David Preece: The art of man management and the dreaded footballers' Christmas party
Early December sees months of painstaking planning executed by footballers all over the country.
Such preparation would embarrass the SAS. Fixture lists are scanned as soon as they’re released. Location and logistics options are drawn up. A committee meeting is made. Then the countdown begins. Christmas comes early for footballers.
Yes, it won’t be long until someone disgraces themselves and ends up on the front pages of the tabloids within the next fortnight.
Of course, the wiser of squads will either have already stealthily had their Christmas party pass without incident or will wait until after the festive programme has subsided before they have theirs.
The preparations are kept as low key as possible but protocol requires the manager be informed of the players intentions. After all, it’s only right, and depending on how grand your plans are, you might be cheeky enough to ask him for Monday off.
At Aberdeen, for example, we’d cross our fingers that we’d have an away game in either Glasgow or Edinburgh so we could jump on a flight to Dublin for a couple of nights.
Dublin was the setting for an innocuous argument between myself and Noel Whelan getting out of hand with the both us making our way outside for a roll-around in the car park.
The result of which was the two of us exchanging emotional admissions to one another on a bit of wasteland behind the pub and re-entering, all smiles, with our arms around each other and the best mates again.
None of this went ahead without the squad being briefed by the manager prior to the game which preceded the party.
Not only is there the warnings over any antics which might occur but there’s also the obligatory threat of cancellation should the performance be under par.
There was always the fear from the manager that the players focus would be on what they were wearing that night rather than the performance. Stupid really.
The speech usually started with them expressing their wish for you to enjoy yourself BUT if anyone steps out of line and the police are involved, the consequences will be dire.
This line proved particularly funny on time when just hours after a manager had spoken these exact words we noticed a commotion as the squad made our way from one venue to another. On further inspection it turns out it was the manager and his assistant coming to blows over who had possession of the kitty money to buy the next round. You just couldn’t make that stuff up.
What made it funnier was the two of them continuing to argue over it in front of us all on the training ground the next day after they had dragged us in on our day off.
These parties plague managers thoughts and with their history, it’s no wonder.
It’s not as if it’s just the tradition of British footballers either.
The day after the final game before the winter break in Denmark was the Spiller Afslutningsfest (Player’s Farewell Party). A day long celebration of a) the first half of the season’s end b) Jesus’s birthday.
All of them were memorable affairs until you reached the point when you could remember no more. My first one was an experience. All we were told was to meet at the clubhouse at the training ground at 8am for a breakfast. This included toasting the occasion with a few shots of snaps as well as some actual toast.
Nobody had a clue where we were going as we boarded the team bus. An hour later we arrived at an ice rink which was actually only 20 minutes away but the driver had been ordered to drive around to give us time to get a beer or two in.
We were lead into the dressing rooms where each of us had a full ice hockey outfit laid out for us. A full-scale game of ice hockey was not what I was expected. And frankly not what I wanted either. Ice skates have never been a good friend to me, particularly after a few glasses of Akvavit.
Fully decked out in goaltender gear, my tactic of lying down as soon as anyone approach my net seemed to work quite well. Apart from the fact I regularly ended up at an upturned tortoise and needed a hand up to my feet again.
The Sunderland Christmas parties were much more straightforward. More traditional. A bit of fancy dress and a few sociable drinks on a Sunday afternoon. One year was quite eventful.
I was one of the three Musketeers along with Martin Smith and Stephen Pickering and there was an alarming amount of the lads who came dressed as women.
Kevin Ball and Alex Rae coming as Madonna and Sam Aiston, whose stocking clad legs legs didn’t go unnoticed by passers by, dressed as a sexy nurse.
The day didn’t quite go to plan though. We’d encountered a group of skinheads who had taken offence at Martin Scott’s uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler and a jealous ex-partner of the girlfriend of one of the lads decided to take his disappointment out on us. Before we knew it, all hell broke out.
The bar ended up like the scene from the Wild West. Bodies being slid along the length of the bar and chairs being broken over people’s heads. I’ve made it sound comical but it was.
After dragging away one of the Madonnas from an altercation, I turned around to see Little Bo Peep pinning someone up against the wall by the throat and Friar Tuck and Long John Silver hanging out of the window of a black cab hitting someone with their crutches as they drove past.
We were all summoned to Roker Park the next morning, sheepishly ready for an almighty dressing down. When knew Peter Reid had been tipped off and whilst the police had been aware of it, they’d left it with the club to deal with.
As we stood out on the pitch to ready to do our punishment running the manager walked over and asked “I heard there was a bit of bother last night, is that right?”. Everyone nodded.
“Did you all stick together and look after each other?”. Again everyone nodded.
There was a short pause before he started rubbing his hands together, “You lot will do for me. Get yourselves home and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Good man management if you ask me and at least nobody lost all of their front teeth that time. That’s another story.