Isn’t it fun when those 1963 Boxing Day results get circulated and find themselves in every corner of every social media feed across the land?
Okay, it might get a bit boring year after year, but it is a reminder of a special tradition that breathes romance into football in the birthplace of the beautiful game.
Whether it’s an enraptured child heading to their first match on a cold Boxing Day afternoon after unwrapping football tickets the day before, only to witness a dreary 1-0 defeat (personal experience? Maybe) or a worse-for-wear 20-something-year-old trudging through the turnstiles on a damp New Year’s Day (personal experience? Isn’t it for everyone?), festive football is magical.
But why, when no one else does it, is there so much football at Christmas in Britain?
Well, football (we use the term very loosely, here) at Christmas time probably dates much further back than you would’ve expected.
It’s always been around, pretty much.
Despite the English FA’s formal formation in 1863, ball-kicking antics over the festive period date as far back as the 12th century with variations known as medieval football or mob football. During that era, games were often put on at Christmas with some still played today, such as the Orkney Ba game on Christmas Day.
In more recent times, with the growth of the sport across the country, football has always been played on public holidays; Christmas Day became a popular time for football in the 19th century as a public working-class event on a day off. Indeed, clubs would take advantage of the opportunity for packed terraces, so football would often be a feature twice in two days over the festive period, with Boxing Day also featuring matches.
Legislation in 1871 would eventually designate fixtures to Boxing Day in England and Wales, leaving Christmas Day due to the fact that it was an established day of rest and worship. And, indeed, over time, football on 25 December has dwindled – the last game to be played on Christmas Day itself in England was back in 1965, when Blackburn beat Blackpool 1-0 in the First Divison and Coventry beat Wrexham 5-3 in the Third.
Ever since the increased popularity of football in the late 1800s and early 1900s, football has been synonymous with the lazy, snowy days over Christmas, with Boxing Day football becoming a monumental occasion in the UK’s sporting calendar.
It’s not a common sight across Europe, however.
Traditionally, other European countries – and all other major leagues in the continent -take winter breaks from before Christmas until the new year, ranging from a couple of weeks to nearly a month in some cases.
There has been chattering in recent years about the Premier League adopting a winter break; who wants that, though? Who wants to be stuck at home when you can be shivering in an uncovered away end with the worst hangover in living memory?