x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Frosty receptions not new in English football

The English winter brings a different challenge for Premier League footballers - playing in arctic conditions.

Antti Niemi, Fulham's keeper, looks out on a snow storm at Sunderland's Stadium of Light. 
Michael Steele / Getty
Antti Niemi, Fulham's keeper, looks out on a snow storm at Sunderland's Stadium of Light. Michael Steele / Getty

Ice on the ground may be a strange thing to imagine in countries like the UAE but it is a regular occurrence in Britain.

The bad weather has started already with snow and freezing temperatures across northern Europe.

And this can play havoc with football fixtures during the winter months.

I have played football in some freezing conditions over the years, but nothing could compare to Aberdeen in Scotland in January 1999.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager and a former Aberdeen boss, told us that we were going up there to play a testimonial for his old kit man.

No problem, at United we were used to playing such games for good causes.

I knew that it would not be warm in the north of Scotland in the middle of winter. The manager was laughing at how cold it would be, saying that we would not know what was about to hit us.

We laughed back … until we got there. I never wore gloves, but it was so cold that I wore a pair of rubber gloves, with real gloves over them.

The wind was coming in off the North Sea and we sat there shivering in the dressing room. I have never played in temperatures as low as that, but we did what we always did, we went out there and played.

The wintry weather in Britain is causing games to be cancelled this weekend and in the games that go ahead the players will probably be wearing gloves and tights.

My old teammate Roy Keane reckons he saw a player in a hat a few weeks ago. He was laughing at today's players for wearing such attire.

That is Roy, for you. It does not bother me what players wear, as long as they play well.

Players wear pink football boots now. I cannot understand it, but I am not playing any more.

Football is always changing and I don't want to sound like one of those old pros who claims that everything was better in my day.

And I will be honest, if someone had invented gloves for your feet then I would have worn them because there was nothing worse than hitting a ball with freezing feet.

Personally, the only thing I wore to keep warm in the cold were undershorts.

Of course I was cold at places like Newcastle. St James' Park was mainly open in the early 90s and I am sure someone used to turn on a giant iced wind machine in the Gallowgate End at kick-off to make things more difficult for us.

That wind was the killer, but once I had warmed up I was fine. I concentrated on the game, not the weather.

Once, we played Liverpool when it was snowing and absolutely freezing. We won 3-0 and I got a hat-trick. I learned to shut things like the weather or the crowd out of my mind. You have to if you are going to play at the top level; you have to be absolutely focused on your game.

Maybe people thought that as Manchester United players we lived a life of luxury, yet we were far from pampered.

We trained outside every day unless it was either too windy or the pitches were frozen. We wrapped up in training, well most of us did.

The Scandinavian lads like Peter Schmeichel, Henning Berg, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ronnie Johnsen used to think Manchester was warm in winter. But then some of them were used to cross country skiing, jumping off ramps wearing skis and whatever other winter sports they do up there.

The foreign lads from warmer climes got stuck in too - there were no excuses at United. Even Dwight Yorke, from that warm Caribbean island of Tobago, was fine in the cold - though he used to make sure that the kit man made him a hot chocolate with honey in at half time. Yes, hot chocolate with honey.

We laughed at the idiots who said that black players could not cut it in cold weather.

The chairman of one Premier League football club in the mid-90s, said that black players could not hack it when it got too cold. He was talking tosh. I would have liked him to point out one example when I could not hack it, because there was not one.

I can remember playing as a kid on the fields of Nottingham when I was so cold that I couldn't feel anything in my hands. I didn't want to play on those frozen Sunday morning pitches, but my brothers were straight on to me and made sure that I did. As soon as I was warmed up I was fine.

And in later year at United, I used to admire the gaffer for standing out in the cold watching us.

You feel the cold more as you get older, but he was there day in day out, shouting and encouraging. I did not see him at Aberdeen that night in January though. I reckon he was in a warm box or something, laughing at us freezing away.

It did us no harm though, we won the treble four months later.

sports@thenational.ae