Who ate all the (mince) pies? A sportsperson’s life at Christmas

Former footballers Robbie Savage and Kevin Kilbane, jockey Sam Twiston-Davies and darts player Adrian Lewis reveal their pre-Boxing Day sporting rituals

Boxing Day, the busiest time of the year for sportspeople. From football to rugby, darts to cricket, it seems everyone is running about with a bellyful of Christmas dinner still sloshing around inside them.

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Except in the era of professional sport, players can’t be going back for extra helpings of stuffing.

Even a glass of bubbly is a dangerous thing for some sportspeople, with irate coaches or morning weigh-ins to prepare for.

So what can they get away with over Christmas? How much do they eat and drink, and when do they have to join the team or slip off to the stable for an early morning gallop?

Former footballers Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Savage, jockey Sam Twiston-Davies and darts player Adrian Lewis reveal their Christmas and Boxing Day rituals.

Kevin Kilbane

BBC pundit, former Republic of Ireland and Everton left back

Christmas Day for me usually consisted of going in to the club for training on Christmas morning before going home for Christmas dinner. If the club had an away fixture you would go back in at about 7pm, and then travel together to the overnight hotel.

I would have to watch what I ate. Christmas dinner isn’t that bad for you, but it’s about being careful of all the rubbish you get offered around that. No boxes of Quality Street, no sweets, no big pudding afterwards.

I’d probably have a glass of wine with dinner, but that would be the extent of any alcohol intake. Most players wouldn’t even do that now, because they’d be paranoid about still having it in their system the next day.

When I was first starting to play there were no real data records. They didn’t monitor what distances you were covering or the intensity levels. Now a manager could go straight to the data and know a player hasn’t run as far as he did the week before.

Clubs check for body fat, and any sort of spike in fat suggests you’ve not been living the right lifestyle. A couple days in excess would show up, unless your metabolism is very good. If that is the case you would be fined.

I’ve known that players have timed bookings at certain stages of the season to make sure they get a few days off over Christmas. Some players pick up a lot of bookings generally, but others times all of a sudden they get a booking that leaves them out for Boxing Day.

If a player did get booked in the game prior to Boxing Day, they would definitely get a bit of stick from the team; even the manager would join in. In general most players don’t want that stigma in the team. But it has happened along the way.

Players in general live the lives of hermits now; they don’t go out like they used to. A Christmas party is the only chance to get the full squad together.

But the alcohol might not agree with the lads, especially when they’ve been training at such high levels. Players can have a few beers and suddenly something can go wrong. That’s when the stories come out in the tabloids.

I remember we had one incident with a teammate in a club who got into a fight. He ended up in A&E, and luckily it was just a few stitches. You’re fully aware of the dangers when a group of players go out. That’s the nature of being in the business; it’s hard to stay under the radar.

Robbie Savage

BBC pundit, former Wales, Leicester City and Derby County midfielder

Christmas is the best time in the world for a footballer. You’re playing games so you hardly have to train. You have to be disciplined when you see your family drinking champagne, playing party games, because you have to leave the house in the afternoon on Christmas Day to go to a hotel. Sometimes it’s quite soul-destroying; the only place you want to be is at home.

But as soon as you wake up Boxing Day morning it changes. There’s Christmas in the air, it’s usually a cold, crispy morning, and you know that the fans love Boxing Day games.

What footballers do is look at whether they’re going to be home or away. If they’re at home they usually can spend at least Christmas Eve at home, have a champagne or wine. I used to eat my Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve!

But if you’re away from home you will usually head off to training, then travel to a hotel and be in bed by 10pm. There often wasn’t the same hotel service the night before a Boxing Day game, so we’d stuff our pockets with everything from Christmas Day: sweets, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and sit in the hotel room and watch Christmas TV.

Food for me personally was never a problem. I’d normally have a glass of wine with dinner, and I’ve even invited players from abroad round to mine for Christmas. My wife was very accommodating!

You hear stories about how players would plan to get five yellow cards to get Christmas off, but that doesn’t ring true for me.

Take when I was at Leicester: if I was on four yellow cards and get booked you’re in danger of missing the most important time of the season. If you’re lined up to go to Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve, why would you want to miss it?

When you’re at the highest level, you have managers who trust you. If you were to drink or abuse that trust, the following year they’d make you stay in a hotel for a couple of days. You’d all get punished. There are no excuses; you cannot abuse the trust of a manager.

My first Christmas after retirement was great. I could have a few glasses of champagne, join in with the board games and wake up with a hangover.

The second year I thought, “I wish I was playing.”

Sam Twiston-Davies

British National Hunt jockey

Even though I get three days off over Christmas, as a jockey I still can’t let loose because Boxing Day is one of the biggest days of our year, with seven race meetings. It’s the same during the build-up to Christmas. All the stables have a Christmas party, but it’s never a big blowout because we’ll be racing the next day. So I’ll show my face and I might allow myself a glass of wine, but then I’m straight on to the Appletiser before creeping off early. I’ve got used to not drinking alcohol. In a weird way, over the years I’ve learnt to thrive on others getting merry.

Even during my two days off before Christmas, I’ll still be watching what I’m eating. It’s all about what weight you are on the morning of the Boxing Day race. So the trick is to cut right back on your intake and then you can at least enjoy some Christmas dinner on the big day.

I live on the yard so on Christmas morning I’ll be up at 6.30am to help around the stables and ride the horse for an hour. If I muck in and help out, everyone has time to enjoy their Christmas. Once we’ve opened presents, I might have the odd chocolate, but usually I’ll nibble on nothing more than a satsuma. You have to keep thinking about what’s going through your system – you don’t want anything that’s going to sit a bit heavy the next day. And chocolate’s a killer for that.

I’ll have Christmas dinner, but I have to stick to a small portion. It’s really a kid’s meal – half the size of everyone else’s. My weakness is turkey and stuffing, so I’ll have a good-size portion of that and go easy on everything else. I can’t even have an extra roast potato! I don’t even have a glass of wine because they’re very strict about our alcohol intake. Luckily I’m not a big fan of Christmas pudding so that’s easy to swerve.

I’m a sucker for a Christmas movie so I usually watch the early-evening film and then head to bed at 9pm and leave everyone else to it. It’s not a wild Christmas Day, is it?

I’ll be up early on Boxing Day to drive myself to Kempton. I might sneak a cold mince pie with me. But only to eat after the race, and only then if it’s gone well. So that’s my Christmas treat – a cold mince pie!

The William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park will be live on Channel 4 on Boxing Day

Adrian Lewis

Two-time world darts champion

The World Darts Championship started on 18 December and lasts until after New Year’s Day, so I can’t really concentrate on Christmas – even on Christmas Day it’s at the back of my mind. We put our decorations up three weeks before everyone else so we feel like we’ve actually had a Christmas. On Christmas morning, while my wife’s cooking the dinner, I lock myself away in my practice room to throw darts for hours.

Obviously I don’t have to worry about my fitness [he weighs in at just under 18 stone] so dinner will be the full Monty: roast turkey with wine and maybe a couple of pints to follow. I won’t overdo the drink because I’ll be playing within 48 hours so I need to make sure I’m fresh.

But I do love my chocolate so I’ll be dipping in and out of a big tin of Roses most of the day.

After the Queen’s speech, I’ll lock myself away again for another couple of hours’ practice. My youngest son, coming up to two, is getting a set of soft-tip darts this year, so I could end up playing darts most of the day! I make sure I have an early night so I’ll be in bed before midnight.

On Boxing Day we’ll go round to my wife’s nan’s and then we head down to London ready to get back into action.

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The William Hill World Darts Championship continues live on Sky Sports Darts (Sky Sports 3, channel 404), until 4 January