Watching English football during the holiday season is one of the great traditions of groundhopping. And if you are thinking of going to England to watch soccer games, chances are you’re having a look at the Christmas season.
So what is it that makes the “festive fixtures” season in English football so special?
There are a lot of games to see, Christmas is a fun time to be in London particularly, and — this may be the biggest reason for many folks — the kids are out of school.
But there are some things to consider when planning a “festive season” soccer trip to England, so I thought I would run through some of them here.
Some Travel Hassles
There are some drawbacks to traveling around the UK near Christmas, mainly having to do with the weather (just above freezing with rain is highly typical), and various transport issues. Here’s more on that.
The schedules are going to change — a little
The Premier League schedule (or “fixtures list”) for 2020-21 has been announced, but as I explain in this post, it is then going to change. Most changes will be minor, like from Saturday at 3 to Saturday at noon or 5 p.m. Some will be a little bigger, like from Saturday at 3 to Sunday, or even Monday. In the second-tier Championship, some games will go to Friday night or Sunday afternoon.
In all leagues, some games will move to a whole different weekend because of Cups, but that won’t affect the holiday season.
All of this happens on a fairly predictable schedule, because the TV networks are the main drivers of it. For the 2020-21 holiday season, the magic date is October 9, 2020. Here is the list of days when all those announcements are made.
Nearly 200 Games in 10 Days
You read that right. When the schedule first comes out, it shows every team in every professional league playing four games in a 10-day span from just before Christmas through January 1. Again, some of those will change for TV, but here’s a quick glance at the 2020-21 “festive season” calendar.
- December 26 and 27, 2020: 46 games in all leagues; that’s everybody.
- December 28 and 29, 2020: 46 more games — everybody — once again!
- January 2 and 3, 2021: Everybody plays again!
- January 4 and 5: League Cup semifinals.
- January 8 and 9: FA Cup Third Round (see below) plus league games.
Second Weekend of January: FA Cup Third Round … and Then Some
The second weekend in January, virtually every team in the Premier League will be entered into the FA Cup’s Third Round Proper (I love English names!). The FA Cup, if you don’t know, is a no-seeding, no-bracket tournament which, at each round, sees bigger clubs enter. And anybody could play anybody, anywhere.
For example, in the 2020-21 FA Cup Third Round we will see
- Derby County of the Championship playing at Chorley of the sixth-tier National League North
- West Ham United of the Premier League at Stockport County of fifth-tier National League
- Premier League Tottenham having to play at eight-tier semi-pro Marine FC!
- Morecambe at Chelsea
- Leeds United at Crawley Town
And, sometimes, out of the basket will pop some really fun and unexpected rivalry games like Burnley playing Blackburn Rovers. (Trust me: It’s intense!)
And when a “minnow” plays at a much bigger club, you get special moments like in 2019, when I saw Chichester City play several divisions above their level at Tranmere Rovers. Here are their post-game celebrations:
Oh, and all the leagues below the Championship play that Saturday the 8th, as well.
Some Final Thoughts on Christmas Season English Soccer Trips
Assuming you have about a week to travel:
- If you want to spend Christmas in England, look at games just before the holiday and, of course, on Boxing Day.
- If you want to spend Christmas at home, then arriving for Boxing Day games is a big ask; look instead at the games on the following weekend and January 1.
- For a more soccer-focused trip (as opposed to one dependent on school schedules, for example) skip Christmas and Boxing Day and instead focus on the following weekend through the FA Cup Third Round. That is my favorite play.
- Don’t forget:
- The Premier League schedule will be official around the second week of October.
- The Championship schedule will be official around early November.
- The FA Cup fixtures are out in early December.
- I can help you sort through all of this and make plans for as little as $75!