If there is no rest for the wicked, as they say, footballers must really be on Santa’s naughty list.
The festive fixtures list is always a busy one, leaving you little spare time to indulge in corny films and figgy pudding.
If you are one of the many who relish a little extra playing time over the holiday season, though, you will already know it is worth every sacrifice.
Festive football is a uniquely British tradition, too, with most other leagues across the globe observing a two-week shutdown at the end of the year.
But what are some of the UK’s best matches and most memorable moments played over the festive period? Read on for some moments of yuletide footballing magic from years gone by.
1. Southampton 4-0 Arsenal, 26 December 2015
The 2015-16 Premier League season is famous for Leicester City’s shock victory, leaving Arsenal a distant second place in the end-of-year table.
This Boxing Day meetup was a chance for the Gunners to take the top spot – and by any metric, it is fair to say that they well and truly blew it.
Going into the game, Arsène Wenger’s men had conceded just 14 goals all season long.
But the Londoners lost any trace of Christmas cheer after just 19 minutes, when Southampton’s Cuco Martina put the home side up with a scorching strike.
After the break, there were further goals from José Fonte and Shane Long to put the Saints out of reach.
Long capped off his man-of-the-match outing with a second goal in the 92nd minute, leaving Arsenal with a sombre sleigh ride back to the Emirates that evening.
2. Newcastle United 7-1 Tottenham Hotspur, 28 December 1996
In the early 90s, the attacking style of manager Kevin Keegan and star players like Ginola, Ferdinand, and Shearer earned Newcastle the nickname “The Entertainers”. And few of their matches were more entertaining than this “Twixmas” thrashing of Spurs.
The Tyneside team were up 2-0 at the break thanks to goals from Shearer and Ferdinand.
The pair added another goal each in the second half, while Robert Lee joined in the fun with goals in the 61st and 88th minutes.
Philippe Albert completed the pasting with his strike under the arms of Spurs goalie Ian Walker.
Tottenham’s Allan Nielsen made the home side’s backline look momentarily like turkeys with a goal at 89 minutes, but it was little consolation.
Make no mistake: this was a Christmas roasting by the Magpies.
3. Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City, 1 January 2012
As Roberto Mancini turned his calendar over to 2012, his Sky Blues were sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League, level on points with arch-rivals Manchester United. Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland, meanwhile, were languishing mid-table.
But what could have been a new year walkover for the north-west heavyweights turned out to be anything but.
The boys in red and white held Manchester City to a scoreless draw for the full 90 minutes, an impressive enough feat on its own. But the nail in the coffin came in injury time, courtesy of South Korean substitute Ji Dong-won.
After exchanging passes with Stéphane Sessègnon, Ji outfoxed City goalkeeper Joe Hart to tap the ball into the back of the net.
A fairytale beginning to 2012 for the Black Cats, then, but not without controversy: Ji might have been a whisker offside when he made his winning play.
4. Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa, 26 December 2007
Stamford Bridge was the scene of this Boxing Day battle.
The match’s goal tally of eight was not the only high figure; there were also no fewer than three red cards.
By the 44th minute, the home side trailed by two, both goals the result of Villa’s Shaun Maloney beating Petr Cech. Then the real drama began.
Five minutes into first-half stoppage time, Zat Knight was sent off for a bulldozing challenge on Andriy Shevchenko, who converted from the penalty spot for Chelsea.
Goals were traded to take the scoreline to 3-3, before Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho saw red for a vicious lunge, taking both sides to 10 men.
It looked like Michael Ballack had won it for the Blues with a free kick in the 88th minute. But in extra time, Ashley Cole was judged to have handled the ball, landing him a red card and Villa a point thanks to Gareth Barry’s penalty.
A Christmas cracker of a game if ever there was one.
5. Various, 26 December 1963
Our last selection is not one match but many: the legendary Boxing Day goal-fest of 1963.
In 10 games across the day’s fixtures list, players found the back of the net an incredible 66 times in total.
Fans at Craven Cottage got the best bang for their buck, as Fulham trounced Ipswich 10-1.
Blackburn found the greatest success of the teams playing away from home, thrashing hosts West Ham United 8-2.
Even the tied games had high scores, including:
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-3 Aston Villa
- West Bromwich Albion 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur
- Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield United
There were moments of individual glory as well. Each with four goals apiece were Fulham’s Graham Leggett, Roger Hunt of Liverpool, and Burnley’s Andy Lochhead.
All of which is proof, if it were needed, that football is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
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