Graham Cummins: Christmas training and matches, the worst part of being a pro

Graham Cummins: Christmas training and matches, the worst part of being a pro

Preston North End's Graham Cummins scores a goal against Sheffield United in 2012. Picture: camerasport

MOST footballers don’t enjoy Christmas.

While their family and friends are stuffing their faces with mince pies and drinking numerous glasses of wine, players are out training in the cold and playing a vast amount of games in a short space of time.

Players might not admit it to fans or the press but from my experience, most of them do hope of picking up a little injury or getting suspended during Christmas.

Christmas will be very different this year. There aren’t going to be as many nights out or gatherings with family and friends. 

That makes it easier to be a player at this time of the year when you know your friends and family are nearly as restricted to staying at home as the player is.

I always found it tough looking at my friends' posts on social media of them enjoying a night out and there I was sitting at home watching another Eastenders Christmas special.

Graham Cummins in action.
Graham Cummins in action.

There are a lot of sacrifices players must make and this is especially highlighted during the festive season when players miss out on so much.

Now, it’s different if you’re a player who enjoys training and loves spending time around the training ground.

The hectic Christmas schedule for players doesn’t seem like a problem but for me, I did always view it as a burden. And I would have preferred to spend time on nights out with my friends and family than getting myself ready for a game the next day.

I always get asked about training on Christmas Day and how players felt about it?

During my brief time in the United Kingdom, I only ever once trained on Christmas Day.

It wouldn’t have bothered me whether I was training or not because I didn’t have kids and my wife usually went home for Christmas. 

It was different for lads who had kids. They would be begging for Christmas Day off.

It’s strange because to have the day off before a game is unheard of during a season but I guess the managers I worked under valued spending Christmas Day with their families more than having to go in training and listening to players moan about being in on Christmas Day.

At Preston North End, under Graham Westley, he used to send us on a programme Christmas morning involving running and then exercises to do at home.

He told us to all start at the same time and then we would have to text him individually when we were finished – WhatsApp didn’t exist in those days, so we didn’t have a team group one.

The players obviously came to an agreement without the manager's knowledge to text him at the same time, that way it was up to us whether we did the work or not. We didn’t get heart rate monitors to take home so there was no way of telling had players done it other than the manager judging it by the timing of texts from players.

I always did it because I enjoy going out for a run on Christmas morning, I’d have less guilt when eating the dinner, but half the team didn’t.

Graham Cummins with Cork City. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Graham Cummins with Cork City. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Exeter was the only time I had to train on Christmas morning, and it was a disaster. Firstly, the manager annoyed half the team because anyone that lived more than an hour away from the club could have the day off and then he prolonged the training session.

Usually the day before a game, training is about 40 minutes but this took up to two hours and he couldn’t work on the shape of the team because most of the lads playing were sat at home, while the lads who were on the bench were in training.

That was poor management. It should have been the case of everyone in or off. It caused a divide in the team. Christmas at Exeter was not enjoyable.

During the festive season, the fixtures are arranged so that teams are playing one another that are close in location so that clubs can avoid travelling up and down the country and staying in hotels over Christmas.

However, there aren’t many clubs close to Exeter. I can remember we played Wimbledon two days after our St Stephen’s Day game. We had to travel on the 27th, train close to London, stay in a hotel that night and play Wimbledon the next day.

This would be fine during the season, but players don’t want to be spending hours stuck on a bus and then having to spend nearly two days in a hotel away from their family during Christmas. I don’t have fond memories of this game.

I reported to the manager I was sick on the morning we were travelling to the game but was still made to go because the manager explained players who had started the game the previous day would be tired for the Wimbledon game and I would be starting.

I was made travel in my own car with the physio as my chauffeur because the manager was worried others might catch something from me if I travelled on the bus.

I still had to train that day, even though I couldn’t move. 

The next day, surprise surprise, I was awful in the game and subbed at half-time. 

Of course, my performance was ridiculed by the fans, which I couldn’t blame them for because I was so bad.

They were unaware I was sick, I was never given the opportunity to say I was ill and the manager never came out and said it in his post-match interviews because he knew he would have been blamed for playing me when he knew I was sick.

You either love Christmas or hate it as a player. I was always the latter because I’d much rather spend time at home with family and friends than out on a cold training ground and then spending most of the matches watching from the bench.

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