BY GAVIN BLACKWELL - PHYSIO AT HALESOWEN TOWN FC
As the nation prepares to indulge in its annual festival of excess booze, food and presents, those masters of the new religion of football practice self-discipline. Whilst the rest of the country sit down to a feast on December 25th, the players’ minds will be totally focused on avoiding a stuffing, rather than eating it, in their quest for another three points.
Christmas for many of us is our busiest time of the year: bumper crowds at matches and the games come thick and fast. That doesn't stop your family asking where you are when they're getting tiddly and watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses!
I always find that when the fixtures come out, there are three key games to look for; the first, the last and the Boxing Day games. Depending when Christmas falls you may get lucky and have a Gaffer who gives an extra day off. It has been known for us to train on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For the majority of professional clubs, it will be turkey sandwiches and an overnight stay – usually in a near deserted hotel.
What is life like for the club physio at Christmas? The festive fixture programme is a very busy period for all concerned and this season is no different with three games in seven days. Those who treat the players’ injuries are often working overtime to ensure the manager has as full a squad to choose form as possible. A winning team doesn't care how many games it plays.
You tend to get more injuries with losing teams, but football is an emotive business. The role of the physio is as much a psychological prop as anything else. Long term injuries are not affected by the concentration of games over this period. It is the running repairs, the knocks and strains which are not helped over Christmas. Those are the sort of injuries which become problems with a fixture congestion. It is the trivial injuries which get all our attention. If a player has a broken leg he has his surgery and it's a case of him going to the gym and “I'll see you later".
The problems for a physio are heightened at intense periods like Christmas. Easter is almost worse because by then the minor injuries have accumulated and worsened. A keenness to carry on with slight injuries can often backfire. If the physio does not put his foot down, players will carry on with a slight strain and just keep reappearing in the treatment room complaining of repeated soreness. Several weeks of that and then... snap!
The desire, for smaller clubs especially, is to make sure players are fit for crucial games. This can cause friction between a manager and his physio. It's a real problem trying to squeeze more games out of smaller and smaller squads. The physio has to stay neutral. Our work helps the manager, but we do not work for them; instead you work with him. We must do what is best for the club. If that means not allowing a player to play because it is too risky, then so be it, but at the same time doing everything we can so the manager has as many fit players as possible for each game.
Over Christmas, the world seems to tick over like an idle car engine as people’s lives slow down, in order to enjoy time at home with their loved ones and reflect on the year past. Sport, however, asks for maximum commitment and full throttle effort. The fans love the festive fixture schedule, so the physio must remain on high alert at all times. There is very little time for relaxation if you’re part of a football club’s medical staff.
As a colleague of mine once said... Christmas comes at the end of May!