I pull into the bumpy car park trying to avoid the numerous potholes, it is an impossible task. The temperature gauge inside my car is informing me that it is -1 degrees however there is no gauge inside my Kia Ceed that can predict the 50mph winds. I step out my car and run to the players entrance, sprinting to the dressing room praying for a bit of warmth, momentarily at least. The changing room is colder than the elements outside. How is it possible that it is colder in here? There are four walls and a roof but this does not appear to be helping. There is usually a shitty little heater that you can switch on with a string, a common yet peculiar phenomenon in the majority of lower league grounds. Everyone crowds underneath this strange heating device but it does little to keep your temperature above freezing.
On these winter days the pre game warm up can have very little appeal, but after the first 10 minutes it’s not too bad. Players are now equipped with under armour, gloves, snoods and all sorts of bits and pieces in an attempt to limit the impact of the elements. Roy Keane does not like this. In his mind, this is the snowflake generation in a nutshell. He suggests this means the players are not up for their work. It’s not that deep Roy, they are just trying to stay warm.
That being said, there is always that one hard man in every team who will go out in shorts and t-shirt regardless of the weather. I’m thinking of your Scott Brown types – proper hard men. Of course there are also your plastic hard men, the charlatans, your Iain “Yano” Campbell types who also adopt this approach. Even I could chuck him around like an empty tracksuit.
Onto the game itself, there are players that choose to wear gloves for the duration of the game, something which I rarely do unless completely necessary. In Scotland, a player wearing a pair of gloves is the footballing equivalent of flourishing a red rag in the presence of a bull. On this occasion, the bull takes the form of a tough tackling midfielder from Castlemilk, Niddrie or any other hard hunting ground. If you choose to wear the gloves you better produce the goods or at least be willing to face the consequences.
The elements play their part, particularly the wind and the frosty glaze on the artificial turf. My mediocre ball control is now below par and my timing for headed flick ons must look laughable to those who have paid 15 quid a ticket. You do your best, keep the head down and get through to half time. In some dressing rooms, the kitman will have a spare strip for you to change into if need be. This used to be exclusive to the full time footballers but more and more part time teams now appear to have a duplicate jersey, shorts and socks. Depending on the weather, this can be a godsend. The days where you would walk out after half time in a soggy kit and early onset hypothermia are a thing of the past for me.
The second half follows a similar pattern to the first half until the closing stages. Points gained in these affairs are crucial to the promotion and relegation places. A good Christmas and winter period usually makes all the difference; I would suggest more so than any other time in the season, these games come down to chance, hard work and the old cliché, “who wants it more”. Every team seems to find that little bit more in those final minutes.
Win, lose or draw you don’t stay out long to shake your opponents hands. You are praying for a win, which means a brief team talk, allowing you to hop in the shower and get home. As long as it isn’t the Albion Rovers showers, which resemble the feeling of an old man urinating on you. I mean no disrespect to this historic club, but any chance of getting a plumber in?
In this case, you just want to get in the car, heating on full blast and get down the road as fast as possible. Get back to your flat and run a nice warm bath, get the candles lit and pop in a luxury aromatic bath bomb – bliss. I must add that the candle lit bathing experience may not be representative of all my part time peers.
The wild weather conditions I have talked about are probably a bit of an exaggeration, particularly as we’ve had a warmer winter than usual. However, the winter period can lead to several postponed games, unstylish football and can leave the paying fans unimpressed whilst freezing their bollocks off. This being the case, many have suggested the idea of summer football and a prolonged winter break. I’m conflicted. Winter football is a long tradition in the British Isles and I must admit, from a spectators point of view, there is little I enjoy more than watching Gary Lineker on my TV every second day. There appears to be Boxing Day fixtures, New Year’s Derbies and games every day. Football, football, football. I love it.
On the other hand, from the playing perspective, there have been times I haven’t been able to feel my toes, finger tips and had horizontal hail stones smacking me in the face. Sometimes, I can’t help but yearn for something just a little warmer. I digress, I don’t really want go into the summer football v winter football debate. It’s been done a thousand times over. Winter football is here to stay, especially before I retire anyway. So if you ever fancy coming to an East Fife game and you see me hovering around the touchline, feel free to offer me a sip of your Bovril.