How Long Is A Football Season?

A football season is defined as ‘the part of the year during which football matches are played.’ Over the course of a calendar year there may be several distinct types of seasons: preseason, domestic league competition season, postseason with international tournaments, and finally, off-season – the time in which no official competitions are taking place.  

For many avid fans, the idea of a never-ending football season would be a dream come true. However, the concept of allocating a set period of time for the playing of games was devised to avoid clashes with other popular national sports. Adverse weather conditions in certain months of the year, extremes of hot or cold, also contribute to the need to organise games within a specific part of the calendar year. 

The range of weeks set aside for league competitions vary from country to country. In England, often considered the home of football, two national sports vye for spectatorship. Cricket became the national summer sport due to the dangers playing the game in wet weather. Football became the winter option – seasonal snow and rain less likely to interfere or postpone a game.

In other countries, such as the USA and Canada, association football, or soccer as it is known there, competes against the giant that is American Football. In years gone by, when audiences of soccer were still growing, games were played in American Football stadiums during their off-season. Now, their season is played between March and mid-October – widening audience reach and avoiding the extreme drop in temperature throughout winter. 

European Football Seasons 

The majority of European nations are described as temperate climate zones, meaning for the most part, seasonal weather changes are typical across all countries. For this reason, football seasons tend to run from mid-August to the following May. Although Ireland, Norway and Sweden play between the months of March to October or November. 

Most European teams play a similar number of games in their domestic leagues. On average top level leagues play 38 games in a 20 team division. Those with an 18 team division play slightly less, at 34. The season comprises each team playing every other team once at home and once away. 

In Scotland, the format changes slightly as there are only 12 teams. In the first half of the season, each team plays the other at home and away. Then, the league is split into top and bottom and you play each team in your group again. 

Games are played through the later summer to mid-spring as weather conditions suit. This also reduces a clash with sports such as cricket and athletics which take place in summer months. Traditionally, in England, during the times when public school boys were the trail-blazers in developing sport, muddy invasion games took place in the Autumn and Spring term and this practice became the main-stay. And, once the game turned professional, many of the same sportsmen played professional football in the winter months and donned their whites in the summer when they took up their bats as professional cricketers. Hard to believe today, but very much an occurrence in the past. 

Each home nation’s footballing regulatory body organises the schedule for the domestic league and cup competitions. Within Europe, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) organises continental competitions, such as the UEFA Champions League

This can mean that players are involved in several competitions throughout the calendar year. To ensure that these games are played with an adequate rest break for players, and that they take place during best-fit weather conditions, domestic leagues and the initial rounds of cup competitions take place alongside one another at regularly scheduled intervals. As cup rounds take place, there is a break in domestic league games.  Cup finals tend to take place during the postseason, in early summer.

Some European countries, such as Ukraine, Spain and Turkey break for the winter and resume the season in January or February. 

UEFA Champions League, one of the most prestigious club cup competitions world-wide, runs from June to June the following year. These games are played alongside domestic league games but are played mid-week to avoid conflict.

South American and African Football Seasons 

Many of the South American football leagues, in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Uruguay operate a two part season. This is often referred to as ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing’ or ‘Apertura’ and ‘Clausura.’ 

This system was first employed in 1967 but dropped in 1985, in favour of a ‘European style format.’ Extreme summers in these regions see average temperatures of 40 degrees during the months of December to February, making playing in the same months as the European leagues extremely challenging. 

Henceforth, the decision was made to change the format in 1991 and the ‘Apertura’ and ‘Clausura,’ system was implemented. This means the season is split into two parts, so that games are paused during the hotter, summer months. 

Many believe that this system generates nail-biting seasons for fans because there are effectively two champions in each season, due to the way the leagues are organised. In other, smaller leagues the format still follows the two way round robin system used in the European leagues, just in two parts. 

Football is the national sport of most African countries and is a game adored by billions in this part of the world. The Egyptian, Libya and Rwanda leagues typically start in September and run until June and others are similar. Winter months on this continent start in June and end in August meaning football is played through the hotter, summer months. 

The African Cup, which was typically played during the African summer to avoid clashes with European games, changed its dates in 2021. This led to headaches for many European managers who effectively lost key players as they returned to play for their national sides at the peak of the Premier League seasons. This incident demonstrates the way in which weather contributes to the timing of key tournaments and cup competitions and the challenges this can bring to a sport with a year-round global appeal. 

Asian Football Seasons 

Football Australia has been part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFL) since 2013, despite being part of the Oceanic continent. The Australian A-League kicks off in October and lasts for six months. Within each season, the 20 clubs in the league play in the ‘split round’ and the ‘regular season’. The culmination of this sees six teams proceed to the finals series, which concludes with a Grand Final at the end of the regular season. 

In recent years there have been clashes between the A-League season and pressures from other intercontinental games. Resolving these provide further future challenges as association football is not Australia’s national sport. Balancing player fatigue with the desire to continue growing the popularity of the game at the same time as avoiding clashes with other, more popular national sports, is a problem still to be solved. 

The Qatar Stars League (QSL) operates between September and April, similar to Australian association football. In this league of 12, one team is demoted at the end of the season to allow for a team to be promoted into the league from the lower division.  

In 2022, the FIFA World Cup was held in Qatar, causing controversy over its timings. FIFA World Cup competitions are generally held in the months of June and July, but this tournament was held in November and December. The reason for this was the intensity of humidity and heat during the earlier months, demonstrating how weather can impact the sport. 

Oceania and Other Regions 

Countries in the Oceanic regions do not typically consider football as their national sport. Leagues do exist in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji and they only receive one seat from FIFA for World Cup competitions. 

Australian Rules, Rugby and Cricket all outrank football in terms of popularity in this part of the world. 

Football seasons vary widely depending on the place in the world they are being played. Weather is a contributing factor in the way that many footballing traditions have evolved. When association football was formalised in 1860’s, it became a winter sport because this was when it was played in the public schools across England. 

Today, as its popularity has exploded across the planet, there will be a professional league game or tournament being played most days of the calendar year. 

The future of football will continue to be inextricably linked to the weather too. A recent Met Office study predicts that by 2050, a quarter of all UK football grounds will be flooded. Will this impact on the timings of future seasons fixture lists? 

Organisations such as FIFA aim to minimise the impact of World Cup tournaments and other intercontinental cup games on league seasons around the world by running them during the majority of off-seasons. As with all systems, this often results in challenges for teams in the southern hemisphere. To ensure equality in the future, changes to current competition dates may have to be made. 

For football fans on every continent, the wide variety of leagues with differing start and end dates means there is no off-season for the spectator. Surely, something to be celebrated.

 

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