Managers press case for winter break

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The Independent Online
The League Managers' Association are to petition the Football Association and the Premier League to introduce a four-week winter break for the country's top clubs after the Boxing Day games or New Year's Day matches. Play would resume in early February with the FA Cup third round.

The LMA would like the changes to be implemented next season. Gordon Milne, their chief executive, said: "It has become a necessity to look at the number of games played, not just first-team matches but those involving reserves and youth teams. The pressure on clubs to field teams is immense. We are behind the times in England and need to look at rescheduling fixtures.

"We are preparing a paper which will be distributed to both the FA and the Premier League. We are just involving the 20 Premier League clubs at the moment."

The FA support the idea of a midwinter break but warn that World Cup commitments will delay its introduction until 1998 at the earliest. Officials have been investigating the mechanics of the proposal since the start of the season.

"It needs a lot of examination, but we fully understand the thinking behind the League Managers' call," said an FA spokesman, Steve Double. "We recognise it would be beneficial for the players and the technical progression of the game. But with a World Cup programme coming up we don't envisage any changes earlier than 1998."

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager who is chairman of the LMA, voiced his concern at the number of matches being played after the 0-0 draw with Blackburn on Monday. "The public wants some games at Christmas and I'd give them one on Boxing Day and New Year's Day, but we need some sort of break. "If my players had not played for a week, I would have had to hold up my hand and say it was eminently forgettable - but I think I have got to defend the players."

Backing the call for a mid-winter break, Gerry Francis, the Tottenham manager, said: "It's something we could learn from Europe. The break would let us recharge our batteries. It's no coincidence that we get so many injuries over the Christmas period because we play so many games in a short space of time, normally at this time of year on heavy pitches."