Exclusive Tom Clarke PNE column
Christmas was an extra-special time in our household this year.
My wife and I have been busy preparing over the last few months for our daughter Heidi’s first Christmas where she sort of knows what is going on.
She was only around six-months-old last time after being born in the summer of 2015.
Santa definitely paid our house a visit on Christmas Eve and Heidi was all excited about unwrapping all her presents.
However, I think she was probably more interested in playing with all the cardboard boxes than the toys which were inside them.
Christmas is such a great time of the year and it was really nice for us, as a squad, to pay a visit to the children’s ward at Royal Preston Hospital last week.
It’s a real privilege for us to go and see the kids and hand out presents and chocolates to them.
Being in hospital at any time of the year is never nice, but especially so over the festive period.
As a father myself, I can understand how difficult it must be for the children and their families to be in hospital at this time of the year.
Hopefully, we were able to spread some festive cheer and put some smiles on the youngsters’ faces.
As everybody knows, Christmas is a busy time of the year for footballers.
While everybody else is busy enjoying themselves and being indulgent, we have to remain professional and focused.
To be honest, it’s all part and parcel of my job – over the years there have not been too many times when I’ve had Christmas Day off. I’m used to it.
The manager had us in yesterday morning for a training session to keep us nice and sharp for today’s Boxing Day game against Leeds United at Deepdale.
The great thing about this year is that we are playing at home on Boxing Day, which meant we could spend the rest of Christmas Day at home with the family.
We were able to head off to my mum and dad’s house yesterday and share the day with them.
I was able to chill out and relax and let my mum and dad organise everything.
In previous years, Christmas Day night has often been spent in a hotel getting ready for an away game the following day.
We were at Huddersfield last season and I remember travelling up to Carlisle a few years ago.
Hopefully, the lads will be in good spirits today and ready to give the fans a belated Christmas present by getting the three points against Leeds, which we know is going to be a really tough game.
But there should be a great atmosphere at Deepdale.
We know the away end will be full and vocal, but I’m sure our fans will turn up in their numbers because there is always a special atmosphere during the festive games.
Many people are off work and coming to the games is something to look forward to – and there are not too many bigger games in this division than Leeds at home on Boxing Day.
They are going well at the minute and are nicely placed in the play-offs.
The manager Garry Monk has done a good job since he’s gone in there and they have been winning lots of games recently.
Being a Yorkshireman, it is funny that we have Leeds today and then host Sheffield Wednesday on New Year’s Eve.
I am obviously from Huddersfield, and Leeds was always a big game and a big rivalry when I was with the Terriers.
I do have a lot of friends who support Leeds. I am sure they will be at the game today, which adds a bit of spice to it.
Meanwhile, talking of festive cheer and Christmas spirit, I can happily report all is well among the squad despite what happened at Hillsborough a few weeks ago between Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle.
It was out of character by them both and, as a squad really, because we are a close-knit bunch.
It was a heat-of-the-moment thing and had a lot to do with how the game was going.
Sometimes tensions can run high and these things can happen.
There was nobody more gutted about what happened than Jermaine and Eoin themselves.
But we had a good group meeting in the dressing room after the game and then again the following day.
We all aired our views and said what needed to be said and everything is right now.
We showed that there is no problem by getting the great result against Blackburn the following week.
I will finish this column by saying what a great draw we have got in the FA Cup. To get Arsenal here at Deepdale in the early part of next month will be a great occasion.
It’s a real bonus game for the lads and one we will relish when it comes around.
We can’t think too far ahead though, as we have got three important league games before the Gunners come to town.