I never knew how relentless football was until coaching in the Northern Premier League over a 50 game season of all comps that involved playing every Saturday, most Tuesdays or Wednesdays and trying to fit in training twice a week whilst holding down a day job.
Professional footballers have got it great, they train, they play, they have most things done for them, and are rewarded well for their work, but we semi-pro footballers would work hard, train or play after graft, then we would have that long coach drive back in midweek, usually getting home well past midnight with more work in the morning, all for a brown envelope of enough cash to pay your months Sky sports subscription, or probably more realistic, your petrol to and from games. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the game we love.
One thing I noticed most, when we were playing regularly, which is no-doubt exactly the same in the top professional leagues, is simply how quick the turnaround of games was… From winning on a Saturday, to preparing for Tuesday on a Sunday, little time to relax, and don’t get me started on the Bank Holiday fixtures…
One minute you are up, a win at the weekend and you’ll be looking at the table thinking if’s but’s and maybe’s… A couple of days later you’re in action, played, lost, down again, no longer interested in tables and permutations, another game at the weekend and it’s time to go again…
With football, and covid, the interruption over the last couple of seasons has been horrific, the professional clubs have felt it like we all have, nobody likes change, but football, like everything, has changed during this time…
Lives have been lost and there is a much bigger picture than football here but to get back to the sport, the delayed starts, the postponements, the confusion, the illness… It all takes its toll which inadvertently adds to even more fixture pile up…
Notts County of our three professional clubs have arguably been hit hardest… Several of the Magpies Staff contracted coronavirus in November, Notts have had games cancelled regularly, teams in the National League would refuse to play without clarity on the future of their finances, it has been an uphill task for the team to focus entirely on ‘football matters’ when so many ‘non-football’ decisions have had to be made for them just to play the game.
After an in-different start to the campaign, credit Notts for going about their business regardless to put a superb run together, but are cracks now starting to appear? No win in three in the league, fatigue hitting home on a small squad… Still twenty games left to play this season in the National division, and we are already in March.
We’ve seen at all levels the strangest of results, English champions Liverpool being hit for seven at Villa… Manchester United losing 6-1 at home v Spurs… Nottingham Forest could argue that playing football without their fans last season cost the side a berth in the playoffs, unable to perform the way they did in empty venues under Sabri Lamouchi as they did in front of pre-covid packed sell-out crowds of 28k at the City Ground.
This season, new Manager Chris Hughton has lifted the spirits and performances in recent weeks, but last nights single goal home defeat by Luton was so consistently typical of the relentless Championship. After going a goal behind, questions were being asked of Forest, why couldn’t they force opportunities in the closing stages of the match? Particularly after they did so frequently in the first half of the same match? Fatigue is certainly a potential answer, following seven games in February, the supposed shortest month of all, just 28 days.
Forest in the last 30 days (30 Jan – 2 Mar) have actually played nine matches in total, that equates to one match in every 3.33 days…. Now we should understand that performance cannot always be as ‘fresh’ as we would like.
Similarly to Forest and County, Mansfield Town have had their own blip or two after recent unbeaten runs under Nigel Clough, and although a run of three straight defeats thankfully ended following a win over Morecambe on Saturday, last night the Stags were beaten by Bradford City after a strong start to the game, they were unable to force their way back from a goal behind losing 1-0, in fact only two of the twelve games in last nights EFL League Two saw both teams score in the same match… Food for thought that attacks are perhaps not firing on all cylinders…. Is this again down to fatigue?
There certainly seems to be plenty of statistics backing up the theory that too much football with too little respite has a massive dent on the quality and performance on show.
And whilst Notts face a minimum 20 games to play (not including potential playoffs and FA Trophy ties), Mansfield have a further fifteen until season end, Forest, just twelve, but all evidence that things aren’t going to get much easier in coming months for our local clubs.
One thing I would like to say, to fans who sit and judge their sides without understanding the greater picture of performing with parameters in place, more often, with less rest, is that you need to judge this irregular couple of years as an exception to the rule. This is not your usual standard situation, everything is not rosy, football is really not where it should be right now. It is far from being at its best. Forest, Stags, Notts, they have all been effected.
What might we learn from this type of scenario in the future? Perhaps we currently see footballers as guinea pigs to keep us entertained? We should probably understand that we are all human and to put ourselves in their body to understand that what they are going through is similar to that we go through during dark times… No respite, just football, can be hard mentally and physically, no time to switch off.
I had a discussion with a business colleague only yesterday in agreement that sometimes less can be more productive, these packed schedules may please the paying TV or streaming public but in reality when all is said and done, the health and welfare of those playing the sport is far more important, which ironically is the reason they are playing more matches right now than they usually would. These ‘bubbles’ have a lot to answer for.
They say madness runs in our family…. When in the family of football it certainly does. Playing more football during a global pandemic certainly doesn’t weigh up, we’ve certainly seen a suffering of quality because of it too. One things for sure however is regardless of pandemic/no pandemic is that Saturday/Tuesday syndrome will be around far longer than covid, the health of those playing, irrelevant in the grand old scheme of promotion and relegation.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @AwayDays Nottingham Forest & Notts County again played at home on the same night yesterday.