Statistically, when should there be a winter break in Scottish football?

Statistically, when should there be a winter break in Scottish football?

By Stefan Bienkowski

The debate over the need or timing of a winter break in Scottish football is one that inevitably crops up each and every year.


Whenever the first sign of snow or frost begins to descend upon Scottish football, you can be sure to hear it accompanied by the usual arguments over moving the football calendar to the gentler summer months, investing more money in 3G pitches or indeed getting rid of any kind of break altogether and simply putting up with the cold. Such stances almost entirely depend on your age, generation and how much sympathy you have for the players on the pitch and the punters in the stand.


However, while we all sit back with our feet up in front of the warm fire and take in the chaotic theatre of “the beast from the east”, it may be worthwhile taking a deeper dive into the placement of the Scottish Premiership’s current winter break and whether it would be better suited to another time of the year.


An odd status quo


As things stand at the moment, the Premiership takes a break during the first two weeks of January, following a vote by the SPFL clubs during the 2016/17 season to reinstate it. This followed on from initial breaks between 1998 and 2000 that saw the top division in Scotland take the first three weeks off. Yet these votes were largely done with next to no data put forward to suggest when the very best period of the year would be to simply close up shop and see through the harshest winter weather.



The end of December or the start of January seemed like the most troublesome time of the year for weather and also the easiest time to shuffle fixtures around, therefore it was deemed an ideal period to squeeze in a winter break.


But what does the data say? Instead of going off common misconceptions or old wives tales, we decided to turn to the Met Office data to find the periods of the year that were impacted the worst by the cold, harsh Scottish winter.


Taking data from weather stations in Nairn, Paisley and Leuchars that documented the past 10 years of weather data, we were able to find the average amount of days per month that were dogged by air frost. Naturally, that is the kind of weather that can disrupt football matches either through frost on the ground or snow falling from overhead. The data is shown in the graph below.



As we can clearly see, December is naturally the very worst month for frost in the central belt of Scotland and across the east coast, with an average of just under 14 days out of the 31 deemed to have frost. As we can then see, January then follows with an average of 11.63 days of frost per year and then February in close pursuit with 9.78 days.


However, this data doesn’t exactly match up with the SPFL’s decision to take time off at the start of January. Indeed, if you were to look at that graph and decide that the Premiership needed a winter break of two or three weeks the most natural period upon which to cancel live sporting events would most likely be across December. And although February may pick up one or two fewer frost days per year on average it certainly has just about as much of a necessity for a break from football as January – as we are well aware of through this current storm.


If you are an advocate of summer football and think Scotland, like most of the European countries that share the same latitude as our nation, should stay well clear of football throughout the winter months then such data would suggest that on average 40% of the days across December, January and February are dogged by frost and possibly snow.


The winter break should be a tool to allow players to rest, for pitches to regrow and for the Scottish sport to avoid some unnecessary bother. Unless Premiership sides are willing to heavily invest in pitch facilities to fight off such elements as well as making stadiums more comfortable for fans then we’ll continue fighting a losing battle to mother nature at this time of year.


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