Flint's Off on One

There’s no avoiding it any longer, no matter how hard you try; Christmas is here. While our lives have been plastered with unavoidable propaganda, we have no choice but to suck it up. ‘Tis the season to be merry’, we are told. Perhaps they have a point – getting completely hammered might be the only way to get through it all. Noddy Holder and George Michael return to invade our conscious awareness, snow is everywhere, and prices skyrocket.

Actually there are some things I can bare. Life as a far-flung expat has its extreme positives and negatives, but a full roast is perhaps the biggest hardship. For the first time in eight years, my wife, daughters and I will spend Christmas Day itself with my folks. My 97-year-old grandmother will have a smile on her face as her great granddaughters create havoc all around. Crap TV and presents are an amenable accompaniment to the feasting and fun.

The problem is the football. If you’re reading this, then you have at the very least a passing interest in the game, but bear with me. Every second of every day – during the season or over summer – we have football thrust upon us. News alerts, apps, tablets, laptops, TVs, car radios – every time even James Milner farts, we know about it. A reasonable player might join your club! An apparently critical clash against the same side you played last year is this weekend! One manager said something about someone else to a man whose job it is to ask questions!

It’s a wonder that we survive more than five minutes without injecting concentrated football into our veins. At least that is what Sky Sports and their band of merry media outlets would have you believe. You know what though? Once in a while, it would be bloody lovely to wake up and NOT even think about the goddam sport.

You hypocrite, I hear you say; you chose this profession. Yes, I did. I also married my wife, but it doesn’t mean I want to spend every waking moment with her. It’s hardly a revolutionary concept, but no matter what walk of life, you need a break from whatever you do. Would you choose to work 16 hours a day seven days a week? Oh you do, do you? Well how is that going? Exactly.

The crackling, wrinkled old skeletons who harp on about English football’s “traditional” festive calendar are totally missing the point. If we never changed our habits or customs, we’d still be flinging mud at each other and living in caves. Women wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Black people would be three fifths of person. Andy Townsend would still be bleating nonsense at us from the Tactics Truck. Christ, just think of that…

I am decidedly non-religious, but the Christmas period means a lot to me and my family. It’s nothing to do with a fictitious miracle baby born on a Pagan celebration of the Sun God Ra. It’s simply because, like for most people, we spend rare time together as a whole family. Now I willingly indulge in watching and writing about football for most of the year, but when it’s family time, I want to see them with good food, plenty of presents. Call me a soppy bastard, but I don’t care; seeing my folks happy with their grandchildren running around is glorious.

For once, I want to have no distraction other than the simplest pleasure of my nearest and dearest. Like a drug-riddled addict, however, I will slope off a few times to catch whatever product is produced on the telly. Most of us will have the same situation – we can’t possibly miss whatever match is taking place. I hate myself for it, but I’m virtually helpless to resist the gnarled clutches of football.

Whatever misdemeanours footballers themselves get up to, we should remember they are still people too. Can you imagine what a Pep Guardiola-approved Christmas dinner plate will look like? Even if the Catalan genius let his players have some semblance of a normal dinner, it’s not the same. Poor Yaya Touré certainly won’t be allowed to have more than a slither of Christmas cake.

It’s not an attack on Guardiola; quite the opposite. Take the Bundesliga, for example; after this weekend, they will have a four-week break until mid-January. Yes, I am fully aware there are four fewer fixtures in the German top flight, but are we incapable of adding a couple more mid-week summer fixtures and scrapping the ridiculous League Cup? Oh no, we can’t ditch the League Cup can we… Does anyone realise how much they laugh at us on the continent for having two Cup competitions??

This is not an issue of tiredness and physical preparation for me, even though for some it most certainly is. Well, not physical tiredness anyway. Without getting too cheesy, no matter what we do it is worth keeping our outlook fresh. Remember the peace of mind spread over Colin Firth’s face at the end of Fever Pitch? OK, so he played the least convincing football fan ever, but Nick Hornby’s point was still valid. It doesn’t make you any less of a fan if you take a breather, and if you can’t do it for your family at this time of year then it’s a sad state of affairs.

It is just simply a recognition that there is more than just football. Shankly was wrong; it isn’t more important than life or death, and deep down he knew that too.