I'm sure many of you are waking up this morning feeling somewhat the worse for wear. For a lot of people the holiday period can turn into a series of major celebrations with the best, the one on New Year's Eve, saved for last.
Aside from the partying, the festive period is a great time for football fans across the country, a feast of watching, either going to games or viewing them in front of the television. But, despite what you may have read, Christmas and New Year cheer does not go too far in professional football. Apart from a team party earlier this month, and a few hours spent with my parents on the day, for me, Christmas doesn't really happen.
My calendar is dictated by the season's fixtures. Apart from training, I plan very little two evenings before a game. Christmas is no exception and, with the games so close together, the period effectively consists of nothing but preparation, playing, and recovery. The Sunday before Christmas was our last day off for the year, with training, travelling and playing planned for each day until the FA Cup tie against Manchester City this Saturday. With this in mind, I feel I can be excused for being slightly less full of festive spirit than my friends and family.
When the fixtures for the new season are published, the most notable dates for me and, I think, for most professionals are the Boxing and New Year's Day fixtures. Discovering which hotel we will be staying in, and which city, on those days always grabs the attention, even in June. Thankfully, playing for a London club normally means a short trip across town. At my previous club Norwich, it could entail a three-to-four hour coach journey on Christmas Day.
One of my earliest memories of being involved in a first team during Christmas was me and a couple of the other younger lads giving and receiving presents with our parents on the steps of Loftus Road, before going back to Norwich on the coach. I don't think it was the Christmas scene my mum and dad had envisaged when they decided to have a family.
Having got used to being away from my family, Christmas does not seem such a big deal to me. Looking around my flat there is no tree, decorations, or any other sign of what time of year it is. I can appreciate that it may be a lot harder for players with children not to be caught up in the celebrations. Leaving them playing with their toys to come and train and leave for an away game isn't one of the highlights of the job. Likewise, New Year celebrations do not greatly appeal to me. I can't remember the last time I joined friends to see in midnight. But it is not the best feeling to be sat alone trying to convince myself that my mates are not having a good night either.
This New Year's Eve I was bound to be more preoccupied with keeping Arsenal at bay at the Emirates this afternoon than worrying about missing parties. My night will have ended long before midnight, sleeping at the team hotel in preparation for the match. The games come thick and fast during the bank holidays. It can be a very profitable time for teams, or, like us last season, a difficult one. A year ago we were suffering at the wrong end of the Premier League table, culminating in the heaviest defeat of the season, 6-0 at Reading.
It was a harsh time for everyone involved at the club and the quantity of the games didn't help us, being in such a bad run of form. After taking one point from the four games, losing my place in the side, and being bottom of the league, it is fair to say it was not the way I wanted to start the new year.
This year has gone much better. We have seven points from nine over the holiday period, and while being held at home by a 10-man Reading was disappointing, we've had two very satisfying wins, at Middlesbrough and at home to Manchester United.
The latter might be thought a good excuse to celebrate, but not with Arsenal coming up 72 hours later. We actually had our Christmas party ages ago. Not to get in the way of the busy schedule, our team night out was organised for a quiet week in early December. We enjoyed ourselves in London with paintballing, followed by a fancy dress party at a private venue. Everyone, without exception made a fantastic effort with their costumes (I went as a skier) and great fun was had by all. For most of the working country, the office Christmas party signifies the beginning of the festive celebrations. For us it pretty much meant the end of any ideas of revelry that we may have had.
You might think we look enviously at the Continent where most leagues have a mid-season break. In recent years much debate has been had over whether we should follow suit. I can understand this, but do not agree. It may well give the opportunity for players to rest their legs and spend time with their families, but the games that are missed would have to be made up somewhere, leading to more backlog in an already congested season. For the two weeks that are missed in the season, we would actually get only one week off, the other preparing for the next match. I think I would rather take the fortnight in the summer.
The main point is that football, in this country more than most, is for the fans. I think it is a special time for football fans and the tradition of supporting their team over Christmas. If I were not playing, then I am sure that I would be looking forward to getting out of the house and going to a game, probably to watch my team, Woking. I think that if the games were taken away during these two weeks, then it would be missed a lot more than people anticipate.
As for the fans, the players fully appreciate the time and cost that the busy festive period demands. Derbies are not as commonplace during Christmas as they once were, which means that supporters travel long distances, away from their families, and spend hundreds of pounds during this precious period. My parents, who don't miss a game, certainly were thankful of a home tie in the FA Cup.
Before Christmas we played Middlesbrough at The Riverside in front of thousands of travelling West Ham supporters. It was a small acknowledgement from the players that after grabbing a last-minute winner, each of us went to them and threw our shirts into the crowd to show thanks for the fantastic support.
It is a cherished time for the fans, and should stay that way. As a player, to miss out on Christmas cheer is a small price to pay to be able to give and receive such a great gift.Reuse content