LISTEN, the last thing you want to hear after this God-awful year is how tough it is to be a professional footballer over the festive season.
And we all know it is an occupational hazard to find ourselves training on Christmas morning, then holed up alone in a hotel room on Christmas night and New Year’s Eve, while away from our families.
Of course, our hearts go out to all the NHS staff and other essential workers who have to do proper work at Christmas — this year more than ever.
But anyway, and I do not expect any violin music here, it really can be a bit grim!
My worst experience of festive football was seven years ago, when the fixture computer must have gone on the blink and Watford were handed Yeovil Town away in a Championship game on New Year’s Day 2014.
We spent much of New Year’s Eve on the coach to Somerset, that horrible journey past Stonehenge and then found ourselves in the worst hotel we’d ever stayed in.
The showers didn’t work and the team meal was a disaster because they couldn’t even cook us pasta properly.
And then it was off to bed, trying to sleep through the fireworks at midnight.
So far, so bad — but then at 10am on New Year’s Day, we were told the pitch was waterlogged, the match was postponed and we were straight back on the A303!
This time of year is not what it used to be in professional football — the days of boozy Christmas parties are long gone.
We haven’t had a proper lively one since we went to the darts at Ally Pally four or five years back and were playing drinking games — neck a pint if there’s a 180 and all that.
These days most managers will not allow anything like that. In the days of camera phones and social media it is more trouble than it’s worth and I totally accept that.
Most years now, it’s just a team meal, with maybe a few of us having a couple drinks afterwards — not that I’ve touched any alcohol for months, as it happens.
Usually, Christmas Day means getting up at 6am so the kids can open their presents, then heading to training, coming back for Christmas dinner.
I do still have turkey and the trimmings, just in moderation and not after a full English breakfast!
And then you’re off to the hotel for Christmas night, even for an afternoon home game on Boxing Day.
I tell you what, though, when I finish playing I am going to have a massive family do and cook Christmas dinner for everyone.
I haven’t seen my mum for Christmas dinner for at least five years. And I intend to gorge myself. If I can’t rest my plate on my belly at the end of the meal, I won’t have done it justice.
Last year was a bit different to usual as my son Clay was born on December 23, coming out of hospital on Christmas Eve.
So I actually got a couple of days off on “paternity leave”, not having to train on Christmas Day but driving myself up to Yorkshire after lunch to spend the night in a hotel before we played Sheffield United on Boxing Day.
One question you are often asked is, “Do players deliberately get suspended over Christmas?” And the answer is “not any more — but they certainly used to”.
In my early days at Walsall it definitely happened a couple of times, players who had received two yellow cards between August and November, suddenly getting three in a row in December so they were banned for Boxing Day.
If it was a senior pro, then the manager would give them Christmas Day off training because it would have been more trouble than it was worth in the long run if they’d forced them in.
Of course, the British lads know all about the packed fixture list over Christmas and new year, which is pretty much unique.
Players who come here from abroad may know that we play over Christmas but they still tend to be shocked by quite how full-on the fixture list is. Once they get used to it, they tend to love it, though, just as we do.
I think a Boxing Day crowd is often the best of the year as it feels like everyone is having a proper day out.
We’ll miss the crowds this year, at Christmas more than ever. And I really missed the hospital visit which, like most clubs, Watford usually do before Christmas.
Visiting sick kids who are going to be in hospital over Christmas really does give you a sense of perspective and it is rewarding for us. When you go into the wards, laden with presents, you get into the festive spirit.
That wasn’t possible this year because of Covid but I’ll be thinking of those kids, the doctors and nurses, and it will certainly make me realise that a pointless New Year’s Eve trip to Yeovil wasn’t actually as bad as all that.