Like many of Europe’s other elite football competitions, Oxford college football takes a winter break. This provides a chance to recover from the intensity of the Michaelmas fixture list, and to prepare for the crunch games of Hilary: league title deciders, the latter stages of cuppers, etc. Apart from that, though, the problem faced by many college footballers is how exactly to fill the five-week hiatus over the Christmas period.
Five weeks is a painfully long time to go without football, especially for players used to churning out two performances a week. The void that college football leaves behind over the vac can be enough to send a player’s morale into a downward spiral, as they gaze longingly at their team’s Facebook page, waiting in desperate anticipation for that post that never arrives. Every notification sends them scrambling for their phone, hoping against hope that the cancelled Hassan’s Cup match has in fact been rescheduled for Christmas Eve. Of course, even if this were the case, they’re back home, on the other side of the country. Out of the Oxford bubble, they’ve never felt more stifled.
At times, the withdrawal symptoms can be quite shocking, with some players working themselves into such a state that they mistake their own family members for the (fabricated) opposition. Nothing ruins Christmas morning quite like a two-footed challenge on your younger brother or sister.
The solution to this problem is actually so simple as to be almost unthinkable: just keep playing football. Going on a night out with your mates from home? Bring a ball for a kick-about; they’ll love it. Don’t fancy brussels sprouts with your Christmas dinner? Work on your technique by pinging them across the kitchen. Heading towards midnight on New Year’s without a kiss? Explain the intricacies of the offside rule to your crush, and they’ll wonder why they never found you so attractive before.
Your parents may not take too kindly to you painting white lines all over the garden lawn, but it’s important to go to any lengths necessary to replicate that matchday environment. In fact, given that the December weather is not always conducive to adequate playing surfaces, it might be worth discussing with your family the possibility of replacing the lawn with artificial turf, complete with floodlights to cope with those 4pm sunsets. The prospect of installing a main stand on the back of your house might be less likely.
Don’t let all this talk of practice and preparation get you down either, you can still enjoy the Christmas period with all its trappings. Eat and drink to your heart’s content; after all, it wouldn’t be the first game of Hilary without everyone scrambling to get match fit. As long as you can track back without chundering, you should be fine.
Indeed, Christmas is more about sliding down a hill in a sledge than it is about slide-tackling your sibling, regardless of how tempting it may seem to indulge in the latter.