Given: Away trips are a nightmare at Christmas
St Stephen's Day football is a beloved feature of the Christmas schedule for fans but a time when players must stay professional in the face of turkey and trimmings temptation.
Unlike in parts of Europe, where winter breaks are the norm, festive games in the United Kingdom are an intense feature of the season.
Players must often train on Christmas Day to stay sharp for the glut of league fixtures that take place immediately after December 25, and steering clear of large helpings of festive food is all part of the job.
“When you look at the fixtures as a player, you’re looking at St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day, to see ‘are we home or away?’,” said former Ireland, Newcastle and Manchester City goalkeeper Shay Given.
Given added: “There was a period where Newcastle had about seven or eight consecutive away games on St Stephen’s Day. It felt like we’d been totally jinxed!”
An away trip invariably requires not just training, but also travel on Christmas Day - and for Fulham captain Tom Cairney, who faces his fourth consecutive St Stephen’s Day away game this year, that takes the magic out of the holiday season.
“We had to travel to Ipswich on Christmas night and stay in a hotel last year,” said the 26-year-old. “It wasn’t that glamorous, and you’d rather be doing other things, but it’s your job.”
Donegal native Given last featured in a St Stephen’s Day match in 2009, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win for Manchester City against Stoke.
He agreed that hotels are not where footballers want to be at Christmas.
“The hotels are normally very quiet, and you’re looking at the staff who have been working on Christmas Day and they’re not very happy either,” he said.