Spain’s Boxing Day

The eating of grapes at 12 midnight on New Year’s Eve whilst drinking Cava with a gold ring in it and stepping on a piece of paper with three wishes may be a little strange to some but it’s perfectly normal in Spain. Another great tradition is the receiving and giving of gifts on January 6, which gets even better if you celebrate Santa Claus. Christmas is truly unique in Spain.

So with that in mind, why would some Spaniards be jealous of the English during Christmas? Well not exactly the English per se but the English Premier League. The truth of it is, Boxing Day.

Forget the real meaning and the origin, in Spain, Boxing Day is known for one thing and one thing only: football. Every year La Liga takes a winter break and suddenly football fans in Spain turn their attention to the Premier League, where there is plenty of football to watch over the festive season.

For years the Spaniards have been complaining about how La Liga should follow suit but it had resisted the temptation. That was until this year, which seems to be the year of change in Spain.

A big complaint from and desire of La Liga fans is the fact that in England, the TV revenue is higher and distributed a lot more evenly. That issue looks to have finally been addressed and from next season a new collective broadcasting rights deal looks set to start. With that issue sorted the powers-that-be in Spain sought other ways in which it could compete against England and the Christmas schedule idea was brought up and, like always in La Liga, it wasn’t done easily.

When the fixture list for the season was first announced there were no games scheduled to be played at Christmas. Then suddenly another fixtures list was announced and a match day, which would see teams play on December 30/31, raised eyebrows. One would think that after so many years of complaining that fans would be happy but Spain is different and since the dates were announced there has been no end to objections and arguments.

The game that raised the most concern was that of Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid, a Madrid derby. There were a number of issues with the tie. First of all was the issue of playing such a big game New Year’s Eve. Even though the League had yet to announce exact dates and times, people were already complaining.

December 31 sees the annual San Silvestre Vallecana race [pictured above in 2012] take place in Madrid. It is a 10km road race that has taken place in the capital since 1964. The race starts each year in different places of the city but always ends in the same place, Vallecas. To be more precise, the race ends inside the stadium of Rayo Vallecano. When La Liga announced its Christmas games, the organisers and participants of the race were furious, as no one knew whether the event would be able to go ahead or not. 

There were also issues with public transport. New Year’s Eve is a day when thousands go to the Puerta de Sol to celebrate the New Year. As it so happens the metro line that runs through Sol also goes to Rayo’s ground. Would the metro be able to handle an extra 12,000?

Add in the fact that there would need to be a huge security detail for the game and it was no wonder that people weren’t exactly keen on the game. In the end it was announced that the game would be played the day before and so problem solved. Or was it?

For a while now one supporters group have been at war with Atletico. They have campaigned continuously for a more democratic and transparent club and this week they sent out a meme mocking the club and the LFP. In it, there was picture of the two stars from the comedy ‘Dumb & Dumber’ with one saying to the other ‘What about playing a game when everyone is working?’ and the other answering, ‘I think that’s a great idea.’

The message was sent last week and was scornful of the kick off time of the Rayo and Atleti game. Many fans agree with the message, and it has been a constant complaint among fans across La Liga. The timetable for the Christmas match day has not gone down well with most fans.

Whether the Christmas fixtures will become a regular thing in the future remains to be seen. Of course the LFP will declare this year a success, no matter what really happens but the real test will be the attendances and the TV audiences.

For years Spaniards have been longing for Christmas football but now they finally have it, it looks like they might not want it. Another example of being careful of what you wish for.