As with vicars, turkey farmers and Bobby Davro, Christmas is not really a holiday for footballers. You need only glance at the forthcoming fixtures list to see that Chelsea will play eight matches between now and this time next month, six of which will be Premiership ties. Now that’s a lot of games for one month – to give you an idea, if England had managed to play eight games in June we’d have won the World Cup (or more likely come fourth) – but the point is Christmas is another carnival of football and to avoid any slip-ups a team needs a big squad with players at peak fitness.
That’s right, this is the time of year to be thinking about peak fitness. It’s interesting that simultaneously, as Chelsea, Man U et al are preparing themselves for the onslaught of December, I too am engaged in physical and psychological preparation, after all, only a fool would attempt the binge-drinking party season and grotesque eatathon that is Christmas in London without having spent the best part of November honing themselves into peak fitness.
Yet peak fitness is not all that’s required to get through this month of frenzied celebration because Christmas parties bring with them another hazard to the dangerously high calorific and alcoholic intake: polite conversation.
At Christmas parties, office parties, friend’s parties and friends of friend’s parties, we are obliged to stand and nonchalantly make conversation with complete strangers who are blocking the path to the cocktail sausages. We are forced to laugh at badly recounted version of jokes we were emailed the week before and then nod sagely at supposedly insightful reflections on traffic.
Well, I’ve had enough of this and, not intending to have another one of my months wasted by polite conversation, I’ve compiled the survival guide for the season. It breaks down into three easy-to-digest categories the ways that you as a football fan can pass the time between the next eight fixtures with minimal trauma. All you need do is determine which type of party you are attending and use the suitable approach.
Family gatherings: The trick here is to realise that you have no choice but to listen to your grandmother talk about poinsettias. Since your response is not only incidental, but in fact considered an interruption, you should keep your mouth buttoned and let your mind wander. Here are some little nuggets to ponder:
How do you pronounce Dirk Kuyt’s name? Is it Koit, as with Johann Cruyff? Or is it something more sinister? So far this season I’ve heard Quoit, Kite, Kowt and Coot, and even that’s before Martin Jol’s had a go.
Why haven’t Lurpak brought out a special Christmas edition chocolate butter ‘Cow Pat’? ‘Tis the season for marketing ploys after all, so where’s the Yule disco complete with choc chip flies? It’s only a matter of time.
Is it too soon to erect a statue to Drogba? No, no it isn’t.
Friend’s parties: If you’re anything like me, the Christmas season is going to seem like little more than a series of mad sprints between hangovers. Bearing this in mind, it won’t matter if you have the same conversation at every party, since you’re not likely to remember it. Just make sure it’s a good one:
How about discussing the concept of mind games? After all, it is irresistible to commentators. Mourinho says he’d like Man U to get knocked out of the Champions League: Mind Games! Wenger won’t shake Pardew’s hand after a game: Mind Games! I read recently that compared to Kennedy and Khrushchev silently avoiding nuclear apocalypse while appearing strong enough to keep their respective militaries appeased and avoid public humiliation, these are hardly mind games. But since we like exaggeration, and fights too, why not have some fun? Spread a rumour that Alan Pardew doesn’t wash his hands after going to the loo (number two), then see how Wenger deals with the customs of gentlemanly conduct during his next visit to Upton Park. Better still, start a rumour that Shane Warne wears a sports bra. There’s only one way he can disprove that, and that’s by getting his tits out for the lads. Like our cricket team, he can’t win.
Alternatively you can discuss whether it’s too late to get a statue up of Drogba in time for Christmas. Sounds like a job for Challenge Anneka to me.
Work functions: The thing to remember is that Christmas work functions are only good for the free booze. Once a year we have to spend our social hours avoiding the people we usually spend our working hours avoiding, so why fight it? Here are some of the most provocative statements available to help kick-start proceedings:
Henry will move to Barcelona next year. (He’s following Pat Vieira’s parting season’s behaviour step for step.)
TV replays should be analysed after matches to punish dives.
Stan Collymore will move to Man U in January. (Please.)
A yellow card means ten minutes in the sin bin.
Drogba’s statue should show him shinning the ball.
And there you have it, by following this simple guide, the yuletide month will fly by and before you know it we’ll all be a little bit fatter, a little bit wiser and with any luck, a little bit top of the league. After all, it was for precisely game-congested times of the year like December that Chelsea acquired high-quality players in already filled positions; let’s see what difference the depth of squad can make as we pit ourselves against Man U over the next 18 points.
In the meantime I’m going to carry on my own personal tradition of putting red Christmas hats with white pompoms on all the statues near my house. Hopefully this will catch on to become a city-wide custom just in time for Didier’s long overdue bronze effigy to get his very own.