Richard Wood column: The Rotherham United defender on how family time is a big gift for a player at Christmas

If I score, maybe it's down to my special herby tomato sauce!
If I score, maybe it's down to my special herby tomato sauce!
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The festive period is once again upon us and, for me, this year has flown by. Christmas is one of the busiest schedules of the football calendar with plenty of points at stake. Preparation and recovery are key for players and there’s no let-up around the season of goodwill.

I believe I’ve had one Christmas off in 14 years as a professional so far, and that was due to an injury. I’m not complaining and I’m used to it now, but it’s made it harder since becoming a father.

Rotherham, thankfully, have a kind run of fixtures over Christmas this year with hardly any travelling involved - two home games and a trip to Leeds United, meaning no overnight stays, which I’m very pleased about.

Six years ago, while I was playing for Coventry City, we played away at Cardiff City on Boxing Day. This meant travelling on Christmas Day and leaving my two young boys at home.

They were two and a half years old and three months old at the time. I remember finishing off my dinner and then sitting in my tracksuit clock-watching until it was time to set off. I couldn’t enjoy the day and it was strange leaving the family behind. Luckily, that isn’t the case this year.

We generally have to be in training on Christmas Day in preparation for the Boxing Day game. It’s up to the manager whether he has us in, and over the years it has probably been a 50/50 split. On occasions, we’ve had the day off to spend with our loved ones but have been given a heartrate monitor to make sure we go out for a run to tick over.

This year, the Millers will be training Christmas Day. I’ll be up in the morning, probably the early hours, with my children. We’ll open the presents and then when it’s time to start getting them out and building stuff, I’ll be off to training, leaving that to my partner!

Joking aside, it’s hard to leave the children at such an exciting time for them, but the most important aspect is preparing properly for the match. I need to perform at my maximum every game and if I haven’t prepared correctly then I have only myself to blame.

I’ll enjoy my Christmas dinner and obviously consume no alcohol. At night, I will stick to my pre-match routine and eat bacon bolognaise (spaghetti with a homemade herby tomato sauce and bacon).

I’m not sure if I’m superstitious or just a creature of habit, but I’ve done this for that many years now I don’t think I’ll ever change. My two boys have also got into this routine. They play football every Saturday morning and they always put a request into Mum for bolognaise the night before. They believe they’ll play as well as me if they eat it.

I’m really looking forward to Christmas Day this year. My children are at an age where it really is a magical time and I can’t wait to enjoy it with them. However, in the back of my mind will be the upcoming games and making sure I’m ready for them.

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