As a retired footballer I meet many in the same boat who are bitter about what they missed out on.

I’ll happily admit, however, just how lucky I was to have come to the end of my playing days when my kids were still young enough for me to feel like I have made up for lost time by now, and to have had many a special festive period with the family since.

Not only have I been able to spend those precious days in the homestead, I’ve been able to take them on some memorable holidays at this time of year, too.

So, when they get the violins out, there’s something footballers can tend to forget: the fact that their kids would not have so many luxuries each and every Christmas in the first place if it was not for what they do for a living… something most of the country would give their right arm to be able to do.

The hectic, intense programme we are all so used to actually taught me a lesson one year, when we were on a good little run at Charlton under Alan Curbishley. In those days, before all the sports scientists called so many shots, the gaffer pulled me after we had won two out of our first three fixtures in a spell where we were being asked to play four games in nine days, as I recall.

I was adamant that I was fine as this tricky, wintry night at Ewood Park beckoned, and, even though I was chasing an England recall at the time in 2005, I should have known better and listened to my body, because Curbs had instinctively been right, and I was useless that night.

Another side to the traditional fixture overload is the threat of suspension. I’m all for the determination to cut out the rough play that has improved our game in so many ways, but it has also led to more and more clubs having players teetering on the brink of a ban by December.

Therefore, if there was one change I would suggest, it would be to impose the cut-off for tallied up cautions in an extra segment so that it’s more like every 12 games, say. After all, it used to be the first of Feb and not the first of January that all those cards were wiped.

I certainly see no reason a winger should be getting anywhere near a ban, but most defenders and midfielders worth their salt and who start every game are likely to be in that danger zone by now, and I remember one yellow taking me over the edge when I shouldn’t even have been booked and I did not have the right of appeal! It meant missing a Merseyside derby, too, but now who’s sounding bitter…

All things considered, then, I’m overwhelmingly positive about saying ‘carry on, football’ at Christmas, and I reckon those who continue to bang the drum for a winter break around about now are missing the point, in a way, because, if it were ever to be brought in, the best time for that break would surely be just that bit later anyway, at some point in January.

Whether you are going to see a rare game with your nearest and dearest, whether you are in the thick of the action or whether you’ll be consuming your football from the festive sofa, I hope you have a lovely Christmas and a cracking new year.


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