“Boxing Day”: in England, football does not know the confectioners’ truce

In England, the football never stops spinning, or almost, during the end-of-year holidays, and especially not during the traditional "Boxing Day", Tuesday, an unmissable event and symbol of an overloaded calendar which is calling out to more and more players in the game across the Channel

“Boxing Day”: in England, football does not know the confectioners’ truce

In England, the football never stops spinning, or almost, during the end-of-year holidays, and especially not during the traditional "Boxing Day", Tuesday, an unmissable event and symbol of an overloaded calendar which is calling out to more and more players in the game across the Channel.

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., at Burnley, “we will play our third match in nine days, it demands a lot, both mentally and physically,” said defender Virgil van Dijk, captain of Liverpool. In October, the Dutch international had already spoken out against the infernal rates: “The bodies of the players are the rope on which we pull to increase income,” he denounced.

Because on Tuesday, his Reds will put on the warm-up blue for the third time in the space of seven days, starting with their League Cup quarter-final won on December 20 against West Ham (5-1).

A centuries-old tradition

Across the Channel, the tradition of the “box day” holiday, December 26, dates back to 1871, according to historians. The hypothesis according to which domestic workers were rewarded by their bosses with a day off the day after Christmas, with the added bonus of a box containing the remains of the previous day's feast and gifts, remains the most commonly accepted.

A custom from the cultural heritage of the United Kingdom which quickly spread to football. On December 26, 1888, the first Boxing Day meeting between two professional clubs was played, a few months after the birth of the “First Division”. Now known as the kick-off to a week of sales across the Channel, this period constitutes a highlight of the Premier League season, with three days of the championship played in one week.

But the sequence is such for the English clubs that after the match lost against West Ham (0-2), Saturday December 23, Manchester United coach Erik ten Hag split his press conference into two: first five minutes to comment on the defeat, then ten more to talk about the next match, Tuesday (9 p.m.) against Aston Villa. A funny and slightly absurd scene because, usually, several days separate two press conferences.

At the heart of this dizzying sequence, clubs must juggle between the health of players and sporting ambitions – sometimes contradictory objectives. The competition takes up almost all the available time, with few slots reserved for training. Before facing Arsenal on Saturday, in the clash at the top of the Premier League (1-1), Liverpool was only able to train for a cumulative 135 minutes over the previous ten days, according to their coach, Jürgen Klopp.

A winter marathon for English clubs

Between the championship, the Europa League and the League Cup, the Reds will have played eight matches in December, just before their first shock of the year 2024, on January 1 against Newcastle for the 20th day of the Premier League. The next day, West Ham and Brighton will play the 58th championship match played in the space of twenty-nine days, a marathon of English clubs that began on December 5, at a pace of two matches per day on average.

The Premier League will then take a break for two short weeks, but this winter "break" will be occupied by the 3rd round of the FA Cup and the semi-finals first leg of the League Cup. Not really a break, therefore, for the teams still in the running.

In France, where the 17th day of the championship took place on December 20, the Champions Trophy will end the winter break on January 3, 2024, at the Parc des Princes. Usually scheduled at the start of the financial year, this match between the French champion and the winner of the Coupe de France (or the runner-up to the champion in the championship) has been postponed this season.

The following weekend, Saturday January 6 and Sunday January 7, the Coupe de France will return with the entry of Ligue 1 clubs into the 32nd finals. Ligue 1, for its part, will resume its rights on January 13 and 14 for the first day of the return phase.