The last few days have been eerily quiet. The week before Christmas is always like the calm before the storm – the League Cup quarter-finals like the first big, inky spots of rain before all hell breaks loose and the storm that is the Christmas schedule starts. In case you’re unaware of what I’m talking about (and there are some of you that might not), Christmas is the time of year that football in Britain goes a bit insane. Between today and January 1st (that’s just ten days), our footballers will play four matches. One today, one on Boxing Day, one next weekend and one on New Year’s Day. Somewhere around one-tenth of the season’s league fixtures will be played and, in ten days time, we will all emerge, bleary-eyed and hungover, and everything might just look a bit clearer than it does now.
When foreign players started coming into the British game in the mid-1990s, there were some complaints. An Italian footballer, say, would no more be expected to play on Boxing Day than he would be expected to go water-skiing. On much of the continent, the players are starting to wind down for their Christmas break. The stories of players complaining were probably over-stated (and there are as many British players that complain it as there are foreign players that complain about it), but you do find yourself thinking, “Well, you know, if this is all a little bit too much like hard work for your £20,000 a week, there are other career options available”. Similarly, you will get the occasional manager who complains about the poor little dears being over-worked (Alex Ferguson is usually pretty good for this sort of thing), to which you find yourself thinking, “Well, Strawberry Nose, it shouldn’t be that difficult – after all, you have got a staff of sixty-odd players”. There is much to look forward to over the next ten days, not least of which is the Arsenal-Spurs derby, which kicks off the whole thing at lunchtime.
At this festive time of year, we should probably spare a thought for Lawrie Sanchez, who was sacked as Fulham’s manager yesterday. Actually, he might have quit. The rumours are somewhat conflicting, but the effect is largely the same. Before you start feel too sorry for him, though, it’s worth remembering the cautionary tale of Derek Dooley. Dooley was a Sheffield Wednesday legend. He scored sixty-two goals in sixty-one matches for them but, in 1953, he broke his leg during a match against Cardiff City. This was pretty unusual, even in the 1950s, but gangrene set in and Dooley had to have the leg amputated. So here, then, is a man that has literally given a limb for this football club. It seems right that such a servant should be rewarded with a job for life at Hillsborough, and by 1971 he had risen far enough up the ladder to be appointed the club manager. In the early 1970s, Sheffield Wednesday were a club in free-fall. How much of this was down to Dooley I’m not sure. As a man that had given a leg for his club, though, he probably didn’t deserve his fate, which was to be sacked by Wednesday on Christmas Eve in 1973. Pleasingly, the story has a happy ending. Dooley swapped sides and joined Sheffield United in their commercial department. What a magnificent poke in the eye it was for Sheffield Wednesday that he rose up through the ranks, becoming managing director and, eventually, the chairman that took The Blades into the Premier League in 2006. He has since stepped down, but stays on as vice-president in his retirement.
On the off-chance that I don’t get back on here over the next couple of days or so, I’ll take the opportunity now to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.