Offside’s Christmas countdown: Boxing Day football

Boxing Day football. All images via welloffside.com and welloffside.photoshelter.com.

Boxing Day football isn’t so much a tradition as an institution in England.

Mark Leech - The sun shines on the Arsenal fans on the North Bank during the 2004 Boxing Day fixture.
Mark Leech – The sun shines on the Arsenal fans on the North Bank during the 2004 Boxing Day fixture.

In decades gone by, before the rise of the Premier League and decent transport links, the day after Christmas Day could be relied upon to offer fans a festive derby match against a great local rival.

Offside - Fulham's Graham Leggat helps Ipswich keeper Roy Bailey after scoring his third of four Boxing Day goals in a 10-1 win in 1963.
Offside – Fulham’s Graham Leggat helps Ipswich keeper Roy Bailey after scoring his third of four Boxing Day goals in a 10-1 win in 1963.

Yet even without this additional fuel to warm up the late December football calendar, the unrelenting nature of the month’s fixture list means that Boxing Day has come to be regarded by many as the defining match of the Christmas period.

Mark Leech - Olivier Giroud of Arsenal is fouled by Joey O'Brien on Boxing Day 2013.
Mark Leech – Olivier Giroud of Arsenal is fouled by Joey O’Brien on Boxing Day 2013.
Mark Leech - A triangle of light shines on the supporters sitting in the East stand at Upton Park on Boxing Day.
Mark Leech – A triangle of light shines on the supporters sitting in the East stand at Upton Park on Boxing Day.

While it’s a busy time for the coaches and players, with games crammed in to make the most of the seasonal leave and holidays enjoyed by match-goers not needed at their workplace, it’s in many ways the pinnacle of the festive football experience.

Mark Leech - Ryan Giggs takes on Earl Barrett on Boxing Day 1991.
Mark Leech – Ryan Giggs takes on Earl Barrett on Boxing Day 1991.
Paul Thomas - Ryan Giggs of Manchester United is fouled by Mike Williamson of Newcastle in 2012.
Paul Thomas – Ryan Giggs of Manchester United is fouled by Mike Williamson of Newcastle in 2012.

Boxing Day has long been a special day for football fans, whereby families could be attracted to the terraces and stands, even before the more friendly rethinking of how to present and supply the game to punters in the mid-90s.

Mark Leech - Steffen Iversen of Southampton is fouled by Van Gobbel of Tottenham in 1996.
Mark Leech – Steffen Iversen of Southampton is fouled by Van Gobbel of Tottenham in 1996.
Mark Leech - West Ham goalkeeper Hislop is forced to head the ball as he challenges Anelka outside the penalty box in 1998.
Mark Leech – West Ham goalkeeper Hislop is forced to head the ball as he challenges Anelka outside the penalty box in 1998.

Today, dads, lads, mums, families, sisters, sons and so and son can be found at stadiums across the country week-in, week-out, but the more accessible feel of games on December 26th remains.

Mark Leech - Leicester goalkeeper Kasey Keller tries to stop an overhit backpass by Gary Walsh in 1997.
Mark Leech – Leicester goalkeeper Kasey Keller tries to stop an overhit backpass by Gary Walsh in 1997.
Marc Atkins - Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur tangles with Morgan Amalfitano of West Bromwich Albion in 2013.
Marc Atkins – Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur tangles with Morgan Amalfitano of West Bromwich Albion in 2013.

Perhaps it’s also again due to the fact that so many people have nothing better to do, with work sidelined to make way for the seasonal spirit, and festive fun-seekers attracted by the somewhat familial atmosphere of a football crowd?

Marc Atkins - Tottenham Hotspur fans hold up a banner which reads ' All I want for Channukah is Sneijder'.
Marc Atkins – Tottenham Hotspur fans hold up a banner which reads ‘ All I want for Channukah is Sneijder’.

As well as the aforementioned derby factor, there’s also usually plenty of goals scored on this special day of football, which just so happens to mark one of the pressure points of the pre-run-in assault course that title-chasers and relegation fighters must navigate.

Paul Roberts - Luke Moore of Swansea gets to a header in pouring rain late in the 2nd half in 2011.
Paul Roberts – Luke Moore of Swansea gets to a header in pouring rain late in the 2nd half in 2011.
Simon Stacpoole - Fans go mad as Alvaro Negredo of Man City celebrates after scoring their 2nd goal against Liverpool in 2013.
Simon Stacpoole – Fans go mad as Alvaro Negredo of Man City celebrates after scoring their 2nd goal against Liverpool in 2013.

Whatever the reasons, Boxing Day 2014 is set to be another grand day out for the regulars match goers and traditional pilgrims who want to head down to watch their team for an excuse to bond with friends and family this December.

Marc Atkins - A full moon rises over Villa Park.
Marc Atkins – A full moon rises over Villa Park.

Stay tuned for more blogs from Offside counting down the days until Christmas, and be sure to visit welloffside.com and welloffside.photoshelter.com for more information and access to our picture archives.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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