Parties, presents & panto: A guide to a footballer's Christmas

Robbie Savage

From Scooby Doo and Snow White to fancy dress mix-ups, hospital visits and deserted hotels. Robbie Savage gives BBC Sport his guide to a footballer's Christmas.

In the middle of Manchester, during the early hours of a cold December night in 2005, I am one of the most hated footballers in the Premier League, and I am dressed as Scooby Doo.

I am trying to get into a nightclub with my Blackburn Rovers team-mate Paul Dickov, who is in a Yoda costume.

Looking back, it sounds ridiculous. As a professional footballer, I never drank heavily and would usually be in bed by 10pm. On a normal night out, I would never have dreamed of doing anything as daft as that.

But it is just one example of what can happen at a players' Christmas party.

Blackburn duo Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov , and referee Mark Clattenburg
"He was Yoda, and I was Scooby" - Savage and Dickov explain themselves to referee Mark Clattenburg

Common sense goes out of the window, and you think you are invisible despite being in a big group of lads, some of whom are well-known faces.

Disguised as a giant cartoon dog, I thought nobody would know who I was, but sadly the photos of me as Scooby in several newspapers proved otherwise.

Fancy dress and team bonding

When they went well, those parties were brilliant fun. Quite often, fancy dress was part of the plan and, even if it wasn't, I would improvise.

One year, while I was playing for Leicester, I went as my then team-mate Neil Lennon and walked around Nottingham all night in a full Foxes kit and a bright red wig. I got some strange looks.

Then there was the time there was a 1970s theme. Sadly, Darren Eadie and I got the wrong end of the stick - everyone else was in flares and flowery shirts but we came as Batman and Robin.

Del Boy and Rodney as Batman and Robin in the 1991 Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special
You plonkers! Savage and Darren Eadie were not the first to dress up for the wrong party

We were thinking of the old TV series starring Adam West but even then we could only get the modern-day costumes. We ended up looking like a right pair of idiots.

Bust-ups and bad behaviour

Of course, these parties do not always end up being a great laugh.

It seems as if every year there are stories in the papers about a club whose night out has gone wrong for whatever reason.

I experienced that side of things myself in my final season with Leicester in 2001, when Dennis Wise and I had an infamous altercation over a Secret Santa present that he had given me.

Robbie Savage and Dennis Wise celebrate a goal against Bolton on 29 December, 2001
Savage and Wise made up quickly after their Christmas row, and celebrated a Leicester goal together a few days later

Those kind of incidents are almost inevitable really. There are 25 or 30 of you in the squad and not everybody gets on, the same as in every work place. So throw in a few drinks and it can easily spill over.

You might think it is crazy that top clubs still let them happen, given the negative publicity that drunken misbehaviour, or worse, can generate.

The reason they still go on is that they are great for team bonding - a pre-season tour is probably the only other time you see all your team-mates to have a drink together and can let your hair down a bit.

Even if you do end up having a fall-out, it can be a positive thing because it clears the air - massively in the case of me and Wisey. We sorted out our differences and are mates now.

A fairytale first Christmas at Manchester United

I did some very random things during my career - I once turned on the Christmas lights in Leicester city centre with the actor who played Roy Cropper in Coronation Street.

But I have actually been dressing up since my first Christmas as a footballer, when it was tradition for the Manchester United youth team to stage an annual panto.

I was Snow White, covered in make-up and looking lovely in a dress, and David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville played some of the seven dwarfs.

We had to perform in front of the first team, and Sir Alex Ferguson. It was organised by the physio department and all done properly - I had to learn my lines, and the script took the mickey out of the senior players.

Lily Savage as the Wicked Queen in Snow White
Lily is not the only Savage to have been a pantomime star in Snow White

Back then, I cleaned Mark Hughes' boots and his Christmas treat for me was a few quid as a tip and a lift home back to Wrexham in his Porsche.

As I got older, I always did the same sort of thing for the apprentices at my other clubs, plus the kitmen, the laundry ladies and so on. You look after the people who have looked after you all year.

It is not always publicised, but all footballers, no matter who they play for, always go round the local children's hospitals too.

Whether you play for a League Two club or Manchester United, those kids support your team, so they get as much pleasure from seeing someone from Accrington Stanley as they do when a United fan meets Robin van Persie.

It was always great to have the opportunity to make a difference. The look on their faces could be amazing, but it was heart-breaking too.

To think I would be going home to my healthy kids, when some of these children might not see Christmas always gave me a bit of perspective about the massively privileged position I was in.

Away from the family, in a deserted hotel

As a footballer I would not get to spend much of the festive period with my family, but it is something I learned to live with.

If I was playing at home at Boxing Day, I might train on Christmas Eve and get Christmas Day off.

Whichever club I was at, I was trusted to eat what I wanted but without getting carried away. I was always allowed Christmas dinner and a glass of wine.

Not all footballers are allowed Christmas Dinner but Savage was always able to tuck in
Not all footballers are allowed Christmas dinner but Savage was always able to tuck in

The temptations are there of course, when all your family is round, the wine and champagne are flowing and food is being passed to you all the time. People are starting to get drunk while you are sitting there thinking: "I've got a game tomorrow."

It was different when you were away from home on Boxing Day, and more difficult.

We would train about 4pm on Christmas Day then get on the bus and arrive in an empty hotel, then just go to bed.

New Year was probably worse, not because I wanted to be out but because there would always be parties going on at the hotel.

There would be music blaring, and people running down corridors shouting and knocking on your door, which is just a nuisance when you have been in bed since 8.30pm.

I never wished for a 'normal' Christmas, though. It was my favourite time as a player.

There was a buzz about all the games from Boxing Day to New Year's Day, no matter who I was playing for or against, and I loved the busy schedule because I was fit enough to cope with it.

If there were ever any players feeling sorry for themselves, I always remembered a quote from my old Leicester manager Martin O'Neill.

We had just finished training in the freezing cold on a Christmas Day and he asked us if we had a good day.

Some of the lads might not have been too enthusiastic with their response, so he said: "Listen, one thing for you to remember is that every day for a Premier League footballer is Christmas Day." It is true and I never forgot it.

Robbie Savage was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan