The surge of COVID-19 cases in Britain has already begun to affect Boxing Day football, one of the highlights of the English season.
Two Premier League matches were called off on Thursday afternoon, three days before they were due to take place, together with 15 matches in the Football League.
Leeds United’s match at Liverpool, and Watford’s at Wolverhampton Wanderers, were postponed after both visiting teams had a significant number of positive tests for the coronavirus.
Leeds’ training ground has been closed to contain the spread of the virus, with five new positive cases among the squad and staff reported on Thursday.
Following postponement requests from @LUFC and @WatfordFC as a result of COVID-19, the Premier League Board met this morning and regrettably agreed to call off the two affected clubs’ Boxing Day fixtures
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 23, 2021
“All of the cases we have experienced are asymptomatic, which we believe is due to our high vaccine take-up,” Leeds said.
“The positive cases, combined with our well-documented injury issues, means that we would not have enough recognised first-team players to meet the Premier League requirements for the fixture.”
Leeds’ game with Aston Villa on December 28 is now likely to be under review.
Watford, which has already had two games called off this month, continue to have an insufficient number of players to field a team, the Premier League said.
“Due to players coming out of isolation, it is fully expected Watford will be available for their fixture on Tuesday 28 December, against West Ham United,” the League added.
Attending a #PL match? You must:
✅ Be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative lateral flow test
🧑💻 Complete your COVID-19 self declaration on your club's website
📱 Only attend if you can show your COVID pass
😷 Wear a face covering
🧼 Follow public health guidance pic.twitter.com/32L0wDDWZq
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 20, 2021
Leagues in most European countries take a break over Christmas, the holiday program is one of the most cherished traditions of the English game and matches usually attract larger-than-average crowds.
The Premier League, which has now called off 12 matches due to coronavirus issues in two weeks, added in their statement: “The league is aware that the decision to postpone these two matches will disappoint supporters and understands their frustrations at a special time of year when fans look forward to attending and watching football games.”
Four Boxing Day Championship matches are off so far together with 11 in the lower divisions.
Three matches scheduled for later in the week have also been postponed.