Boxing Day football: Brief history and iconic matches from the festive day fixture

Here's all you need to know about Boxing Day football and some of the greatest matches that have been played on this day.

Javier Hernandez vs Newcastle United

Javier Hernandez bagged all three points for Manchester United in the 89th minute to complete the comeback and beat Newcastle United 4-3 on December 26, 2012.   -  AFP Forum

This the season to be Jolly but the December festive period is a hectic one for the English Premier League teams. The busy festive period is a cash cow for the clubs and the league, but it isn't popular with players and managers alike. Of course, this is usually when the league leader's title credentials are tested and while some come out unscathed, even going on to win the title in May, others succumb to the heavy workload.

While La-Liga, Bundesliga et all go on their annual Christmas vacation, Boxing Day football is a tradition that is relevant to all four divisions of English football. 

While the silver lining for these players now is that they have a football-free day on Christmas and spread the festive cheer with their loved ones, but that wasn't the case until the 1950s.

A bit of research suggests that there used to be a full programme of fixtures on December 25 as supporters thronged to their local ground after having their traditional meal and a glass of wine, or two. In fact, teams then played their next fixture the very next day; something that is unfathomable in today's time.

However, the popularity of the Christmas Day fixtures dwindled with receding attendance and the fixture didn't see the light of day after the 1957/58 season. This decline in attendance is attributed to the incapability of public transport to cope with the holiday rush, leaving Boxing Day as the sole festive holiday fixture on the calendar.

And fast forward to 2017 and the Premier League has scheduled matches from December 26 until January 4 with December 29 being the only blank date on the calendar! Talk about a heavy workload. 

While the FA does try to minimise travel for fans, local derbies are never scheduled for December 26 for fear of aftermaths. Of course, local rivalries of all 92 teams can't be accommodated. If a team is playing away on Boxing Day, it definitely will be allowed to cash in on the holiday period attendance by being the host on New Year's Day.

Let's take a look at this year's Boxing Day fixtures and the distance fans will have to travel to watch their favourite players play.

Tottenham vs Southampton: 83 miles
Bournemouth vs West Ham: 108 miles
Chelsea vs Brighton: 67 miles
Huddersfield vs Stoke: 54 miles
Manchester United vs Burnley: 28 miles
Watford vs Leicester: 85 miles
West Brom vs Everton: 94 miles
Liverpool vs Swansea: 171 miles

Best Boxing Day fixtures

Boxing Day 1963 is the stuff of legends. It is widely considered the best ever Boxing Day, as the day saw a record 66 goals scored by the 20 first division teams.

The scores that day were: 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.

Chelsea vs Aston Villa, 2007: 4-4

Avram Grant was in charge of the Blues following the sacking of Jose Mourinho as Chelsea entertained the Stamford Bridge to an eight-goal classic; something that would never happen under the Portuguese.

After Villa took a two-goal lead, Chelsea scored thrice before the visitor made it 3-3. Michael Ballack scored a freekick two minutes from time and possibly bagged three points for the home side. However, an Ashley Cole red card in the dying minutes for handball saw Gareth Barry rescue a point for Aston Villa in a breathless game.

Aston Villa vs Arsenal, 2008: 2-2

Arsene Wenger's side silenced the sellout crowd at Villa Park courtesy goals from Denilson and Abou Diaby on either side of half-time. However, the host refused to throw in the towel as it rallied to snatch a point. Gareth Barry's 65th-minute penalty gave the home side some hope before Zat Knight clinched a dramatic draw after turning home Stiliyan Petrov’s cross in stoppage time.

Manchester United vs Newcastle United, 2012: 4-3

United showed typical Alex Ferguson's never-say-die mentality as it came from behind thrice before Javier Hernandez stole the game in the 89th minute as the Old Trafford crowd reached Cloud Nine.

This turned out to be Ferguson's last Boxing Day, and it was only fitting that the victory played a key role in United's 13th Premier League title.

Sheffield Wednesday vs Manchester United, 1992: 3-3

Another high-scoring blockbuster, this game at Hillsborough was 'make or break' for the Red Devils as it hadn't won the top division title 26 years going into the 1992/93 season.

The home side was 3-0 up in the hour mark and the shoulders started to drop among the away fans. After Brian McClair scored twice in 13 minutes to set the game up for an intense finale, Eric Cantona came to the fore to grab a crucial point for United as the win set the foundation for its elusive league title. The Frenchman would go on to become one of the most iconic players the club and league has ever seen.  

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