CHRISTMAS day is quite a bit different when you are a professional footballer.

While I’m not 100 per cent certain how the modern footballer acts on Christmas, I know from my time as a player that this is the time of year when the schedule is incredibly intense.

Players will be going into training in order to prepare for the Boxing Day game against Swansea City.

In some ways, the preparation is no different to any other game. But in reality, things are very different because it is Christmas day.

Everybody is mindful that the team need to come in to ensure they are prepared for the next day, while also being mindful of getting back to their families to enjoy the day with their loved ones.

The games come thick and fast during this time of year. It’s a relentless period of strain – both mentally and physically – for players.

It’s a time when you think it’s a fantastic opportunity to put some points on the board and establish some distance between yourselves and your competitors.

You want to be fully focused and able to be in the best condition possible to perform.

Sometimes you don’t get as much time to prepare for the next team as you would do during different parts of the season.

The squad will really come into their own during this part of the season and Russell will undoubtedly be mindful of the quality in depth we have over the next week or two.

Daily Echo: Paul Capper, employee Jan Dodd, Wellie (the elephant), Tina Wellman Hawke and ex-Southampton footballer Francis Benali all with the trees which will make a difference.

From a personal perspective, I’ve never drunk alcohol. The festivities of Christmas and New Year’s Eve were never an issue for me.

I never felt as though I wanted a drink. Perhaps that isn’t the case for all players – but it is a time when players have to be ultra-professional.

They have to ensure they are in the best condition they can be in given the heavy workload and the celebrations that will be surrounding them.

It can be difficult not to get sucked into the festivities. I enjoy my food as much as everybody else and would always tuck into a good Christmas dinner.

I used to look at Boxing Day games from the point of view that we have prepared for this game in such a way that it’s taken us away from our families at a special time of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, it is part of the job and one of the small downfalls if any that we have to put up with as footballers.

Clearly you want to win every game, but when it comes to Boxing Day you want to maximise the sacrifice you have made in the build-up and make it worthwhile.

Daily Echo:

Playing at St Mary’s will make a huge difference, not only because Saints will be playing in front of a sell-out home crowd of 29,000.

But more than that, playing at home limits the amount of travel the players will have to endure.

If you are playing away on Boxing Day things are worse. It’s always one you look at when the fixture list comes out at the start of the season.

I’ve been a part of squads in the past who have trained on Christmas morning, gone home and enjoyed the day with my family and loved ones before returning to the training ground to travel for an away fixture.

It’s safe to say I’ve enjoyed Christmas day more since I hung up my boots. I no longer feel guilty for having a few extra mince pies or a second helping of Christmas pudding.

Daily Echo:

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it as a player – I was just more mindful of what I was consuming.

One thing I’m sure the club and coaching staff will be thinking about is how the international players feel during this time.

Some may not have their family in the country and could feel a bit lonely during Christmas.

I witnessed that scenario during my time as a player. It’s something you have to keep at the forefront of your mind, especially with the younger players who may not have partners who live with them.

From a spectator's point of view, there is something about football over the festive period that makes these games seem extra special.

The schedule over this period presents opportunities for some fans to attend games that they otherwise wouldn’t get due to work or life commitments.

I would like to wish every single person who has read the column and every Saints fan a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year in 2024.


Franny Benali.