There was a time when I’d be on holiday right now.
Either sunning it up somewhere hot or shuffling along the snowy streets of New York searching out the coolest bars and restaurants it has to offer, hoping to see someone famous. I wasn’t disappointed either.
God knows we could do with a contrasting second half of this season to the first at the Stadium of Light.David Preece
One year I was inadvertently invited to a party hosted by Britney Spears at the Hudson Hotel and the next night gatecrashed Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s (Tony Soprano’s daughter, Meadow, in The Sopranos) engagement party after being mistaken as one of her fiance’s friends by another guest.
Unfortunately at the latter, halfway through our second free cocktail, security cottoned on to the two sore thumbs still stood at the bar as everyone else took their seats for their food and asked us to confirm our names.
Which was a shame really, because it would have made this anecdote far more interesting than it is.
There is a point to all this, other than to log my misadventures in America like an English Clark Griswold, as the the reason behind my travels was the winter break taken by leagues I was playing in at the time.
When I first moved up to Scotland, the SPL had implemented a three week Christmas break which was taken after the game on, or just after, New Year’s Day.
The break usually took the form of one clear week off for all the players, followed by a week to 10 days warm weather training somewhere like Cadiz in southern Spain, and then a week at home to prepare for the Scottish Cup game which kicked the season off again.
It has to be said, the Scottish football calendar isn’t the most frantic with its 38 game fixture list compared to that of the 46 games played in the English Championship but the benefits were clearly evident.
For sides whose seasons weren’t going as well as they’d planned, it gave them a chance to take a step back, reassess their squad and go away to work on the parts of their game which needed improving.
It gave players carrying knocks and managing injuries the chance to take full advantage of the time off and recuperate.
One year, the winter break even gave me a chance to get back in the side at Aberdeen. been out of the side for 15 months due to a mix injuries and an extended period of not being able to stop the ball from going in my net, an ailment I was prone to from time to time throughout my career.
As it happened though, reinvigorated from a bout of dancing with the VIP’s of a trendy New York hotel, I returned to our Spanish training camp base in Fuengirola to produce a couple of good performances in friendlies against 1860 Munich and Brøndby.
Performances good enough to win my place back in the side for our Scottish Cup third round fixture away to Alloa, which we duly won 3-0.
It all seemed like the perfect mix to me, particularly by making the cup game the first one on your return to competitive matches. Not that everyone saw it that way.
There were still complaints, particularly from those sides knocked out by lower league opposition who had continued to play through January.
The managers of those sides declared their teams were somehow disadvantaged because of the break and it gave the lower league sides the upper hand. If that really was the case though, it made it more interesting.
The only other greivance, in Scotland especially, came from the managers complaining their side’s momentum was broken by the pause in the league campaign, but then again, they were few.
I’d have to agree with them though, the break did favour the struggling sides, especially when it came to the recruitment new players.
The training camps and friendly games gave new players the chance to bed-in and integrate into the squad, rather than being flung in at the deep end and that exactly the kind of thing needed at Sunderland at the moment.
I’m sure Sam Allardyce would welcome a winter break more than anyone, bar Remi Garde, especially if he’s able to ring the changes needed to put up any kind of fight against relegation.
The clamour for a winter break is lead by those who wish to see England compete at international tournaments and it is feasible without losing the traditional festive fixtures by loading up the first half of the season without cutting the Premier League to 18 teams. even if there is just a two or three week without games at the beginning of January, it could save players from burnout come June.
But then again, I still don’t think our failure in the Euros and at World Cups is as much to do with the lack of a winter break as it is with our ability with the ball.
Lack of playing time and a lack of form seems to be more of a problem than over exertion for a few England stars right now.
When I moved to Denmark, the winter break played a much more significant role in the season. Beginning at the end of November and ending at the beginning of March, the Scandinavian winter break was less of a luxury and more of a necessity due to the weather and having spent much of my career not celebrating Christmas and New Year, it was a novelty to have the whole of December either on getting some sun on my face or back home with my family.
The return to training, especially during my first year, was a bit of shock to the system.
When I’d left Denmark in early December that year, the weather was pretty mild.
When I arrived back for training the snow was a foot high and our first training sessions were conducted in temperatures of -14.
It was so cold you daren’t breathe in fear of freezing your lungs.
Not only were the weather conditions brutal but so was the training; two solid months of a slog, only broken by a 10 days training in sunnier climes.
I’ve never been a big fan of friendlies as I might have already stated, but I did enjoy playing opposition from different countries.
On top of the playing local sides wherever we were in the likes of Spain or Cyprus, we’d play against Italian, German, Dutch and Russian sides out there on their winter breaks too, giving us a great experience of other styles of football, pitting our wits against the likes of Inter Milan, Ajax, Wolfsburg and Seville.
Because the break was so long, much longer than the summer one at the end of the fixture list, this was the part of the season where much of the transfer business and changes of coaches was predominantly done, so you’d often find many teams having contrasting fortunes in both halves of the season.
God knows we could do with a contrasting second half of this season to the first at the Stadium of Light.
Whilst I’m still coaching in the National League, I don’t think there’s much chance of me getting another winter break any time soon, and with that goes the chance of ever rubbing shoulders with Britney Spears again.
I didn’t get the chance to meet her at that party by the way. but there was just the one toilet in the VIP section so I had to console myself with the lamentable fact that I might have used the same toilet as her.
You see, sometimes you have to hang on to any bit of solace you can find in a situation, don’t you? I should be good at that though. It’s what a lifetime of being a Sunderland supporter teaches you, I guess.