“Remember only this: that you are British, and in the lottery of life, you have won first prize.”
So said Cecil Rhodes over a century ago. For those of you who didn’t know, Rhodes was a man hewn out of the ancient colonial rock from which crusty old moustaches and ridiculous starch-ridden suits were sent across the globe to rule over the savage natives. Thank god for the superior British intellect to help save these raw, uncivilised peoples from descending into chaos, eh?
*DISCLAIMER*: If you are offended by that racist opening, it’s fucking satire OK? The clue was in the website you just visited. Obviously I don’t subscribe literally to these views on other races. Christ I am getting tired of having to add disclaimers…
As prime minister of the Cape Colony, Rhodes may have been rooted in a warped world but wasn’t alone. The insularity of British attitudes permeated all walks of life, including football. On FIFA’s official website, they still record the stubbornness of the FA to give up their self-appointed status as governors. They may have invented the game, or at least given it a regulated life, but they couldn’t countenance others ruling.
Fast forward to 1953 at the Empire Stadium. “I’ve just seen a podgy short fella, we’ll have no problem beating this lot,” said Billy Wright. The short chap turned out to be one of the greatest players of all time, Ferenc Puskás. ‘This lot’ were quite handy too, hammering the English 6-3 in one of the most iconic matches ever.
What made it iconic was not just the scoreline. It wasn’t the fact that it was the first overseas nation to beat England at Wembley. It was the manner in which Gustáv Sebes set up his Magical Magyars that flummoxed Walter Winterbottom and his men. You will all probably know how Hungary played with an early false nine and effectively gave birth to Total Football. Nándor Hidegkuti dropping deep, Sandro Kocsis’ unreal heading ability, József Bozsik spraying beautiful angled passes for Puskás to collect: beautiful.
After a century of the sport, England still hadn’t learned a single lesson from the rest of the world. Today, the precise details may have changed, but the underlying head-in-the-sand attitudes remain. This week, the FA, Premier League and EFL all agreed to implement a winter break in the English domestic calendar from 2020. This will give a rest to players who can play over 60 matches.
Virtually all European leagues have done this for years. Eastern European nations like Ukraine and Russia have no choice of course, but others have consciously made the choice. Players take a mental and physical rest, fans focus on real life for a while, and everyone returns refreshed. By the end of the season, teams are amazingly not quite so shattered.
“But we don’t need this stupid break,” squeak the clearly omniscient hordes with indignation. What a preposterous suggestion it is – follow the continentals? You must be mad! We gave them the game, so it should be bloody well played and run how we say!
Morons. Yes, a fortnight is not suddenly going to turn the national team into world beaters, but that’s not the point. I am certainly not one for pandering to the whinges of pampered prima donnas, make no mistake. Watching the pathetic play-acting on the pitch for little more than a tickle is nauseating. There is so much more to the need for a break than physical fitness though. For far too long the mental health of players, officials and fans has been ignored, and frankly we need a rest.
We hear of clubs snatching a three-day break in sunny climes when the fixtures allow them to. Even then, English clubs – or more precisely their senseless players – muck it up. Leicester in La Manga springs to mind, while more recently West Brom’s taxi-stealing antics hardly helped matters. These jaunts are not the main purpose of a winter break, although some clubs will inevitably use it for that. Cue more lambasting of the greedy suits staging money-spinning friendlies – entertain us now!
How do the idiots who criticise lucrative foreign friendlies think the world spins? By CB Fry and Winston Churchill pushing the planet round with blood, sweat and tears? If overseas fans and companies are willing to pour more money into your club, don’t turn it down. The nature of modern football is that it is a business as well as a sport, whatever Corinthian your values.
So before leaping on the bandwagon of criticising the winter break, take a step back. Is it such a crime for players to put their feet up and recover? Does it really matter how your club earns more money? Do you really need the incessant droning of Jamie fucking Redknapp and Michael Owen in your ears EVERY week? Actually even this will remain, with the rest staggered over consecutive weekends.
Just be grateful to have one weekend without the insane addictive stress of following this sport. Consider the possibility that for all the tub-thumping jingoism thrown about, the foreigners might have a point. For a brief, fleeting moment, remember there is more to life than football.
A week later, you can start all over again.