History of football on Christmas Day in England
If someone mentions Christmas Day, the first things that jump to mind are probably Santa Claus, gifts, strings of lights, snow… This is true for most countries, but when it comes to the UK, oddly enough, it’s also soccer! What can football and religion have in common? Tradition! If you are into sports betting, you must have already noticed that the vast majority of championships have a winter break at this time. Some leagues have only a few-week pause (Italy, Spain), others have 1-1.5-month vacation (Germany), but in England, in contrast, the fiery English Premier League matches take place at this holiday time. And it’s not just another regular round, but a tight series of 8-10 bright encounters daily. What does it mean to online football betting enthusiasts? When the whole soccer world is in a state of “hibernation”, it means only one thing: all gazes are fixed on the EPL. And this, in turn, means that these Christmas Day matches are the best time to enjoy the holiday and derive the maximum profits from Premier League betting!
So, let’s take a peek at the UK’s Xmas football tradition, its history, and some interesting facts.
Looking back to the past
The very first match played on Christmas Day in England was within the second season of the Football League, 1889/90, when Preston North End, champion of the first season, confirmed their title by beating Aston Villa 3-2. The tradition was gaining momentum – Christmas Day football matches were turning into a real sports gala with a festive atmosphere, an orchestra playing Christmas music, and crowds of inspired fans. Flasks were passed down the rows, and every adult fan could “belt the grape”…
Given that Christmas was a day off for many public transport workers, games were usually played between geographic neighbors. These were not always rivalry derbies, which created additional intrigue. However, when the schedule was made, it was not always possible to assign matchups to the neighboring teams. As an example, in 1954, Portsmouth had to face their opponent in Blackpool, which was 500 miles away. On December 26, these clubs played each other in Portsmouth, and that match was the debut for the famous Blackpool’s defender – Jimmy Armfield. During his 17-year career, he played 627 games for “the Seasiders”, but the very first matchup turned out to be the best remembered, even though the hosts won 3-0.
Still, long-distance trips were not of frequent occurrence. After all, games were played every other day, if not every day, and, as a rule, the next encounter after Christmas was a return match between the same teams. Sometimes fairy transformations occurred in such a short time. Say, Jimmy Greaves, one of the greatest strikers in the history of English soccer, made his legendary hattrick on December 25, 1957. And 23 years before Greaves’ trick, Leicester’s striker, John Duncan, buried six balls in the Port Vale’s net (“the Foxes” won 7-0). This achievement of the Scottish striker remains the record in the history of Leicester.
During the war years, the rules were much more lenient, and players were allowed to play for any team. Some of them even managed to play for two different clubs on the same day! For example, at Christmas 1940, Len Shackleton, aka “Clown Prince of Soccer”, played for his club Bradford (Park Avenue) in the morning, and at lunchtime, he featured in the Bradford City’s lineup. And the famous striker Tommy Lawton, on the same December 25, managed to participate in the Liverpool derby on the side of Everton, and then, having crossed Mersey, performed in a Tranmere Rovers t-shirt! Another remarkable story took place in the south of the country. Brighton, consisting of five players, arrived in Norwich to make the game happen, and “the Canaries” decided to assist the guests with some of their reserve players. Some of the fans also expressed a desire to play for Brighton. They were particularly happy in the course of the game because Norwich was not just stronger than such an opponent – they gained a resounding victory with a score of 18-0!
For the last time, more than half of the matches of the Football League round took place at Christmas in 1957. At that time, 38 out of the 46 matches in the First, Second, and two Third Division groups were played. The teams tried to entertain the public as best as they could. The most outstanding performers were Chelsea and Portsmouth, scoring a total of 11 goals (7-4). Notably, none of the matchups that time ended in a zero draw! Since then, however, the number of soccer matches right on Christmas Day began to decrease rapidly, with Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers becoming the very last to follow this tradition. On December 25, 1965, in front of 20,851 spectators, they demonstrated a spectacular match, which ended in Blackpool’s victory.
What about today?
Today, it’s Boxing Day that opens up, the so-called holiday soccer program in the UK, because the tradition of Christmas football matches has long been a thing of the past.
For soccer fans, Boxing Day, imbued with England’s football, is a real gift because, usually, there are not many sporting events of such level at the end and beginning of the year.
Notably, currently, there are a lot of superstitious beliefs about Boxing Day football. One of them is that the leading team at Christmas will almost certainly be the champion in the spring. This pattern was proved even by Leicester when most people didn’t believe in their success. The only club that failed to hold onto the lead was Liverpool in the 2013/14 season.
Another tendency lies in the fact that those who end up at the bottom of the standings at Christmas have almost no survival chances. By the way, Leicester once managed to disprove this pattern. “The Foxes” miraculously avoided relegation in 2014 and won the championship the next season.
On this holiday, English fans are waiting for the main gifts – goals. And the footballers, in turn, are glad to give such presents! At this festive time, they try to give it their all, bringing us unforgettable moments, sensations, and new records! Thus, now we are eagerly awaiting December 26, which is just around the corner!