Winter World Cup to impact non-league?

THE impact a ‘winter World Cup’ would have on the rest of football has been a hot topic ever since FIFA first suggested it for the 2022 finals in Qatar.

Current World Cup holders Spain celebrate their victory over the Netherlands in 2010
Current World Cup holders Spain celebrate their victory over the Netherlands in 2010

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has reiterated the intention to hold the tournament during the winter to avoid it being staged in temperatures that are simply too hot.

So it looks increasingly likely that it will be held in November and December, rather than its usual slot in June and July.

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If, as a result, the Premier League and Football League had a winter break, that raises the question of how far down the football pyramid the break would apply.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter during a press conference at the Costa Do Sauipe

And if non-league football were to continue while the World Cup was on, they would finish before other leagues – and competitions like the FA Cup could prove tricky to work out.

In addition, there are fears non-league attendances could be hit if fans had a World Cup to occupy them mid-season.

Speaking at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on January 13, Blatter said: “The tendency is definitely that it’s too hot to play in summer, so let’s find a solution to play in winter.”

This major change to the calendar, should it go ahead, is likely to have a huge knock-on effect on the domestic football schedule.

Sussex County FA chairman Mathew Major hopes a winter World Cup in 2022 would not have such a significant impact locally, as it would at the top level of British football.

He said: “It’s probably going to affect attendances and the main Football Association at Wembley could have problems scheduling the FA Cup, which would affect some non-league clubs.

“But we’ve got to fit in with the Football Association and whatever the individual leagues give us.

“I imagine they will try to carry on. You could argue that more fixtures could be played in the summer, but we will struggle to do that because of the cup competitions which need to be completed around the league fixtures.”

Sussex County Football League chairman Steve Nealgrove said: “I have not really thought about it too much, will it affect Steps 5, 6 and 7? I am not sure it will.

“We won’t be having a winter break and we will still end up knowing who has come bottom and top so I do not think it will affect us.

“We have not discussed it at our meetings and I can’t see how it would. We would still have everything tied up by the end of April and know our champions and relegated teams.

“In some respects, it might be a benefit and generate more revenue, by getting more people into watch, potentially before or after World Cup games.

“Maybe if I go away and think about it someone might come up to me and say ‘what about this or that’ and that might bring more issues into it, that I haven’t thought of. It’s interesting.”

Worthing & District Football League secretary Laurie Claydon shared Major’s view that it could cause some problems, but mainly at a higher level of football.

He said: “It shouldn’t have any impact on junior football or pitches. I don’t think it will impact the scheduling of fixtures because we finish a little earlier than the league, anyway, so there’s no justification to change.

“It could have an impact on the cricket season as well, but it’s difficult to measure. Not being privy to goings on at the highest level, I’m unable to say for definite what impact it could have there, but I think it could be chaotic.”

Worthing Football Club boss Adam Hinshelwood agreed that there are likely to be major problems at the top level of British football, and suggested that the FA and Football League could have a dilemma on their hands.

The former Brighton & Hove Albion defender said: “It could throw a spanner in the works, especially when it comes to the logistics of the Premier League and with it being over the busy winter period.

“I’m not sure how much of an impact on local football it would have, but if there’s an England game kicking off at three o’clock on a Saturday, then obviously there could be a clash with non-league fixtures.”

FA councillor and Bognor Regis Town general manager Jack Pearce also feared that the greatest impact of a winter World Cup could be on the fans attending matches.

Pearce said: “I don’t think the majority of non-league supporters would stop coming to games to watch the World Cup, unless it’s England involved, but there will obviously be a slight impact.

“It won’t be too much of a problem for clubs who have attendances of around 500 supporters, but for those who are only getting 80 or 90 through the gate, losing out on ten of those could be vital.”

On the other hand, there is a possibility that a winter World Cup could have the opposite effect, potentially increasing the number of supporters attending games as a result of the absence of Premier League and Football League matches.

Darin Killpartrick, head coach at Bognor Regis Town Football Club and England Colleges under-19 coach, remained fairly open to the idea of playing the tournament during the winter, but suggested that questions must be asked at every level of football.

He said: “My defence for the organisers is that they’re giving us time to reorganise things, and giving us the opportunity to start doing that sooner rather than later. By making a decision in advance, there should be plenty of time to rearrange and restructure at every level.

“I’m very open-minded and I’m open to new things, but questions have to be asked. Would the non-league carry on or would it stop? I’m open to a winter World Cup, but questions need to be asked and questions need to be answered.”

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