Wally meets Daniel Ayala: The Middlesbrough star hoping this season won’t be a turkey

Turkeys who vote for Christmas deserve all the cranberry sauce coming their way.

But that’s enough about handing Boris the buffoon and his Bullingdon cronies the keys to No.10 Downing Street.

At Middlesbrough, a fine club with Premier League furniture, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for centre-back Daniel Ayala – because his parents, Francisco and Ana, own a five-acre farm in Spain’s deep south with 10,000 turkeys.

Every summer, instead of detoxing on the beach, Ayala returns to the family homestead in El Saucejo to help as a farmhand.

And when former England defender Jonathan Woodgate’s team gets it right on the pitch, Boro are poultry in motion.

Daniel Ayala tells Mirror Sport’s Mike Walters about his parents’ poultry farm
(Image: Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)

What could be more festive, on the countdown to that first tin of Quality Street, than a footballer brought up on the virtues of fowl play on your dinner plate?

Ayala, 29, has been at the Riverside for more than six years, and he has lived through all the euphoria and heartache of two play-off near misses, promotion to the top flight and a swift return below stairs under six managers.

Win or lose, triumph or disappointment, the farm – and all those Christmas dinners – is a perfect antidote to the stress of football.

He said: “It’s always good to go back home and experience the more rustic lifestyle as a reminder of where I came from.

“Not everybody is lucky enough to earn the kind of money I do from playing football, and I am always happy to help out on the farm, as I did when I was younger.

The turkeys on the Seville farm are much bigger than this
(Image: Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)

“That’s the very least I can do for my family. It’s hard work, but it’s always good to get your hands dirty.

“In Spain, many people eat turkey at Christmas as a tradition, like they do in England, so this is a busy time of year for my parents.

“But it’s a big operation all the year. Every three or four months there is a new cycle.”

Organising Boro’s back four is a piece of cake compared with keeping 10,000 hungry birds fed and clean.

Ayala is a dab hand at herding them towards one end of the shed, like an offside trap in feathers, and although he has never been attacked by a fugitive turkey, he knows when to keep a safe distance.

Ayala challenges West Bromwich Albion’s Jake Livermore
(Image: PA)

“It sounds daft, but when you get close to the older ones, they are really big,” he said. “If they get in a flap, and one of their wings catches you, they can give you a real slap.

“When they are fully grown, they are big birds – up to 20kg – not quite as big as an ostrich, but quite powerful. Don’t mess with a large turkey! But it’s a good way to clear your mind.

“I went back to the farm after we lost the play-off final at Wembley in 2015 and it helped to get the disappointment out of my system, then I went back after we won promotion and it helped me to stay grounded.

“I don’t need the beach. It’s a nice way to relax, and I like taking my kids over to the farm so they can experience where I grew up learn Spanish.

“I speak to them in Spanish and they talk back to me in English. After just a couple of weeks with my mum and dad, they pick so many phrases, it’s the best way for them to learn the language.”

Ayala in his Liverpool days during a friendly against Tranmere
(Image: Action Images)

Ayala’s family business includes a sizeable sideline in olives, and he has been known to return from his Andalusian roots with bottles of olive oil for his team-mates.

He is thrilled to see Liverpool , the club who signed him as a 17-year-old, winning the Champions League and surging clear in the title race like a well-oiled machine.

But life is less straightforward for Boro, who have begun to haul themselves clear of the Championship quicksands after a worrying autumn slump.

Ayala said: “Everyone is surprised where we are in the table, but we are a club in transition – a lot of people have gone, new people are coming in.

“I know we are not spending as much in the market, but on paper we still have a strong enough squad to fight for the play-offs.

(Image: EMPICS Sport)

“It takes time to introduce new ideas, and of course there are differences between the way we were set up under Tony Pulis and the current manager, but I think we are now on an upward trajectory.

“Even under Aitor Karanka we were organised more defensively, with the accent on clean sheets and counter-attack, whereas now we try to go at teams, which can leave us more open at the back.

“You have to get the right balance because you want to be strong defensively but good to watch going forward.

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“Almost every year since I’ve been here, we have been fighting to go up or stay up and the supporters have been unbelievable.

“Everything about this club is geared towards doing well in the Premier League.”

Merry Christmas, Daniel, and remember: Poultry is the art of uniting pleasure with sprouts and parsnips.

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