While other major European leagues have long since introduced a winter break during the festive period, England continues to use the concluding days of the year to arrange an intense fixture list, with sides usually playing twice in between Christmas Day and New Year. Indeed Boxing Day – 26 December – has become a traditional day for football which, weather permitting, features almost every professional club in the country.
Depending on the calendar, matches have been played as late as Christmas Eve in the run-up to the big day, and many fixtures were held on Christmas Day itself until such arrangements were gradually phased out at the end of the 1950s.
FIFA.com remembers some of the greatest games played at Christmas time, including a modern day Premier League classic, a day when every team found its shooting boots and an infamous half-time team talk.
Eight goals, three red cards
Early kick-offs can sometimes fail to deliver but on Boxing Day 2007 Chelsea and Aston Villa served up a pulsating 4-4 draw which included practically everything during its 90 minutes. Shaun Maloney had stunned Stamford Bridge by scoring twice for the visitors before defender Zat Knight was dismissed after conceding a penalty, which Andriy Shevchenko converted. The Ukrainian levelled at 2-2 shortly after the break and Avram Grant’s side then took the lead through Alex. Villa refused to quit however, Martin Laursen equalising before Ricardo Carvalho was sent off to make it ten-a-side. Michael Ballack scored a free-kick with two minutes remaining to seemingly seal the victory. But Chelsea were reduced to nine men when Ashley Cole handballed on the goalline, Gareth Barry smashing in the eighth goal of the game from the penalty spot to earn his team a point.
Goals were clearly in fashion that Christmas as just three days later, Tottenham Hotspur and Reading provided a further ten at White Hart Lane. Reading led the match on three separate occasions but were denied victory – losing for the second time that season when scoring four goals away from home – as Dimitar Berbatov hit four to help Spurs record a 6-4 win.
66 goals in a day
Neither of those matches can rival Boxing Day 1963 though, as First Division teams went goal crazy by netting a combined 66 across ten fixtures. Two players scored hat-tricks as Fulham recorded their biggest ever victory by beating Ipswich Town 10-1, the last time a team reached double figures in a single top-flight game. Blackburn Rovers were not far behind, winning 8-2 at West Ham United, while Liverpool and Burnley both enjoyed 6-1 triumphs over Stoke City and Manchester United respectively. There was even room for a 4-4 draw and two 3-3 ties.
United suffer Sky Blues
Manchester United were flying at Christmas in 1997, a 2-0 win over Everton on Boxing Day making it six league victories in a row for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. But two days later they faced a tricky trip to Coventry City, who were formidable at home that season, losing only twice. The Sky Blues took an early lead but strikes from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham either side of the break looked to have given United another win. But a late goal from former United player Dion Dublin – who would finish the season as the league’s joint-top scorer – levelled the scores. Coventry completed their amazing turnaround with a sensational solo goal from Darren Huckerby, who beat several United defenders before slotting past the goalkeeper. United never properly recovered from the defeat, losing two of their next three league games, and ultimately surrendering the title to Arsenal despite holding a significant lead.
In 2008 Hull City were embarking on their first Premier League campaign with remarkable style and had already won away from home at Arsenal and Tottenham. Their early-season form had them riding high amongst the European qualification places but it was all to unravel in the second half of the season as they barely avoided relegation. Many people point to one incident as the turning point of their journey. On Boxing Day 2008, Hull were 4-0 down at half-time against Manchester City when manager Phil Brown decided to conduct his half-time team talk on the pitch. Brown sat his players in front of the club’s fans and gave them a furious dressing-down. His team drew the second half 1-1, losing 5-1, but subsequently began a dreadful run of form, winning just one more league game that year.
Perhaps one of the most famous football matches of any time is the match played between British and German forces during the Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914. An unofficial truce had been called between troops on Christmas Day and as well as singing carols and exchanging gifts, a football match was reportedly played in no-man’s land. Accounts of the supposed game vary in detail but it is agreed that the German team was the winner, by a score of either 3-2 or 2-1. Hostilities resumed the next day but the match is often held up as an example of human togetherness and spirit.