Top Trumps cards (though long balls to Dwight Gayle are clearly not the answer to our problems). He can see who is physically wrecked, and who is mentally bricking it.

The problem, is, he doesn’t have a lot of choice, and those choices are informed by what he and his coaches see in training, as well as on the pitch in matches. The tight schedule exacerbates those problems, and brings the grumblings to a head more regularly. Thankfully, we have come out of the period with more hope than maybe we went in. But Brighton…

Mind, none of this changes a train to London the day before Christmas Eve, though, does it? Could the clubs do more financially to help the fans? Probably. Howay, clubs. Even if the TV folk and the Premier League don’t care, surely you do. A bit.

So, until next year, and my auntie telling my uncle that he’s “Bloody well not watching football all Christmas,” again, have a good ‘un. At least we’re not Stoke City.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby
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