Sean Gregan’s exclusive Preston North End column: Season for being joyful but not ‘merry’ for the players
It’s that time of the year where most workplaces shut up shop for a week or two so their employees can enjoy the Christmas festivities.
But for footballers it’s business as usual – in fact, it’s without doubt the busiest time of the year with the games coming thick and fast.
You won’t find many players complaining though about having to play so many games over the festive period, including the day after Christmas Day.
It kind of becomes bred into you from a very early age from leaving school that being a footballer at Christmas is going to be a different experience to most other people.
To be honest, I used to enjoy playing on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The crowds tended to be a bit bigger than normal which would mean a better atmosphere.
Being a footballer at this time of the year means you also have to be ultra professional and not fall for temptation of having too much to eat or drink.
Don’t get me wrong we would have a Christmas party – but it would be organised at the right time.
And I always enjoyed a turkey-and-all-the-trimmings dinner on Christmas Day, but it wouldn’t be a belly buster or anything.
You hear about tales in the past of managers like Brian Clough letting his players have a couple of pints the night before a game.
But that was something which happened well before my time.
I never played under a manager who gave his blessing to having pint or two before a big game.
In fairness when Clough was a manager, everybody was doing it, whereas in my era drinking alcohol before games was frowned upon.
I think the influx of foreign players and their attitude towards drink meant the game moved to a more professional outlook. In terms of the preparation, I have experienced every approach.
Some managers would have you in training on Christmas Day morning – I remember David Moyes would have us in after Christmas dinner, to make sure we wouldn’t eat too much.
Gary Megson at West Bromwich Albion would like to have his players in a hotel on Christmas Day night.
I am not too sure what PNE boss Alex Neil’s approach is, but I am sure the players will be in the best possible shape to take on Cardiff City away this weekend and then Leeds United at Elland Road on Boxing Day.
The players should be prudent with their preparation because two good wins from their last couple of games means they are right back in at the top.
Okay, the top two – WBA and Leeds – are well ahead but I don’t see any reason why North End should give up on automatic promotion simply because of the sheer amount of games left.
Cardiff will be tough, they have a new manager in Neil Harris and they are moving in the right direction after relegation from the Premier League last year.
They still have a lot of the player from last season and will fancying themselves for getting into the play-offs.