KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Baffled foreign managers hate it, English fans love a speciality as traditional as Christmas pudding. The holiday programme is a frantic fixture in both the sporting and social calendar.
This is not a modern tradition either. It dates right back to Boxing Day 1860, when the world’s oldest and second-oldest clubs contested the first interclub match. Hallam and Sheffield played a game under Sheffield Rules, a 19th-century interpretation of today’s modern sport that still permitted participants to catch the ball with their hands.
The tradition was developed in the Football League’s inaugural 22-game season in 1888-89 when Preston North End won 5-0 away to West Bromwich Albion on St Stephen’s Day.
In 1930, during the early days of radio, the BBC provided a Boxing Day commentary of the second half of Arsenal v Manchester City.
Arsenal had won 4-1 on Christmas Day at Maine Road, and listeners then heard the Gunners win 3-1 at Highbury. The commentator – football’s first – was George Allison, who later became Arsenal manager.
Football also used to be played on Christmas Day. Traditionally then the fixtures were immediately reversed for the Boxing Day.
But attitudes changed in the 1950s and the absence of transport led to the end of Christmas Day football and the full focus being directed on to popular BoxingDay matches.
Usually derby matches are not now scheduled for Boxing Day, on the basis that these are fixtures which draw big crowds any time.
The most remarkable Boxing Day occurred in 1963, when 157 goals were scored in 39 games with 63 of those coming in these First Division matches:
Burnley 6-1 Manchester United
Fulham 10-1 Ipswich Town
Leicester City 2-0 Everton
Liverpool 6-1 Stoke City
Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield United
West Bromwich Albion 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-3 Aston Villa
West Ham United 2-8 Blackburn Rovers
Most remarkable match was Fulham scoring 10 against Ipswich who had been champions only 18 months earlier. Four of their goals were claimed by Scotland winger Graham Leggat. The same afternoon Liverpool’s Roger Hunt, a future World Cup-winner, also scored four goals (against Stoke) as did Andy Lochhead for Burnley (against Manchester United).
Law, Best and Charlton . . .
Derby’s 4-4 draw with Manchester United in 1970 was a typical Boxing Day drama with a lot of goals and lot of great old players (Denis Law, George Best, Bobby Charlton against Dave Mackay and Archie Gemmill). United went 2-0 down then recovered to lead 3-2 through Law (two) and Best. Derby hit back to lead 4-3 before Brian Kidd equalised for United.
In 1977, league title-chasing Everton were huge favourites at home to a Manchester United side 14th place in the old First Division. United won 6-2. Everton finished third behind Nottingham Forest and Liverpool while United finished 10th.
In 2008 Hull manager Phil Brown was so angry with his team’s first-half performance in conceding four goals against Manchester City that he would not let them go to the dressing-room and gave them an angry lecture in front of the fans on the pitch. They improved to the extent that they drew the second half 1-1 (but still lost 5-1 of course).
The advent of television command of the kickoff times means a staggered programme but how many goals?
Certainly nothing to match 1963.