The cold, wet and windy conditions in December seem a million miles away when the sun is shining in the British summer, but when the following season’s fixtures are released, English football fans immediately look for the Boxing Day match.
The festive period holds a special place in the English footballing calendar, and matches played the day after Christmas were traditionally between local teams, with bumper crowds turning out for local derbies. Those matches have become less commonplace in the modern era, with the most recent memorable derby taking place in 1979, nicknamed ‘The Boxing Day Massacre’, with Sheffield Wednesday defeating neighbours United 4-0.
Despite the lack of local derbies, the English Premier League has seen a number of remarkable Boxing Day matches, and FIFA.com take a look back at some of the best from the last two decades.
Sheffield Wednesday 3-3 Manchester United (1992/93)
The first Boxing Day in the Premier League era saw a match that would become emblematic of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United. The Red Devils travelled to Hillsborough in fourth place, five points behind leaders Norwich City while Trevor Francis’ team were languishing down in 15th in the-then 22-team league, having finished third the season before.
David Hirst latched onto a poor Paul Ince clearance to fire the home side into a quick lead before Mark Bright pounced to double the Owls’ advantage after just six minutes. Things got worse for a shell-shocked United as John Sheridan burst through to give Francis’ side a seemingly unassailable advantage after the hour mark.
A pair of Brian McClair headers after some trademark Lee Sharpe wing play put United back into the game and put the momentum in the visitors’ favour with just ten minutes remaining. Peter Schmeichel then produced a stunning save from Hirst, before Eric Cantona bundled home to earn a dramatic point.
United went top in the New Year, winning 15 of their 21 remaining matches to claim their first top flight title since 1967, while Wednesday improved in the second half of the campaign to finish seventh.
Arsenal 6-1 Leicester City (2000/01)
The Gunners went into the match level on points with Leicester, with both sides struggling to keep pace with leaders Manchester United. It was a day to remember for Arsene Wenger’s talismanic frontman Thierry Henry. The Arsenal No14 opened the scoring with a thunderbolt from the edge of the box in the first half before setting up Patrick Vieira, who finished off a typical Arsenal move just after the interval.
Ade Akinbiyi pulled one back for the visitors, but it was one-way traffic after that. Henry doubled his own tally before Freddie Ljungberg put the match beyond the visitors with 15 minutes left. Henry completed his first hat-trick for the club after springing the offside trap before crossing for captain Tony Adams to complete the rout in the closing moments.
The scoreline would come back to haunt Arsenal in February, as they succumbed to a shocking defeat at Old Trafford which reflected the dominance of Ferguson’s eventual champions, who finished the season ten points clear of Arsenal. Peter Taylor’s Leicester ended in 13th.
Middlesbrough 3-1 Manchester United (2002/03)
The hosts were in midtable at the season’s midpoint, while Ferguson’s charges were adrift of leaders Arsenal and second-placed Chelsea in third. United skipper Roy Keane was making a long-awaited return to action after a lengthy injury lay-off, while Steve McClaren faced his old mentor Ferguson once more, having got the better of him at Old Trafford in March.
Full-back Franck Queudrue collected the ball in his own half just before the interval and dribbled past several United challenges to set up Alen Boksic. The Croatian forward’s chipped finish sent the Riverside Stadium wild and Szilard Nemeth burst through the United defence to double the host’s advantage after the break.
Ryan Giggs pulled one back after an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cross, and Ferguson’s side pushed for an equaliser. They were caught on the break in the closing stages though, with Massimo Maccarone nodding down Geremi’s cross for Joseph-Desire Job to complete a memorable victory on Teesside.
That match proved a turning point for United, who did not lose another game in the league all season and finished five points clear of Arsenal to claim their third consecutive Premier League title.
Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa (2007/08)
When Aston Villa came calling on Boxing Day, Avram Grant had been in the Chelsea hotseat for just over three months after Jose Mourinho departed Stamford Bridge under a cloud. It was to be a memorable day for the visitors who had won at Stamford Bridge just four times before in the Premier League era.
Shaun Maloney reacted quickest to a John Carew knock-down to put the visitors ahead before Petr Cech let a drive from the Scottish winger slip through his grasp before the interval. Andriy Shevchenko pulled one back for the visitors from the spot after Zat Knight had seen red. The Ukrainian had scored two league goals in the season before the match, but doubled his tally for the campaign with a spectacular effort which flew past Scott Carson.
Chelsea’s No7 then put Alex through, with the defender skipping past a Villa challenge before slamming home to give Chelsea the lead after the hour mark. The drama had not finished there though, with Martin Laursen levelling the game before Ricardo Carvalho received his marching orders. Michael Ballack scored a superb free-kick in the closing stages which had the Chelsea fans celebrating all three points, but Ashley Cole saw red himself after blocking on the line with his arm, before Gareth Barry coolly slotted home to grab a point with seconds left.
Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle United (2012/13)
United were top at Christmas, four points clear of their nearest challengers Manchester City in what was to be Ferguson’s final campaign as a manager. Despite their dominance at the top of the table, nobody in the top half had conceded more goals at home than United – who were honing the art of securing points from losing situations.
David De Gea parried a tame Demba Ba shot straight into the path of James Perch, who scored his first league goal after just four minutes. Jonny Evans levelled before putting through his own net and the topsy-turvy nature of the match continued after the interval, as Patrice Evra equalised with a low drive from the edge of the box.
Papiss Cisse smashed home from close range to restore the Magpies’ lead before Robin van Persie grabbed his sixth goal in eight league matches against Newcastle. Roared on by the Old Trafford crowd, United pressed for a winner and took the lead for the first time in the match in the final minute when Javier Hernandez guided home a Michael Carrick cross.
Newcastle lost more than half of their remaining matches and slipped to 16th. United, meanwhile, won 13 of their remaining 19 league games to secure Ferguson’s 13th, and final, Premier League title.