What's it like at Christmas for both sides of the fence at The New Saints

Reporter:

Barrie White

It’s a staple of football in Britain since the game has begun; football at Christmas, with only modern times reducing the festive fixtures to just Boxing Day games.

At The New Saints, it’s no different as Scott Ruscoe’s men look to extend their lead at the top of the JD Welsh Premier League, with a trip to Newtown kicking off at 2pm, instead of 2.30pm.

But while fans rock up to the Boxing Day games full of turkey, pudding and more pigs in blankets know to society (maybe that’s just me) expecting to be entertained, Ruscoe knows this time of year is crucial to managing both his players’ physical and mental needs at a time when the games come thick and fast, mainly because of cancellations.

But the rookie TNS boss is no hardliner, preferring to trust his players’ professionalism and is planning to enjoy a few relaxing drinks himself as he tucks into his family Christmas dinner.

“At Christmas you try to get the lads a bit of time off to spend with their families but because we’ve had two games called off, it’s different.

“We’ve given them Christmas Day off this year but then we’ve got Aberystwyth and then Newtown on Boxing Day and before new year too. There’s lots of games so we have to vary the training to make sure they’re not doing as much or as intensive.

“We’re not used to playing a game every three days so it’s got to be tapered, and the amount of time you spend with the players too. It’s whether we go to the gym or do a bit of swimming – it’s about their rest. They trained on Christmas Eve and we pushed them quite hard because they did nothing but eat turkey the next day. This year we’re playing the day after New Year’s Day so we’ll have them at 75 per cent.

“A player eating too much turkey or a bit too much cake on Christmas Day can be looked at two different ways; one, you might have had a few beers or a glass of wine so you push yourself an extra 20 per cent in the game on Boxing Day.

“In my experience, I liked a couple of beers on Christmas Day as a player but once dinner was done, it was no more, you’ve got a game tomorrow to get your head on, whether it was in the Conference or Welsh Premier.

“I had a the celebration but then once I had the dinner, it was about being professional. I don’t think I ever missed a game on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day . One year at Chester I played in front of 4,000 people at Hereford and after a couple of beers. I had to get on my head on it.

“But you know you have to prepare properly. Though if Steve Evans takes the team talk today, I might have had a few more. No, but seriously, even now I’m more at it now as a manager knowing that when you’re talking, the players are looking at you.

“I’ve played with a few, without naming names and there were some players here who timed their fifth booking really well so they would miss Boxing Day.

“It was pre-planned but if they’re thinking at home, they need a booking against x team then I take my hat off to them.”

Ruscoe reserved special words of praise for his players.

He added: “I think the lads buckle down when it comes to this period – they know we give them more than enough time off so they get their head down.

“Like last week, I had to cancel their Christmas do in Newcastle because we had a game on the Tuesday. I said ‘lads, you’re not going, it’s too busy’ but not one of them moaned or complained.

“They realised that if they win this block of games over the new year, I’ll give them two, three even four days off. The spirit among the lads at this time is good – they get time for training and they’ll get time off.”

On the other side of the fence you have Stewart Bloor, the club's media officer responsible for- well, pretty much everything when it comes TNS’s media work. He’s there at nearly all the training sessions, games, interviews and even manages time to keep up a blog about his day-to-day work.

So what is this Christmas period like for the popular ‘Rev’, as he’s known.

He said: “A plus for me around this time for the work I do is that my wife is very supportive – she’s 100 per cent behind what I do with the club. The work I do here is more of a calling than a job, when you have a mentality of Monday to Friday 9-5 and you’ve gone for the weekend.

“Whereas here, you have to be available 24/7, 365 days a year which obviously includes Christmas. I work hard but I’m not just saying this while he’s int he room but Scott is the hardest working one I know – he never switches off.

“But in all seriousness, this time of year is so busy because as the club’s media officer, I have deadlines to hit but I love the pressure. When I first joined the club, that was a progressive thing but then it reached the point of all the time. It was new for me but I quite enjoy it.

“For me, that might be working until 1am or 2am because I’m largely a one-man band. When people ask me where’s the media department, I say you’re looking at them.

“I don’t have a schedule from the club which tells me I have to be at every training session. This year they didn’t train on Christmas Day, but in the past I've been there. For example, when it’s a big game such as getting close to the world record number of wins, there was media from the world interested.

“I don’t drink; a lifestyle choice I made when I was in my early 20s so it was a bit of a food coma for me on Christmas Day. Our children were with their families on the day, so it’s just me and my wife, and the mother-in-law so if I was needed to go training, I might have!!”

Email:

barrie.white@nwn.co.uk

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