Ben Burgess column: It’s the most wonderful time - except for players

Our columnists best Boxing Day display came for the Seasiders at Derby County  despite a less than perfect preparation
Our columnists best Boxing Day display came for the Seasiders at Derby County  despite a less than perfect preparation

Season’s greetings to you all; like me, I’m sure you’re looking forward to having fun with family and friends as well as eating far too much on Christmas Day!

After all it’s hard not to grab just one more chocolate from the tin but Christmas, unlike practically every other day of the year, is the one time that you can legitimately feel sorry for footballers.

Yes, they are still getting paid thousands of pounds but that magical time with their family and friends often has to be sacrificed.

I always enjoyed the Christmas period as a player and, quite often, I would put in some of my best performances at this time of year.

That’s probably because the opposition defenders were too indulgent with the mince pies the day before.

Training and time off over the festive period varies greatly from club to club but, generally, the more understanding a manager is then the better the players perform for him.

Happy players are always better than moody and sulky ones – which happened at Stockport County under Carlton Palmer when we trained in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day and then stayed over in a hotel.

My first real taste of Christmas in a first team was with Brentford at 19.

We trained early on Christmas morning so we would all have time to head back to our families and spend the day with our loved ones.

The slight problem I had was that my family was a four-hour journey up north.

I was destined to spend the day on my own, although I do remember many team-mates asked me over to their homes but I didn’t really want to impose.

I recall how as soon as training finished everyone shot off and I was stood there with a bag of balls, trying to tempt a goalkeeper into doing some shooting practice with me.

Eventually, I left when I saw the coach giving me evils because he wanted to get back to his family – I spent the rest of the day alone watching Christmas TV.

Generally, the better managers I’ve come across have let the players decide when they wanted to train on Christmas Day.

The preferred option is always about 8.30am so we can be back home for 11ish.

Not much gets done in training but it’s more about keeping the legs moving and going through a few set pieces for the Boxing Day game.

I’ve had sessions where we’ve all worn funny Christmas hats or jumpers.

With Peter Taylor at Hull City I had a very unusual training session.

Due to the snow completely covering the grass, we gave up on playing football and he gave us 10 minutes to build the biggest snowman we could and whoever’s was the worst had to dive head first into their own.

There were all sorts of sabotage tactics going on and also a quite a bit of creativity from some players. It got us moving at least, and put us all in good spirits.

Probably my best Boxing Day performance was for Blackpool at Derby County.

I’d been out injured for three weeks prior to it and had only been back in training a couple of days.

Rest assured I didn’t expect to be starting the game so I headed back to my mum’s house and promptly ate a double helping of Christmas dinner to be followed by a couple of mince pies and half a tin of chocolates.

We all met up in a hotel near Derby for a pre-match meal – although I was still full from the day before – and team talk.

We walked into the room where Ian Holloway had summoned us. There, on the floor, were 11 teddy bears that Ollie had bought and dressed as Derby players.

He proceeded to pick up the Robbie Savage ‘bear’ and throw it around the room to imitate Savage’s all-action style.

Even stranger than that was me being named in the side to start.

Thankfully it all worked out and we won 2-0 and Savage moved nowhere near as much as his bear namesake.

Let’s hope that Gary Bowyer’s men are feeling refreshed and relaxed enough to get back to winning ways at Hartlepool on Monday.