This Christmas Day, after ingesting unhealthy levels of food and alcohol, people across the USA will be able to collapse into bed and indulge themselves in laughter too.
If three NFL games — including the reigning Super Bowl champions LA Rams hosting the Denver Broncos — don’t get you, then maybe three NBA fixtures will, with the LA Lakers in action, among others.
Not so in England’s Premier League, though. There will be no fixtures this December 25, as there have not been for the last 57 years. The last professional men’s football game was played on Christmas Day in England in 1965, while the most recent round saw the games in Scotland in 1971.
Once upon a time, though, Christmas Day was as much a tradition in England as it is in America. It was, like many things, essentially born of boredom: in the first decades of the 20th century, when you ate turkey and had family arguments, you didn’t have much else to do. In those days football was mainly a workers’ sport, and a public holiday was traditionally a day when public workers’ events took place, such as pantomimes, concerts and film screenings.
Professor Martin Johnes, author of the book Christmas and Britannia, explained to the BBC: “For the working class, whose accommodation was often uncomfortable, cramped and inaccessible, the rare day off from work was a reason to go out into the streets, not to relax. House.”
The first English league game came on Christmas Day 1889, when Preston – who had won the title the previous season without a game – took on Aston Villa in what was essentially a Liverpool v Manchester City match. Big-ticket games at Christmas, early local derbies, and clubs should not be shy about packing as many games as possible over the festive period.
Teams playing three days in a row were not uncommon, with Christmas Eve and Boxing Day often scheduled for games. To be fair, the games are often scheduled, so Team A would meet Team B on the 25th, then Team B would host Team A the following day. For example, in 1913, Liverpool defeated Manchester City in their hometown 4-2, lost the return match, then drew 3-3 with Blackburn a day later.
In fact, Everton played three times in two days: on the morning of Christmas 1888 they played Lancashire’s game against Blackburn Park Road, then followed with a friendly against Ulster FC, before a triptych with another friendly against Bootle on the 26th.
This sometimes caused problems, with Blackburn having to travel to local rivals Darwen on Christmas Day, but traveling to Wolverhampton in the afternoon. He was considered a fixture, so Rovers rested half of their first-choice players, while attacking Darwen did the same. The gathered crowd – from both sides – did not take kindly to this and rioted, eventually causing the game to be postponed. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Manchester Guardian reported that the Rovers official’s cap has been shaken. Humanity.
Probably the most famous Christmas Day match far from England and far from the football stadium: in 1914 thousands of soldiers on the Western Front, near the Franco-Belgian border, took part in temporary inductions in no man’s land, which number was included. spontaneous play The next day they returned to kill each other, but the fact that the enmity ceased in one day is often seen as an example of the long-lasting power of football.
By the late 1950s, the popularity of birthday football was declining. One thing was more difficult, as public transport was less effective, with the train and drivers given the day off. There were more people doing it, so it wasn’t necessary to rely on entertainment to stay on the road.
Plus, the introduction of a flood of clubs meant fixtures on weeknights, so that they no longer filled games on public holidays. The last full round of First Division games in 1957. It went out with a bang: Sheffield Wednesday and Preston drew 4-4, Blackpool beat Leicester 5-1, and Chelsea beat Portsmouth 7-4.
The following year only three top division games were played on Christmas Day, and there was only one since 1959. As for Blackpool, where it was handed down a little longer, it was largely for the amusement of people on holiday on the seaside.
It was there that the English final game took place on his birthday in 1965, when Blackburn were the visitors at Bloomfield Road. The brass band played before the game and Blackpool won 4-2, with Alan Ball involved in two goals. The following summer he was part of England’s World Cup winning team.
Football in England on the 25th not since. It continued in Scotland, when Christmas fell on a Saturday until 1971, and in Northern Ireland it continues to this day: the final of the Steel and Sons Cup is traditionally held on Christmas Day, except on Sundays. So this year, Dunmurry Rec FC versus Bangor on Christmas Eve. If you want to scratch your itch, there are games in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Azerbaijan, among others.
They tried to revive the old tradition, notably in 1983 when Brentford decided that their Division Three game against Wimbledon should be played on 25 December at 11am to “revive the old tradition of men going to football on Christmas Day while their wives cook. Turkey”. But the West London Awakening Brigade didn’t let that flying piece of sexism fly, so after some protests those plans were dropped.
A few have tried again, because he does not like these days. Football fans tend to be creatures of habit, and in English football there is perhaps no bigger habit on the calendar than Boxing Day football. December 26 is the day when we either pack up and head to the stadium, or with last week’s snacks and leftover booze and spend the day watching TV.
On this boxing day he can watch Premier League football almost solidly from 12.30pm to about 10pm, sometimes breaks for the rest of the consolation/refreshment. It has been like this for years and no one is keen – from the authorities, to the broadcasters, to the fans and especially the teams and players – to change it.
Old traditions fall away, new ones come forth. Although there is rarely a clamor for live sports on Christmas Day in the UK, few football fans in the UK will send an envious glance across the Atlantic.
(Top photo: Alex Pantling via Getty Images)