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The Ben Smith column: What Christmas is really like for a footballer

While most people are unwinding and relaxing in preparation for Christmas and the New Year festivities footballers are coming into one of the busiest times of the season.

The majority of people's Christmas periods revolve around eating, drinking and general over indulgence. However as a player it is important to keep focussed on the job in hand. This means behaving and preparing as if this is any other time of the year.

Some people may see this as a downside to the job but I have always really enjoyed these games over the festive period. As a player you would much rather be playing games than training so when there is a spell where you have a lot of games in a short period of time then it’s great. You are either playing or recovering.

These games are often derby games as well which adds a touch of spice to proceedings and normally ensures you are playing in front of big crowds with good atmospheres.

I have never really felt that I am missing out on anything as playing and training over Christmas is all I’ve ever known since I left school.

Fresh as a daisy

I like that smug feeling I have on Boxing Day or New Year's Day when I wake up fresh as a daisy knowing full well that the majority of the supporters in attendance are wrestling with a harsh hangover, much like I am now after having my Christmas party at the weekend!

A lot of teams will often train on Christmas Day. When I played for Hereford we would train every Christmas Day. Again I never found this a problem as I quite enjoyed a little run around in the morning.

Those sessions were never really very intense as obviously we had a game the next day and they were more an opportunity to ensure that everyone got out the house and did a bit of exercise and for the manager to check that everyone had behaved themselves on Christmas Eve.

Although I’m not sure that my laid back approach to training was shared by everyone in the team, especially those who had young families or players whose families were based a long way from where they worked.

This time of year can be tough for the younger players in the group as they can often be spending there first festive period away from home and find themselves sitting in their flat by themselves having some turkey pasta on Christmas day, although in fairness that is one of the few downsides to our job. 

Combining football with family life

I know of some teams that will take their players away to stay in a hotel on Christmas Day in the evening. They will often let them spend the day with the family and then train in the afternoon before spending the night in the hotel before the game on Boxing Day.

As I said earlier most games on Boxing Day are local so this doesn’t happen very often unless you play for Carlisle or Plymouth when even your local derbies are 150 miles away or your manager has a particularly low opinion of the professionalism of his squad. This is a practice that definitely doesn’t go down well in the dressing room!

When I played for Weymouth we spent New Years Eve in a hotel. As this meant we would be away from our families the club agreed to pay for our partners to come and stay with us in the hotel.

We weren’t going to have a party or anything, our preparation stayed the same, it just meant we could have our girlfriends with us. Personally I wasn’t a great fan of this as if I am going to work I like to be able to focus on the game rather than hear my girlfriend waffle on about what she is going to wear for dinner that night!

However this actually served a purpose as my girlfriend realised how boring those overnight trips before a game can be. Her vivid imagination seemed to think that when we go on these trips that they are all dancing girls and partying.

In for a shock

She was in for a shock when she realised that all we did was have dinner, sit down and have a coffee and then go to bed. Although on this occasion I made an extra special effort and managed to stay awake to see the New Year in!

As we often have games on New Year's Day and then another game a few days later the manager will normally give the lads a few days off in early January to go home and see their families and have a belated Christmas dinner.

This may seem that players have to make a few sacrifices over the festive period but it is a small price to pay for the pleasure we get from our job.

With the amount of points on offer over this period getting the right result can be the difference between success and failure come the end of the season.

So think of me on Christmas Day when you are on your sixth mince pie and umpteenth beer while I am sipping on my bottle of Evian because I’ll be having a wry smile on my face when I see you on Boxing Day hungover and carrying a few extra pounds!

I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has read my articles this year and to wish everyone a great Christmas and a happy new year - and I’ll see you all with a new column in the new year. 

Remember to follow me on Twitter: @bsmudger7 

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