The importance of Boxing Day football in England
Written by: Abhranil Roy
With the festive season having kicked-off, clubs across England's top-tier have important matches coming up.
Being a fan of the English game means you get to celebrate several quirks that are unique in their nature, but it is unlikely that any of them come close to the appeal of Boxing Day fixtures. It has turned out to be one of the most awaited match-days in the English calendar, being placed right in the middle of the festive season.
Clubs across the length and breadth of the country, be it the top-tier, the Championship or the First and Second Divisions play a period of three games in almost a week, starting from Boxing Day. For those wondering what Boxing Day is, it is the day right after Christmas (i.e December 26th). It derives its name from the old Anglo tradition of families gifting their domestic help, tradesmen etc. the season’s gifts wrapped in boxes.
In one such Boxing Day fixture in the 2000/01 season, Thierry Henry scored a hattrick for Arsenal in a 6-1 rout over Leicester City at the Highbury
Historically, festive football fixtures have been a recurrent theme of the English season since the early days of the 20th century (as per some records, they even predate the First World War). As per Guardian’s Rob Bagchi, the first Boxing Day fixture was played between two of the world’s oldest football clubs, Sheffield FC and Hallam FC way back in 1860. Since the first Football League season( held in 1882), festive season fixtures have been a part of the calendar and as mentioned before, are looked forward to with great anticipation by the fans. Up until 1957, match days were held both on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, until the former was dropped keeping in mind the toll it took on the players’ and fans’ health.
Boxing Day is traditionally viewed in Britain as a proper showcasing of the unwavering English spirit, that was demonstrated in playing at sub-zero temperatures, frozen pitches and at a frenetic pace. While leagues in Germany, Italy, Spain, and France are turned off for a couple of weeks during the same time, English fans revel themselves in watching their favorite teams go at each other under hostile weather conditions and packed stadiums.
Of course, Boxing Day’s reputation does not go only by sentiment but it has repeatedly shown that it is capable of producing some truly memorable games. For the older generation, the Boxing Day fixtures of 1963 will continue to be a point of reference: sixty-six goals, seven hat-tricks, and four sending-offs took place in the ten games that were played that day. This was just in the first division, across four levels of the English football pyramid over 160 goals were scored that day. This was the age before the game saw the extreme professionalism that has engulfed it today, so it is quite possible that at least some of the players were suffering the “Christmas hangover”. Noticeable results from that day include Fulham beating Ipswich 10-1, Blackburn Rovers thumping West Ham 8-2 and Burnley bashing Manchester United 6-1.
In the 2007/08 season, Chelsea's Ashley Cole and Ricardo Carvalho, Aston Villa's Zat Knight were shown red cards in a 4-4 Boxing Day draw
For the newer generation, Boxing Day fixtures are generally indicative of the way the business end of the season will turn out for their clubs. Ever since the Premier League kicked off, the club which leads the table before Boxing Day kicked off has won the league in May. An exemption to this rule has happened only twice, once in 2008/09 and once in 2013/14. In both these seasons, Liverpool was atop the charts but eventually threw away their titles to Manchester United and Manchester City respectively. History has known to repeat itself, but can Klopp and his boys break the jinx this season (they lead the Premier League table with 48 points from 18 games)?
England’s riotous love for the festive calendar has been well-documented. It is based in tradition and emotion, and despite managers and sane-headed fans both expressing their dismay at having to play so frequently when other countries take a holiday, the Boxing Day fixtures has continued with great show and swagger and it is unlikely that they will ever be paused in the future. Fans bring their families into the stadiums, the mood is joyous and a win for the side they support is cheered vociferously. Losses are usually accepted gracefully, and the Football Association (FA) generally makes a fine job of ensuring that the teams and their away fans do not have to travel a long distance to play or watch.
Eric Cantona scored a dramatic equalizer in a 3-3 Boxing Day draw to Sheffield Wednesday
Whatever may the reasons be for the English public’s overindulgence on Boxing Day, it is a date that has been indelibly transfixed into the annals of the football season and has been preserved for posterity. With another set of Boxing Day fixtures almost upon us, the author sends you best wishes for the season and hopes that your team avoids “doing an Ipswich” i.e get royally punished by conceding 10 goals.
Published: Wed Dec 26, 2018 01:05 PM IST