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30.12.2003
Not so merry X:mas for athletes families

Crystal Palace - Millwall 0-1
Ipswich - Crystal Palace 1-3


-Do you want more turkey Aki?
-No thanks.
-Well here is some red wine then.
-I have to pass on that one as well.
-Come on, it is Christmas and everything.
-I am sorry but I cant.

Athletes are often right bores. For many things and many people you have to say no. Not because you want to but because you want more to be an athlete. It is a 24/7 job. You live a good but restricted life.

Christmas, Easter, HanukaÖ every day counts in football. Every day the most important thing for an athlete is to train well, eat well and rest well. There are many limitations to your normal life. You will loose effect of your fitness training if you neglect the proper recovery by going shopping afterwards. There is no point of doing aerobic training if you are going to mess up your blood with a boozy night-out. The proper recovery and nutrition is not just some day event, it is an every day job. Even at Christmas a proper nutrition doesnít include a fat turkey and Yorkshire pudding. So it might be not as merry, but it is the Christmas you have chosen.

Every day you have to listen your body and the gaffer to plan the trainings, treatment and recovery. Even at Christmas it is these voices, not Santa who is calling the shots. The hard part is that everyone else is buzzing about Christmas and expects you to sing along. If something Christmas is a stress for a footballer. It is not a problem to play every second day but there is an outside pressure to be involved in Christmas events. Your restrictions are often hard to understand for others.

Some friends donít understand your reasons to pass a snooker night because you have to travel to Ipswich next day. Soon they end up asking other people instead. I donít blame them, their life and choices are different. I have grown apart with many of my friends because of the restrictions my professional life puts on me. So most of my friends are either other athletes or people who understand and accept the way I have chosen to live. There seems to be no other way.

It is not that I donít want to. It just doesnít fit. There are many other players that are willing to sacrifice these things to be at your place. If you are confident to give that edge to them, then you can sing Rudolf The Rednose all day long if you want. However in the end many athletes like their spot too much to take that risk.

One of the greatest athletes of all time Sebastian Coe said in one interview that he hated to train at Christmas but he always did it anyway because he knew his closest rival would and he didnít want to give that advantage. Be fair, if it was only me and one Millwall player I would have probably called him and tried to agree a day-off.

Harder is to fit family life and football together. Travelling and being away from home is a big part of the job description. It is not easy to find time to do things together, plan days or holidays, it is living one day at the time. In professional athletes life you canít predict tomorrow, you canít even count on the next hour. Depending on training, gaffer, fitness, injuries and many other variables your time schedules lives every moment.

And when you are finally home you really should rest after the physical pressure you have put on yourself. I am not a family man but I have heard how hard that is to explain to your kids who have been waiting whole day to play with their father. Or to your wife that shopping and other Christmas preparations or meeting relatives are out of the question close to a game. How do you justify to your children that you were the only daddy not to be there in a school play?

Being away a lot and often not even being any good when you are around are hard things for the closest ones to deal with. It often becomes a problem around holidays. It is not easy for an athlete but it must be really painful for the family. It requires a lot to live through someone elseís restrictions.

Of course being a footballer provides a good lifestyle and many advantages so there shouldnít be that much to complain. But it still doesnít change the fact that even athletes and their families are only human and it really testes your relationship with your closest ones when everything is happening in your terms.

No athlete is a machine. You have to have more holistic view to sports. Your whole life is related to your career. If you have bad times at home it will reflect to your games as well. It is only human. Sometimes though the football pitch can be the only place you can get away from the bad things in your life. However in most of the times an unhappy person plays like an unhappy player.

It works the other way also. If you have had a bad game, you sometimes bring it home with you. You donít mean to but often your closest ones get a share of your frustration. If the football is going bonkers it is almost impossible for anyone to find the right words and actions to make it easier at home. But if you are playing well everything else in life seems to fall into places.

This all might seem that home is just a service station where sports cars stop to refuel, rest, sometimes even have a shit and then leave again without really giving a credit and time to good people working there. Truth is not like that although I sometimes try to give it as a reason for not being married yet. In the end there are not much to complain about the odd problems or Christmas, because family is a blessing and important for your career, so sometimes you can and even should compromise your professional idealism for them.

I am in away sad that I couldnít spend Christmas with my friends and family back home but I am not complaining since this is the life I have chosen. At least I didnít need to be embarrassed to eat pasta for Christmas dinner. For me it was just another day at the office. There is a place and time for everything. So when someone is asking on June do I want to go to see World Cup games I could answer:
ĒWhy donít we have a pint and sing Jingle Bells instead!Ē


This time I recommend:
1. X:mas break from football
- not because of us players, but because of our families -

I do not recommend:
1. Sulking about presents you got
- X:mas is not about what you get, it is about what you give -
2. Playing and singing same old X:mas songs
- Why do everyone think at X:mas they can sing!-


" I wish you a merry X:mas and a happy New Year "
- around every English speaking person, including me, singing with dodgy voice -


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