Football robbed me of many things.
Many things that I wilfully traded in exchange for following a dream that was never quite fulfilled.
Whenever I play down the fact that I managed to eke out a full playing career until it petered out in my mid-thirties, I’m often met with the response “Yes, but you did what so many people would kill to do.”. Not literally, obviously. Just figuratively speaking.
Except, it wasn’t my dream. I didn’t dream of being the player I became. Who dreams of being a David Preece? Even I didn’t do that but nevertheless, I swapped some of the things that everyone else cherishes in life in pursuit of becoming something far greater than I was.
Take birthdays for example. I have never celebrated birthdays and it took until my 40th last year to have the first party to be thrown in my honour. Even then it was a surprise one that I turned up in wearing flip flops, shorts and T-shirt because I was so apathetic to what day it was. It was a Sunday but the same as any other one and I wasn’t going to treat it any differently.
The reason? Well, August 26, is just after the start of the season and the odd preseason team bonding session apart, I was on my best behaviour and totally focussed on games.
Then there’s the festive period of Christmas and New Year, and footballer being one of the few occupations that requires you to actually work more when almost everyone else is not just working less but not at all.
Well, you soon learn as a footballer, especially when you’re young, single and no kids, Christmas doesn’t exist. In fact it’s worse than that because you get to have all the hassle of the build up to Christmas without the payoff of actually being able to enjoy the day itself and the subsequent indulgences of Boxing Day.
Unless you move to Scandinavia for four years where they have a winter break, but that seems a bit an extreme measure just to have a bit of turkey and a few chocolates. If you’ve got any sense at all and insist on celebrating the birth of Jesus, then an intelligently timed suspension due to a not-so-mistimed tackle would be less trouble than moving countries and having to learn a new language.
Not that I didn’t enjoy myself at all when I did get the chance without the spectre of training or a match hanging over me. Going out running on a Christmas day wasn’t an uncommon occurrence but it was a novelty to have time off around that time so I did allow myself one day of excess.
One year I spent it back in Aberdeen with friends and enjoyed myself so much I woke up next to a stuffed fox that had a cigarette hanging out the side of its mouth. That isn’t a euphemism by the way. Apparently I’d taken the fox out of its display case and was messing around with it before falling asleep with it on the sofa.
Then there’s New Year celebrations. Of course it’s almost always an over-hyped affair so it isn’t the biggest of sacrifices to make, but when you’re staying somewhere as nice as The Belfry like we did before the New Year’s Day game against Coventry City in 96/97, it feels like you’re having your nose rubbed in it. Half a dozen function rooms full of revellers dressed to the nines having a great time for themselves and there you are in your club tracksuit playing snooker with couple of your team-mates and sipping on a lemonade.
You forego these things and accept it in the knowledge it’s for the greater good of your career. There’s plenty of time to celebrate when your playing days of done, isn’t there? Yes, there is. But that’s when you start wishing you were still teetotal at Christmas time and wish you were having to cut your time with your family before jumping on a bus to travel to your hotel to spend it with your other family. You couldn’t care less what Santa had brought you on Christmas Day, as long as you got three points on Boxing Day. That’s all that mattered.