Today in the UK and the Premier League, Boxing Day is a holiday and a parallel football festival. In England, Boxing Day games have been held since the end of the 19th century, but it was not until 1963 that games on December 26 became a tradition. Then in the First Division, they scored 66 goals in 10 matches in a day – and this impressed the fans very much. But at the same time, football has not been played in England on December 25 since 1965, when the big Christmas tradition was interrupted.
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Previously, Christmas was the most football day in England. All because of the lack of leisure options
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, football captured the minds of the British and gained immense popularity on the island. Then there were not so many options for entertaining yourself – especially among the working class. For many, football has become the only outlet.
Therefore, at the end of December, the British authorities organized real football marathons – on the eve of Christmas, several dozen matches were held every day.
Professor Martin Jones, author of Christmas and the British, explained: “For the working class, whose homes were often uncomfortable, overcrowded and uninviting, the rare day off from work was an excuse to go out rather than stay at home.”
The first Christmas game took place in England in 1889. Then Preston met with Aston Villa, the two strongest English teams. In the future, top matches on Christmas became commonplace for England – the organizers specially arranged games between the favorites.
It was not uncommon for teams to play three matches in three or even two days. Sometimes this intensity created problems – clubs often fielded understudies for less important matches, which caused the anger of the fans.
In the 1950s, football almost disappeared at Christmas. It’s all about the emergence of new entertainment and (suddenly) spotlights
However, in the 1950s, the popularity of Christmas football began to decline, not least because other forms of entertainment began to emerge as alternatives to the sport. Football competed with commercial films (detectives based on Agatha Christie novels and James Bond films were especially popular), as well as nascent television. Now people didn’t have to trudge to stadiums to entertain themselves.
Yes, and public transport traditionally did not work on Christmas – without it, getting to the stadiums was extremely problematic.
There was another reason – the introduction of floodlights in football arenas, which ensured the matches on any day and at any time. Ancient labor-intensive methods of lighting have been replaced by modern technology. Clubs no longer had to wait for the weekend to play during daylight hours. It was possible to play the game on weekday evenings under artificial light.
In 1958, only three games were played in the First Division on Christmas Day, and in 1959 only one. The last Christmas game took place in 1965 when Blackpool beat Blackburn 4-2 at home.
In 1983, Brentford made an attempt to revive the tradition of games on Christmas Day. The then-League 3 club offered to play Wimbledon on 25 December at 11:00 a.m. to “resurrect the old tradition of husbands going to football on Christmas Day while wives cook turkey.” But the idea didn’t work – the fans of both teams opposed it.
As a result, the game was nevertheless held, but on Christmas Eve (that is, December 24). Wimbledon won 4-3 away. The match was attended by 6,689 fans, more than the average attendance at Brentford’s stadium that season of 4,735.