Festive Football

With having to self isolate due to a case of Covid in the family there was no festive football for me this year although with the tier restrictions it would have been difficult.

In the last few years I have seen the Boxing Day derbies between Buxton and Matlock, always a hard fought game with a good crowd and friendly banter.

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Boxing Day derby between Matlock and Buxton 2019 with Ryber Castle looming out of the mist.

The first festive football match I really remember was Tottenham v Chelsea December 30th 1961.

Using a rover ticket with my Dad we took the number 84 from St Albans bus station to Arnos Grove and from there other buses to White Heart Lane Tottenham. What I remember as a 11 year old were the turkey sandwiches we had and being bought some blue stars with the pictures of Chelsea players in them. My particular favourite was Bobby Tambling but it ended in a 5-2 defeat. My Dad had watched Chelsea when he had worked in London and always retained an interest in their results. I also remember games being played on Christmas day which often seemed to end in some high and unpredictable scores.

One unusual match I attended was on Christmas Eve 1979 when Portsmouth played Wimbledon in a FA Cup second round replay at Fratton Park. The game ended 3-3 after extra time with Portsmouth going on to win the second replay at Wimbledon. It was unusual for a match to be played on Christmas Eve and the 7.30 kick off was queried in the local press with fans from the Isle of Wight having to leave early to catch the last ferry back to the island or miss Christmas Day. For me it seemed like a great start to Christmas.

A few years later I attended Luton v Watford on Boxing Day (26th December) 1986 when Watford won 2 nil. The interesting thing here was it was the first match I had taken my son to but he only lasted till half time and we spent the second half on the top floor of a multi storey car park with him on my lap steering the car around for amusement while I drove until his Grandfather met us from the game.

It would be a shame if these fixtures are eventually stopped for a mid season break or to give the players more rest time between games. If you research some of the highlights of games at this time of year you will find a great depth in iconic moments.

The one most written about is the football match between the trenches of the Germans and English at the first Christmas of the 1914-18 war. I was reminded of it again this year through a Christmas card that was sent to us. Whether it ever happened or not, it was a fact that at certain areas along the lines of conflict soldiers of both sides wanted to mark the time of year and demonstrate their friendship for each other in contrast to those who wanted the war.  

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An amazing game took place on Boxing Day 1920 at Goodison park where circa. 53000 fans attended a women’s football match between Dick Kerr Ladies and Preston Rangers. This friendly was to raise money for wounded soldiers but was not unusual for women’s football to get such great attendances as their football had become very popular during the war. It has been thought for some time that the popularity was seen as a threat to the men’s game that was just getting going again and the FA banned women the following December supposedly because the game was “quite unsuitable for females”.

The women’s game also features in another key Boxing Day match when in 1917 a game was played on that day in Belfast between teams from England and Ireland. The crowd here was an amazing 20000 but because it was not recognised by the official governing body.

My final festive football thoughts go to those fans in Bury who are strongly reviving football in that town and I hope Bury AFC manage to gain promotion this year. They can look back and dream of some time soon repeating their 1925 exploits when they beat Manchester City 6-5 at home on Christmas Day and won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Maine Road the day after (Boxing Day).

Lastly from a Christmas cracker this year: ‘How do you keep cool at a football match — Stand next to a fan.

Lets hope we all have a much happier 2021 and we can look forward to the 2021/22 season having few if any restrictions.

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