As the most played and watched sport in the world, soccer is truly a universal game.
With its roots originally in Northern Europe, particularly in the UK, the USP of soccer is the simple nature of both the rules of the game and the scoring systems used – making it very much the ‘game of the people’.
In theory, there is very little seasonal activity that would halt a game of soccer, with beach variations of the game played all over the world and with fabled tales of soccer games taking place between troops during World War I on Christmas Day, there are no hard and fast seasonal restrictions in place.
As a consequence, the game is played all over the world on a daily basis by amateurs however, soccer across the competitive sporting world is generally played during the autumn or winter, a trend that is reflected in modern society, all the way through to the professional game.
Unlike sports such as cricket, soccer does not follow the sun and the game is normally played from the end of the previous summer, through the autumn, winter, and spring, through to the start of the following summer.
Nearly all of the competitive leagues across the world follow the same format, with the summer months reserved for other sports and major international tournaments.
In Europe, most club competitions begin in August, with the fixtures spaced out until May the following year and with an increasing number of fixtures and tournaments within the global soccer landscape, the calendar is more packed than ever before.
Flagship competitions such as the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A all follow this format, with the summers particularly in Southern Europe generally too hot to host competitive soccer.
However, up in Northern Europe, leagues and competitions tend to take place during the autumn, summer, and spring – due to the heavy amount of ice and snow and the professional leagues in Scandinavia all tend to follow that cycle.
Whilst it takes place at a different time of year, South American and Australian sides do tend to follow the same seasonal calendar – with the autumn, winter, and spring the optimal time to play soccer at the highest level.
Public School Influence
Soccer or football as it is known in the UK, was born as the working-class game in the United Kingdom – played by those who didn’t play rugby or cricket.
Originally a very physical sport, more akin to rugby than anything else, the game eventually evolved in the late 1800’s to the game we all know and love today as soccer.
Deep-rooted in culture however, is the timings of different sports and as a result the seasons in which most games are played, remain as similar today, as they were 150 years ago.
Cricket had always been the game played by ‘gentlemen’ in the UK and its growth across the commonwealth only added fuel to the notion that it was a summer sport.
Rugby had been seen as the traditional winter alternative until soccer came along and as a consequence, soccer finds itself in the calendar during the winter months.
Not for the Faint-Hearted
Whilst on the surface, soccer is not the most dangerous of games, the sheer ground players have to cover and the conditions in which a match is played, can have huge influence on the outcome.
Modern-day incarnations of the beautiful game are filled with incredible skills and tricks that adorn social media accounts every second but at the start of the 1900’s, soccer really sorted the men from the boys.
Mud-filled pitches and goalmouth scrambles were par the course, along with leg-breaking slide tackles and that physicality is easier to control and police during the winter.
Every country is of course different climactically but in the main, the summer months bring about drier grass and harder ground, increasing the chance of injury should players end up coming into contact with the floor.
As a result, soccer has continued to develop as a winter sport and the accompanying world sporting schedule has evolved around this.
In addition, soccer pitches are generally big, sprawling fields and there is plenty of ground to cover for every player on the field – regardless of their position.
The sweltering summer heat isn’t perhaps the best weather condition to be running for 90 minutes in, hence the tendency to see soccer played during the winter.
Global Sporting Schedule
With the historical impact of the way in which sport is consumed the world over still felt today, sporting schedulers and TV commissioners have been quick to try and shoehorn as much soccer as possible into the winter months.
Long, drawn out nights of darkness mean a captive audience and TV schedulers are all too happy to keep plying their subscribers and customers with plenty of matches to enable their profits to keep rising.
Other sports are all too aware of this too, with key events in cricket, golf, rugby, and tennis all choosing weekends where less soccer is consumed – enabling them to have the biggest possible audience for their events.
Sport has never been so accessible, the world over and the global sporting schedule is a powerful tool – epitomized by the decision to host the 2022 FIFA soccer World Cup in Qatar in the European winter – for the first time in the games’ history.
This impacts heavily on the domestic league schedule, all over the soccer playing world but the finances within the game are stronger now than they ever have been, and soccer doesn’t look like changing from being a ‘winter’ sport, anytime soon.
International Summer Competitions
The trend of playing club soccer in the winter has in turn forced the international tournament schedule to move into the summer – making soccer one of the only sports that can be accessed at professional level for 12 months of the year.
As mentioned, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar breaks the mould by being played in the Northern Hemisphere winter, with all previous incarnations of both the World Cup and European Championships being played in the summer months.
Deemed by many to be the crème de la crème of soccer, the showpiece tournaments in the summer often come at a cost for players who endure tough club seasons with their respective teams and injuries before, during and after big international tournaments are a common sight.
Coming around every 4 years, the summer Olympics also hosts soccer as a sporting event, in both the men’s and women’s game, yet another summer soccer competition that fills the schedules of players the world over.
In truth, soccer is one of the only sports on the planet that is not exclusively played at one period of the year, with the global appeal of the game and the sheer number of leagues and tournaments participated in, impacting heavily on the worldwide schedule.
However, the ‘bread and butter’ soccer leagues and competitions are held during the winter months, starting in autumn, and ending in spring.