Ben Burgess: Festive memories and Holloway’s teddy boys

Blackpool's Mark Cullen
Blackpool's Mark Cullen
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Christmas cheer at Bloomfield Road had seemed so unlikely after six defeats and just one goal in November.

Alas, the unpredictable Seasiders struck again and headed into the postponed Boxing Day clash with local(ish) rivals Oldham with nine points from three games against decent opposition, who all lay above the Seasiders in the table, especially Wigan, who now look odds-on for at least the play-offs.

This was spoiled slightly by the performance and defeat at Barnsley on Monday.

The positive, though, was Mark Cullen getting back on the scoresheet.

Cullen works tirelessly for the team every game, regardless of whether he scores or whether anyone is creating chances for him.

The debate about the merits of a winter break in England rumbles on.

Usually it is foreign players and managers who bemoan the fixture congestion and the turkey sacrifice.

For me personally, the festive season has always meant football. From being a young football-obsessed boy to being a retired professional player, I still look forward to watching all the games.

There was always something magical about strolling to the ground on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day with your family or friends. The atmosphere was jovial and the games were often against local rivals.

Thinking about the postponed game on Boxing Day with Oldham, I remembered previous fixtures against the Latics that always had a bit of needle.

Oldham games probably had extra meaning to me as I spent a rather unproductive (to put it mildly) loan spell there under Iain Dowie.

I got on extremely well with Dowie and all the players, but I couldn’t quite replicate that on the pitch.

I’ve never seen a manager work physically harder than Dowie. My first training session with him was boxing at 8am in an old-style gym.

My task was to kneel down and try to protect myself while Dowie on one side and a fellow player on the opposite side punched me as hard and as fast as they could for one minute!

After that, it was three sessions a day most days and this included doing 40 lengths of the pool at 7.30am.

My favourite game against Oldham was for Blackpool in League One at Boundary Park.

We really needed to win to maintain our impressive run towards the play-offs.

I was getting the usual boos and general banter from the Latics faithful until I appeared on the far side of the pitch to retrieve the ball.

This was all too much for one local ‘hero’, who stood up and proceeded to shout: “Oi Burgess! Why are you even bothering? You’re ugly, you’re fat and you’re hopeless at football.”

It’s just lucky my mum didn’t hear – that was all I could think.

Anyway’ we went onto win 1-0 and then beat them twice in the play-offs, which came as some consolation for my public ridicule.

As a player, the games can impede on your Christmas plans slightly, but I was always lucky enough to have managers who were family-oriented and understood that family time was as imperative as training time.

Often we would come to training really early on Christmas Day and finish for 10am, so we could then return to our families.

This always helped with keeping players happy, which is a very important aspect of management – as Jose recently found out.

Over the years I enjoyed some great victories over this period in the famous Tangerine shirt.

The 3-0 victory over Burnley under Simon Grayson, when we were scrapping for every point to stay in the Championship, was a great one to play in.

The most entertaining, though, was Derby away on Boxing Day under Ian Holloway.

We got the coach in the morning and drove for a pre-match meal at a hotel near Derby.

We then entered a meeting room to find out what our ‘crazy’ leader had in store for Nigel Clough’s men.

This one was surprising even for an Ollie meeting! We were met by 11 teddy bears laid out on the floor in the formation Derby were predicted to play.

He proceeded to pick up the Robbie Savage ‘teddy’, throw it around the room and then kick the other teddies with it to show how Savage liked to charge around the pitch like a lunatic and kick everyone he sees. Obviously this tactical insight worked a treat and we strolled to a 2-0 away win.

Blackpool will need another teddy-inspired performance against high-flying Burton tomorrow if they want to start the New Year in style.