Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Boxing Day: English Football’s Greatest Tradition

Posted on 2 December 2018 by Timothy Hammersley

When we think of Boxing Day, we think of hangovers, leftover turkey sandwiches and endless repeats of soap and sitcom Christmas specials. But perhaps most importantly for sports fans in England, we think of football.

Boxing Day football is one of England’s greatest sporting traditions, as fans adorned in Santa hats, singing Christmas versions of their favourite club songs, or creating entirely new songs just for the festive season.

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The Boxing Day fixtures also tend to produce some of the most exciting football of the season. Whether it be the Fergie-Time classic when Manchester United beat Newcastle 4-3 back in 2012, Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge in 2007, or the Boxing Day of 1963.

On that day — which has now gone down in English football folklore — 66 goals were scored, four red card were shown, and there were seven hat tricks. Seven.

Highlights included a 10-1 win for Fulham at home to Ipswich, an 8-2 win for Blackburn away at West Ham and perhaps the biggest shock coming in the form of a 6-1 win for Burnley against Manchester United at Turf Moor.

For me, Boxing Day football has a particularly personal touch. My first ever football match was on the 26th December 2003 at Old Trafford, witnessing Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Everton. Even as a six-year-old, I can remember being mesmerised. The snow falling under the lights, the buzz on the concourse and the smell of the pies.

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Wrapped up in a red and white scarf and a brand new United shirt I had unwrapped the day before, I remember the walk down Sir Matt Busby way, weaving my way through the crowds of people, clutching a programme in one hand and a hot dog in the other.

Reaching the stadium, I hear the first chants of ‘Walking in a Fergie Wonderland’ before climbing up the stairs, through the concourse and out to meet the wall of noise in the Stretford End.

A naive fan at my first game, I remember asking my uncle where the commentary was, as having only briefly seen football on TV before this, my main footballing passions had come from listening to the likes of Alan Green and John Motson on a portable radio — still somewhat of a novelty back then — not quite realising that I was about to see with my own eyes, the players I had only ever had described to me.

It didn’t take long for me to provide commentary of my own, joining with the shouts of the Stretford End faithful, decrying refereeing decisions, cheering every good pass and groaning when the end product when awry.

The chant that was sung in earnest throughout the game — which has always stayed with me — was the ’12 Cantonas,’ United fans lauding praise on the man who lit up the stadium so often, albeit just before my time.

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The players in that game show just how far football has come since my first venture into the stands at Old Trafford. A somewhat weakened United team, with a rested Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy on the bench, included the likes of Diego Forlan, Nicky Butt, and a young Portuguese teenager making his early foray into English football. Little did I know of what was to come of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Everton were not without a star of their own that day, as an 18-year-old by the name of Wayne Rooney grabbed the eye of many at Old Trafford, with it being less than 12 months later that he made his infamous, hat-trick-scoring debut for the club.

That snowy December day ignited a passion for football that has stayed with me until the present, and a love for one of England’s best sporting traditions, Boxing Day football.

Featured photograph/MulaMiszczu/Pixabay