FOR anyone who has sympathy with professional footballers over the festive season while they work and most others indulge, Paul Warne has an unequivocal message.
It is a lot harder and more stressful when you are a manager.
I try and treat my lads as humanely as I can – especially the ones with young kids. It is an amazing time, but not amazing enough to neglect our league season.Paul Warne
In his playing days, Yuletide matches and particularly the Boxing Day game one was the occasion that the Rotherham United chief loved.
As someone who rarely touched alcohol, was a self-confessed fitness fanatic – and still is – and liked nothing better than going out on a Christmas Day run, it allowed him to get an edge on many less-regimented rivals.
Warne was the sort of model professional who could be trusted to avoid the traditional holiday excesses. As are his Millers players now, with times having changed – but it is still a worry.
The Millers manager, whose side travel to Shrewsbury on Boxing Day after entertaining Fleetwood Town tomorrow, said: “It is a lot more stressful.
“On Christmas Day as a player, there were more times when we didn’t train than we did train.
“But because I was such a ‘Goody Twoshoes’, I went for a run with (assistant and former team-mate) Richie Barker every Christmas morning, ate well, didn’t touch alcohol and had an afternoon sleep and went to bed early and drank loads of water because I am ‘Goody Twoshoes’ aren’t I?
“So I never worried as a player because I always thought I would be better than the centre-half. I thought there is no way he has not had too much turkey as centre-halves are ‘porkers’ aren’t they?
“I just thought: ‘there is no way he will be in better shape than me’, so I used to love Christmas as a player and loved having games thick and fast as it suited my athleticism.
“But, as a manager, I have to worry about 20 of them – and I cannot see them either.
“I can get them in on Christmas Day, but it will literally be like the ‘Wacky Races’ if we come in.
“As soon as it finishes, oddly enough no-one needs a shower and they will just run straight through and get in their cars. They will all reverse their cars into their parking spaces, so they are heading in the right direction.
“That is the other thing. If you get them in on Christmas Day and, for example, someone wants to spend their Christmas Day in York, they will just race up.
“It is not a health and safety thing, but I sometimes just think: ‘have the day with the family and then you owe me big time’.”
As for the concept of Christmas Day training, Warne has ‘had it both ways’.
From being afforded trust to look after himself by his ‘gaffer’ to being called into the training ground, including on one occasion that left him feeling particularly blue.
Having been on the ‘other side’, the Millers manager is now inclined to compromise. He is likely to allow his players time with their families on Christmas Day, but with the proviso that some personal fitness work is done at some point during the day.
Not wanting to be a festive Scrooge, Warne continued: “Historically, I don’t believe in Christmas Day training.
“On Christmas Day, I normally get all the lads to send in a Whatsapp clip of them out running. They can do it in fancy dress or whatever they like and can just have a day with their families, really.
“Realistically, if for that one day, they don’t train, it does not have an amazing effect. I think happy and motivated players are the best sort to have.
“They know if they don’t train on Christmas Day, they owe me on Boxing Day. That is how they are dealt with the devil.
“For me, I go out for a run on Christmas Day anyway because I always do, it is historical.
“I think with it being Shrewsbury away this year, we will probably meet up on Boxing Day morning and have a pre-match meal and the team and then travel across.
“I have had it both ways. The sad thing is that if I knew that it would guarantee me a point or three points that we need by the end of the season by having them in, it is worth it. I completely get that.
“But I try and treat my lads as humanely as I can – especially the ones with young kids. It is an amazing time, but not amazing enough to neglect our league season.”
As for his own painful experiences of Christmas Day training, just mention the world Oldham. Warne recalls:”I had it one year where I drove over to Oldham and trained and I remember it took me an hour-and-a-half to get there – for someone with two young kids.
“I know loads of people work on Christmas Day and I apologise, but I went in and the manager shook my hand and said: ‘Merry Christmas, don’t worry about it, we are only doing 20 minutes’ and I was raging.
“I was thinking: ‘I have come an hour-and-a-half for this. For 20 minutes, it is absolutely pointless.’ It literally was a jog and a stretch and a little five-a-side ‘jolly-up’ and then we got in our cars and went home.
“It was another hour-and-a-half back and a four-hour day for just 20 minutes. I could have literally taken my dogs out for a run and done more exercise!”