Top Tenner picks out a selection of the best Boxing Day fixtures on offer over the years.
10) Liverpool 3-0 Manchester United, 1978
United became the first English side to do the treble of the league title, the FA Cup and the European Cup in 1999, but Liverpool very nearly managed it 22 years earlier. They were denied by United, who beat them in the FA Cup final through a Jimmy Greenhoff goal, so Bob Paisley's side were out for revenge, and got it 19 months later. United were carved apart at Old Trafford by perhaps Liverpool's greatest-ever side, which featured Kenny Dalglish, Emlyn Hughes, Ray Clemence, Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott and a young Alan Hansen. Jimmy Case, David Fairclough and Ray Kennedy scored the goals in a performance of rare swagger.
9) Sunderland 0-1 Bury, 1962
A humdrum Second Division match between two teams that would eventually miss out on promotion, this game would nonetheless perhaps change the course of English football history. Assorted biographers have said that Brian Clough's managerial career was informed by his career-ending injury, so had he not collided with Bury goalkeeper Chris Harker on Boxing Day 1962 and torn medial and cruciate ligaments in his knee, then who knows if he would have even become a manager -- let alone one of the greats. “I was crawling around trying to get up,” Clough would recall years later. “And the only I can remember is I was playing against Bob Stokoe, and I can hear him saying 'Get up ya bastard, there's nowt the matter with you.” Clough would attempt a comeback a couple of years later, but that injury spelled the end of his playing days.
8) Birmingham 3-0 Aston Villa, 1982
This is cheating slightly, but run with it, OK? On December 27, 1982, (there was no Boxing Day First Division programme that year) Aston Villa were European Champions, and their neighbours Birmingham City were bottom of the table with just three wins under their belts all season. Pretty obvious which way the result was going to go, right? Not so much, as the Blues ran out 3-0 winners with goals from Noel Blake, Ian Handysides and Mick Ferguson. They would go on to survive comfortably, while Villa finished in a rather chastening sixth.
7) Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 Sheffield United, 1979
A game that went down in Wednesday folklore as "The Boxing Day Massacre." The Sheffield derby has always been rather "spicy," and in 1979 a bright spark decided to try and cool down things by having the players walk on to the pitch side-by-side (common practice now of course, but not back then). “Unfortunately, as we lined up in the tunnel, big John McPhail said he was going to break my leg, one of our lads had a right go back and it very nearly turned into a mass punch-up,” recalled Wednesday's Terry Curran to the Daily Mail a couple of years ago. Ian Mellor, Jeff King, Mark Smith and Curran scored the goals, with the latter unable to resist sliding on his knees in celebration in front of the United fans, to be greeted with a shower of coins. “I was on 300 quid a week, and I swear I'd have earned more if I'd picked them all up,” said Curran.
6) Southampton 1-2 Chelsea, 1999
An unremarkable game that ended in a relatively routine victory for a rather good team (Chelsea would finish the season third, a mere four points behind the all-conquering Manchester United) over a rather bad one (Southampton came fourth-bottom), so why is it included on this list? Why, because it was the first time an English top-flight team had fielded an entirely "foreign" starting team, with the nations of the Netherlands, Brazil, Romania, Norway, France, Nigeria, Spain, Uruguay and Italy represented, but not England. Well, not until John Harley and Jody Morris were brought on as substitutes, anyway.
5) Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle, 2012
Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United always had a reputation for comebacks, but last season they were ridiculous. They won nine games from behind, picking up a whopping 29 of their final total of 89 points after ceding the lead, which you can either view as astonishing resolve, or weakness for conceding early in the first place. Their Boxing Day encounter with Newcastle was no exception, with James Perch putting Newcastle ahead, before a roller-coaster three minutes for Jonny Evans saw him equalise then score an own-goal. Patrice Evra levelled again, only for Papiss Cisse to put Newcastle in the lead for the third time, before Robin van Persie grabbed another equaliser. Then, with just a minute remaining, Javier Hernandez latched on to a Michael Carrick pass to score the winner for United, on the same day that Manchester City were chalking up their annual 1-0 defeat to Sunderland. United moved five points clear at the top of the table, on their way to Ferguson's final league title.
4) Grimsby Town 7-3 Manchester United, 1933
The second in what America would call a "double-header," Grimsby beat Manchester United, then something of a yo-yo club that would spend much of their time languishing in the lower regions of English football until Matt Busby came along, twice in two days. The first, on Christmas Day, was a relatively straightforward 3-1 win, but on Boxing Day the Mariners took United to the cleaners, beating them 7-3 on their way to promotion from the Second Division. "Ten goals, a convincing victory and some capital football! What more could the followers of the Mariners want?" shouted the Grimsby Telegraph, going on to praise their "thrustful" football and their "devastating punch in front of the United goal."
Jose Mourinho was always rather dismissive of high-scoring games. "5-4 is a hockey score, not a football score,” he said after Arsenal beat Spurs by that margin back in 2004. "In a three-against-three training match, if the score reaches 5-4 I send the players back to the dressing rooms as they are not defending properly. So to get a result like that in a game of 11 against 11 is disgraceful." One can only wonder what he made of his old Chelsea side's 4-4 bonanza against Aston Villa, only a few months after his first spell at Stamford Bridge ended. “Not on my watch,” would probably have been his verdict. This game basically had everything. Eight goals of course, but also three red cards (Ashley Cole and Ricardo Carvalho for Chelsea, Zat Knight for Villa), a penalty for each side and a swinging pendulum that saw Villa go 2-0 up, before Chelsea steamed back to lead 3-2; Villa then equalised, Michael Ballack thought he'd won it with an 88th-minute goal, before an injury-time Gareth Barry spot-kick sealed the draw. Quite a game, all in all.
2) Hallam FC 0-2 Sheffield FC, 1860
Notts County may lay claim to be the oldest professional football club in the world, but they are not the oldest club still in existence. Sheffield FC play in the Northern Premier League Division One South these days, but they are the side that has been around the longest, formed as an offshoot of a cricket club whose players fancied doing something a little different back in 1857. It would take them another three years to actually play a game against a separate team, but on Boxing Day 1860 they would play the first-ever inter-club match, against fellow Sheffield side Hallam FC, a derby that is still played to this day. That match was the first played under what was known as "Sheffield rules," which included innovations like throw-ins and corners, and while the laws have -- to say the least -- been "tweaked" since then, they formed the basis of how the game is played today.
The Sheffield Telegraph sent a reporter along to check out this new innovation, and it seems that the rules aren't the only thing that have changed about football in the past 153 years. The correspondent noted that it would be “invidious to single out the play of any particular gentleman when all did well.” You can't really see many reporters these days slipping that one into their match reports.
1) Boxing Day, 1963
Not a single game, but a day. One quite, quite insane day, in which defences apparently took leave of their duties and waved through any and all strikers that fancied it. The previous year the Boxing Day First Division fixtures were virtually wiped out, amid a gigantic snowstorm that would basically ruin about two months of the season, but in 1963 famine became feast. "What happened on Boxing Day 1963 was bewildering," recalled Liverpool striker Ian St John. "It was as if the clubs were making up for the total lack of games the previous season."
An astonishing 66 goals were scored across 10 First Division games, with seven players scoring hat tricks and four men were sent off, just in case violence and ill-discipline were your bag, rather than goals and so forth. Fulham beat Ipswich 10-1 (still their record win), Blackburn beat West Ham 8-2, West Brom and Spurs drew 4-4, while Burnley and Liverpool won 6-1 against Manchester United and Stoke, respectively. It's probably a good thing that Match of the Day didn't start until the following year -- the damn thing might well have exploded.
Here's the full, quite extraordinary list of results: Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea, Burnley 6-1 Manchester United, Fulham 10-1 Ipswich Town, Leicester City 2-0 Everton, Liverpool 6-1 Stoke City, Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton Wanderers, Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-3 Aston Villa, West Ham United 2-8 Blackburn Rovers.
Top Tenner picks out a selection of the best Boxing Day fixtures on offer over the years.