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While other European leagues take a breather and allow their players to rest, recuperate, celebrate and maybe take in some warm weather training somewhere nice, the Premier League continues apace.
Boxing Day saw eight fixtures played, with two more taking place on the 27th and 28th. An at-least-nearly-full Boxing Day programme is a long-standing tradition in the English leagues. Boxing Day football first took place in the 1888/89 season, when Preston North End thrashed Derby County 5-0 (laying the foundations for the goal-friendly Boxing Days of the future).
This year’s fixture list had echoes of the past, too, with resurgent Leicester City facing off against Everton, West Brom facing a North London outfit in Arsenal (it was Spurs back in ’63), and Liverpool playing Stoke City.
But no matter what, the modern Premier League side could never match the epic Boxing Day of 1963, when all 20 sides delivered the watching crowds the gift of goals. 66, to be exact. For reference, the modern Premier League record stands at 43, scored over two days on 5-6th February, 2011.
What happened on Boxing Day, 1963?
Though Boxing Day football was a long standing tradition by 1963, it did not take place the previous year. The winter of 1962 was the worst for decades and wiped out much of the winter football calendar. Thankfully, the players were ready to make up for that with a vengeance in 1963.
A feast of goals took place at Craven Cottage, where Fulham plundered ten goals in a 10-1 win over Ipswich Town. It was all the more remarkable because the Ipswich team was largely the same as that crowned Division One champions in the 1961/62 season. Interestingly, the two sides will face each other on Boxing Day this year (albeit at Portman Road). It will probably come as no surprise to learn that 10-goal-shipping Ipswich went down that season.
The Hammers ship 8 and Man Utd get thrashed
In a strange way, one of the least surprising scores in the day’s goalfest was the 8-2 thumping of West Ham United by Blackburn. Rovers were the Division One leaders at the time, and were 4-0 up by half time. By the end, Andy McAvoy and Fred Pickering had both grabbed hat tricks.
Another big score (and one that just wouldn’t happen these days) was Burnley beating a hapless Manchester United 6-1 at home. Hapless on the day, of course, but over the season as a whole they finished second (behind Liverpool) so it was quite the result for the Clarets. Eventual champions Liverpool beat Stoke by the same score, a Midlands derby between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Villa ended 3-3, as did the game between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United. Meanwhile, West Brom staged a thrilling comeback at the Hawthorns to draw 4-4 with Tottenham Hotspur from 4-2 down.
So, what caused this avalanche of goals? An overindulgence in festive festivities, perhaps? It seems unlikely. Even though players’ diets and activities are much more regimented now than in the 60s, back-to-back festive games during that era meant that players would barely have any time to eat, drink and be merry even if they wanted to!
Indeed, the players had little time to celebrate or commiserate after heavy wins or losses. Just two days later – in a quirk of the Christmas fixture list at the time – the reverse fixtures were played. In keeping with the bonkers spirit of the first games, plenty of sides got high-scoring revenge.
The reverse fixtures
Manchester United avenged their thrashing by beating Burnley 5-1 at Old Trafford, Ipswich beat Fulham 4-2 and even West Ham forgot about shipping 8 goals to win 3-1 against Blackburn. Villa and Wolves still couldn’t be separated, this time drawing 2-2 at Villa Park.
The reverse fixtures could only squeeze in a meagre (by comparison) 37 goals, but the games on the 28th still included those 5-1 and 4-2 games, as well as a 4-1 win for Arsenal over Birmingham City. Even that goal tally would rank pretty high on the list of Premier League record hauls.
This years’ Boxing Day fixture list didn’t match the one fans saw in 1963. Even with all the world class international players on show, 66 goals seems like the stuff of fiction. It really happened, though – who knows if we’ll ever see that amount of goals in the modern day Premier League.
Main image credit: Massimiliano Pistolesi via Flickr.