Boxing Day fixtures are one of the most eagerly anticipated in the football calendar for fans, but what about for players?
With Dundee facing Celtic live on BT Sport 1 from midday on the 26th of December this year, BTSport.com sat down with Stephen Craigan to find out what life is really like for a professional.
With a career spanning more than 15 years, the former Motherwell man is well placed to explain what it is really like for players and reveal a story or two from his playing days.
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So Crags, what is Christmas really like for a footballer?
Christmas is the time of year when most people start to wind down, yet for footballers it’s a crucial period in the season and your will power is well and truly tested!
I always loved playing at this time of year, as the atmosphere at games was better with supporters in a more joyful frame of mind – especially if you won! Crowds were genuinely increased and seeing supporters get in the Christmas spirit gave me an extra edge to my game.
Thankfully due to the travelling distances being relatively short in Scotland I never had to stay with the team in a hotel on Christmas night. Players appreciate their family time so it’s one of the bonuses of playing in Scotland.
I was always surprised when players calculated their bookings so they could miss games around this time. It goes on and I think it absolutely stinks!
A former team-mate of mine would openly tell us that was his plan and very seldom played on Boxing Day or around the New Year. The manager used to joke with him about it too, yet still played him when he was available. The manager accepted it and got on with it but it always irked me – and still does.
Not every manager would bring us in to train on Christmas day, but I really enjoyed it when we did go in. The lads were usually in good form, training was lively, and everyone was at it because they knew their turkey dinner was waiting for them.
It was harder for the players that had young children that they had to leave behind for a couple of hours, but once they got into training they were fine. Some actually enjoyed getting away from the mayhem and the cleaning duties!
The hardest bit I found was staying away from the chocolates and desserts knowing I had a game the next day. Watching the family stuff their faces wasn’t ideal! I eventually told all family members not to buy me any chocolates or sweets so I wouldn’t be tempted. Alcohol was also a no-go, so at times it made the day a long one shall we say…
Players have become a bit more professional over the years regarding alcohol consumption, not just during the season but at Christmas too. The thought of a player having a few beers or a glass of wine the day before a game would be unthinkable. One manager I played under threatened to breathalyse us and although he never actually did, we didn’t dare risk it!
A couple of times I had a pasta dish for my Christmas lunch but it just didn’t seem right so I had to go back to the traditional meal.
It was more a psychological thing for me, keeping to my routine. Footballers are very structured and set in their ways, so anything that alters that can affect them.
So as you prepare to support your team over the festive period, remember the players have made sacrifices to give their all for your club at this time of year. While most of you may be celebrating with a glass of wine and a cheese board most players will be holed up in bed trying to pretend it’s just another day!