Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Christmas Cheer: The Joy of the Premier League festive period

Posted on 5 December 2018 by Jack Cunningham

Christmas is approaching, and as December 25th nears, shops get busier and panic sets in as people begin to realise just how little time they’ve left to complete their shopping.

Drinks — such as mulled wine or snowballs — make their customary rare appearances and fly off the shelves. Wherever you go, the same Christmas songs can be heard in shops, stadia and the radio.

It’s enough to drive you mad. But one thing we will never get sick of is the sheer amount of football that gets played in December.  The Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A all take winter breaks, but not the Premier League. It crams as many games into the month as possible.

Although it’s not so great for teams — other than allowing fringe players some minutes, wherein they usually prove why they’re fringe players — it’s everything a fan wants. Constant football.

For instance, from December 21st to January 3rd, the longest you’ll have to go without football is three days, two of which are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That’s eleven days on which they’ll be a Premier League game.

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Then begins the FA Cup Third Round. Pure bliss.

The festive period for an English football fan is tradition and although the prospect of a winter break has been bandied about, it’s not materialised.

As a fan I love going to the games on Boxing Day, and then I love watching football again a few days later. There’s nothing better than only having to wait a few days to watch your side play again.

Forget Mariah Carey for the 1000th time over the festive period, it’s football. Thick and fast.

In fact, one of my best games as a Newcastle fan was a Boxing Day game.

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It’s 2013 and the Magpies are sitting comfortably in mid-table as Stoke visit.  Myself and one other lad have managed to make it despite public transport issues, and we’re sitting in the gods at St James’ Park, in freezing cold temperatures and a biting wind.

Newcastle start poorly and Stoke take the lead half an hour in through Oussama Assaidi, as he picks up on a clearance, takes a touch and curls a shot into the far corner from just inside the area. 

Typical Newcastle. Wish I’d stayed at home.

Glenn Whelan then picks up two yellow cards in short succession. Stoke are down to ten and Newcastle are back in the game.  Suddenly, just before half-time there’s a chance.

Loic Remy is played through one-on-one, he’s about to pull the trigger, and is pulled back by Mark Wilson. Penalty to Newcastle with Wilson sent off.

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Stoke are down to nine men, Mark Hughes is sent to the stands, and things are looking up.  The penalty is taken by Remy… And missed.

No matter, though. With the next attack Remy makes amends and Newcastle go in level at the break, but with a whole half of football to attack nine men. Things are going to get messy.

Newcastle fly out of the blocks in the second half and Hatem Ben Arfa marauds down the right. His cross is half-cleared to Yoan Gouffran, who slams the ball home from the edge of the box.

Ben Arfa then hits the post before Moussa Sissoko flicks on a cross to find Remy. The Frenchman duly grabs his second of the afternoon.  

Ben Arfa then slalomed his way past four Stoke players and strikes a ferocious shot which nearly breaks the bar in half, but unfortunately not the net. There are still to be more goals.

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The fourth arrives from Yohan Cabaye as he curls a delightful effort into the top corner and Papiss Cisse finishes off Stoke with a late penalty won by Ben Arfa.

The atmosphere in the stands resembles a party and — as we were playing against nine men — we knew we were going to win, it was just a case of by how many. That feeling as a football fan is very rare.

A perfect day at St James’ Park, not something that can be said very often these days.

Featured photograph/birgl/Pixabay