Stars moaning about playing at Xmas gives me the hump.. we're fortunate to do what we love

IF THERE’S one thing that gives me the hump about Christmas, it is hearing footballers complain about what a tough time it is.

I never went along with that as a player and certainly not as a manager, so don’t expect me to change now.

Even back in the day, when they used to play matches on Christmas Day itself, I couldn’t see what there was to get upset about.

All it did was make me think how lucky we were . . . training for an hour, being well paid for something you love. How could anyone say they were hard done to?

If anyone has reason to moan it’s all the doctors, the nurses, those in the emergency services who are working. It’s all about a reality check and realising what you’ve got.

And talking of reality checks, when I was still a youth-team player at West Ham, and hoping for my big first-team break, one Christmas brought the biggest ever.

It was Boxing Day 1963 and we all went to watch the game against Blackburn, all of us confident we’d get a result.

We had the likes of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Ronnie Boyce, some really decent players, and Johnny Byrne actually put us two up. But it turned into one of the strangest games I ever saw because Rovers came back and battered us 8-2.

Afterwards we had to wait outside the dressing room, and there wasn’t a sound from inside, in case there had been any injuries or manager Ron Greenwood wanted to make any changes.

The way the fixtures were back then, we were playing the return at Blackburn two days later and us young lads thought we might have a chance because of the result.

But as it happened he stuck with the same lot, bar bringing in Eddie Bovington for Peters, so it was a doubly disappointing Christmas.

Ron knew what he was doing because we went to their place — both teams on the same train — Eddie man-marked Bryan Douglas and we won 3-1.

Ron kept the same side for the rest of the season and we ended it winning the FA Cup, so maybe that Boxing Day hammering actually did us a favour in the long run.

I always loved the Christmas period –— although if you are worried about results, especially as a boss, you’re just going through the motions with all the festivities.

If you’re fighting relegation and need points, that’s all that matters. And that was the case in my first year in charge at West Ham, when we were bottom of the table.

So you can imagine my reaction when I heard the players had booked an open-top bus, complete with jazz band, to drive through East Ham for their Christmas party.

I told them "when you go past all those workmen, people digging the roads, the ones paying your wages, they’ll chuck all sorts at you," and cancelled it. They still went out, just in a couple of mini-buses instead, and, of course, it didn’t end well because a bus got damaged.

Those parties are more trouble than they’re worth.

When it came to Christmas Day, I’d bring the players in early for training and then let them go home for dinner with the family before we’d meet up for the game the next day. But I’d never, ever, say to them they could have just one drink, because the minute you do that you’re heading for trouble!

It’s a hectic time and you’re away from home on Christmas night but you’d have all summer to go on holiday . . . and were getting well paid for the privilege.

So if I ever heard any of them complaining — or moaning about too many fixtures — I’d be on them straight away. Try doing it in ankle deep mud, like we all had to back in the day . . . maybe then you’d have something to moan about.

Although even then you never did, because you were just thankful to be playing football for a living. There’s a few out there who would do well to remember that now.

DIEGO GREATEST OF LOT

LIONEL MESSI set the all-time scoring record for one club with his 644th goal for Barcelona this week — one more than Pele got for Santos — raising the old question of who is the greatest.

The way Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were the best two in the world for a decade is incredible, and, of course, Pele was fantastic.

But for me Diego Maradona tops the lot, for almost single-handedly winning the World Cup, as well as turning an unfashionable Napoli into title winners. But it’s a close call.

ALL SET TO SHAKEM UP

I CAN’T wait to watch the football over the next couple of days.

But as much as I love it, the horse racing is always something special over Christmas, too — and I’m even more excited than normal about it.

My horse Shakem Up’Arry is due to run in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown next week and we fancy him to give us a real run.

He ran a cracker when fourth last time, he’s been burning up the gallops and he shouldn’t be far away. I’ve another decent bumper horse due out at Warwick in the new year, so I’ll let you know about him, too.

CUP PICKS TOOK MIKEL

I KNOW it’s a busy period but I don’t think that was any reason for all the changes we saw in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.

You’re a couple of rounds from Wembley, from winning a trophy, but managers were bringing in eight or nine different players. Unbelievable.

Mikel Arteta really missed a chance to redeem himself by fielding that Arsenal side against Manchester City. If they’d got a result it would have eased the pressure on him.

All anyone cares about now is either making the top four or  staying up.

Arsenal don’t seem to have a chance of the first, so surely they don’t fear relegation?

 

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