They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and that’s often true as far as football is concerned – the combination of roast turkey and several matches within just a few days seemingly does strange things to defences, and often leads to bonkers results.
In this slideshow, we pick out 20 of the most memorable Christmas games in English football history...
Chelsea 2-4 Southampton, January 2002
Claudio Ranieri’s charges had been inconsistent in the first half of the 2001/02 season, but a five-point gap separating them from leaders Arsenal meant Chelsea were still very much in the title race. Southampton, conversely, were nervously looking over their shoulders, kept out of the bottom three by goal difference alone.
This should have been a pretty straightforward assignment for the Blues, therefore, who led 2-1 at half-time. Southampton refused to accept their fate, however, scoring three without reply in the second period – including a lovely volley from striker James Beattie.
It was a sign of things to come for Chelsea, who went on to finish sixth; Southampton, meanwhile, recovered to end the season in 11th.
Chelsea 7-4 Portsmouth, December 1957
Jimmy Greaves was just 17 years old when his Chelsea side faced Portsmouth in December 1957. The striker had only made his senior debut for the club in September, but even the most experienced First Division defenders struggled to deal with the future World Cup winner in his first few months in the starting XI.
Pompey were one such team who failed to contain Greaves, who netted four times in this Christmas Day clash at Stamford Bridge. Ron Tindall and Peter Sillett also got on the scoresheet for a Chelsea side that went on to finish 11th in the table; Portsmouth, meanwhile, survived the drop on goal average despite this hefty defeat.
Newcastle 7-1 Tottenham, December 1996
Showing few signs of post-festive rustiness, Newcastle produced a mesmerising display of attacking football to sweep aside abject this Spurs selection. In attack, they looked like a typical Kevin Keegan team; high-grade goals from Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Rob Lee and even Philippe Albert made their London adversaries look as hapless as Ian Walker’s curtains.
At the back, and even in such an emphatic display, they also looked like a typical Keegan side; John Beresford dallied during a rare Spurs foray into Newcastle territory and allowed Allan Nielsen to grab an 89th-minute consolation.
Just over a week later, Keegan shocked Tyneside by resigning, ending a trophy-less – but oh-so-entertaining – period of the club’s history.
Tottenham 5-2 Chelsea, December 1961
Despite two recent victories over Chelsea at White Hart Lane, Spurs have tended to struggle against their London rivals in the last few years. Things were very different back in 1961, however, with this 5-2 triumph coming just four days after Bill Nicholson’s men had disposed of the same opponents at Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham were reigning league champions and again challenging at the top of the First Division, while the Blues were battling against the drop at the other end of the table. A hat-trick from Cliff Jones meant it was Spurs supporters who went home happy; Chelsea duly lost four of the next five and were later relegated after finishing behind Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Cardiff.
Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa, December 2007
A true festive gem which had almost everything: eight goals, three red cards, one Petr Cech howler and, in what can only be called a true Christmas miracle, two goals from Andriy Shevchenko. Shaun Maloney also netted a brace for Villa, who looked braced for defeat until Gareth Barry scored their fourth of the game in second-half stoppage time.
Chelsea fans can gripe about Avram Grant – and few would pass up a chance to do that – but you rarely got this kind of unpredictable entertainment under Jose Mourinho. Admittedly his Chelsea side would have won, mind – but this was great fun.
Fulham 10-1 Ipswich, December 1963
At first glance, it's tempting to conclude that Ipswich's players must have consumed one too many sherries on Christmas Day given the emphatic nature of this loss to Fulham on Boxing Day 1963. Yet in truth this scoreline was merely in keeping with their disastrous campaign, which ended with Town's relegation to the Second Division just two years after their title triumph under Alf Ramsey.
Graham Leggatt scored a four-minute hat-trick for Fulham at Craven Cottage, with Bobby Howfield also helping himself to a treble as the Cottagers – who were 5-1 up at the interval – ran riot. Over half a century on, this remains Fulham's biggest ever win.
Bolton 4-3 Newcastle, December 2002
Bolton amassed 44 points in 2002/03, yet only finished two clear of West Ham in 18th place. That means that every victory they earned that campaign was ultimately crucial, a fact which lends greater significance to their edging out of Newcastle on Boxing Day.
Bolton looked comfortable for most of this match, with a Michael Rickett’s brace helping them to establish a 4-1 lead shortly after the hour-mark. Newcastle struck twice to spread anxiety around the Reebox Stadium, but Sam Allardyce’s side held on for maximum points.
Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle, December 2012
The standard chirp about abnormally high scores at Christmas is that defenders are still half asleep after over-indulging. Yet this match was full of fine finishing and some memorable attacking play that would have caused problems for even the sharpest of backlines.
At half-time the score was just 1-1, with a deflected Demba Ba free-kick cancelling out Theo Walcott’s opener that came with a whiff of Thierry Henry.
The second half was loony. Arsenal went ahead twice, only to be pegged back both times by a resilient Magpies side. Eventually Arsene Wenger's side ramped up their efforts, netting four times in the final 17 minutes as Walcott finished off his treble.
Man United 3-5 West Brom, December 1978
Ron Atkinson’s thrilling West Brom outfit tore apart a United team still reeling from a dire Boxing Day defeat by rivals Liverpool. Although the Red Devils briefly led through a fierce Brian Greenhoff volley, this game was really all about West Brom’s outstanding attackers.
Laurie Cunningham was particularly brilliant, continually ghosting past defenders with ease (like a red-faced and puffing Stewart Houston, for example, who tried in vain to chase a player who was simply too quick in body and mind). Classy fnishes from Len Cantello and Cyrille Regis were equally impressive as United slumped to a third consecutive top-flight loss.
Oldham 3-6 Man United, December 1991 & Oldham 2-5 Man United, December 1993
To ruin someone’s Christmas is poor form. To do it twice in three seasons, particularly in a team's own backyard, really isn’t on.
In 1991, Manchester United’s title-chasing side (who eventually ended the campaign as runners-up to Leeds) ripped poor Oldham apart with a succession of lightning-fast breaks involving Andrei Kanchelskis and a boyish Ryan Giggs. Also memorable was Denis Irwin netting against his former club and being rather chuffed about it. No muted celebrations here.
Two seasons later United were defending champs, seeking victory at Boundary Park to extend their lead to an imperious 14 points. They managed it easily: Oldham again crumbled against the attacking talents of Giggs and Kanchelskis – only this time they had to contend with Eric Cantona too. FFT assumes Christmas was cancelled in 1994.
Tottenham 6-4 Reading, December 2007
Unfortunately for Reading, who dominated the majority of this match, striker Dave Kitson finished like a man stuffed full of pigs in blankets for the first hour.
Spurs had Dimitar Berbatov leading the line, whose tastes are altogether more cerebral. The brilliant Bulgarian plundered four goals in one of his finest-ever performances, helping Spurs leapfrog Reading into 12th place – although this really was an otherwise-forgettable season for the north Londoners, who finished the season in a distinctly average 11th. Reading would have loved such a placing, though: a horrendous run of form led to their relegation on goal difference, wondering what might have been.
Arsenal 6-1 Leicester, December 2000
Having been thrashed 4-0 by Liverpool a few days previously, Arsenal were desperate to bounce back when Leicester came to town on Boxing Day 2000. And bounce back they did, hitting Peter Taylor’s visitors for six in a dazzling display at Highbury.
The Gunners led just 2-1 as late as the 66th minute, after which they ran riot with goals from Thierry Henry (two, to complete his hat-trick), Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg and Tony Adams. The victory got Arsenal’s title bid back on track, but they ultimately finished 10 points behind champions Manchester United.
Charlton 4-2 Chelsea, December 2003
Although it was the Champions League semi-final defeat by Monaco that in effect ended Claudio Ranieri’s tenure as Chelsea manager, defeats like this didn’t help. Roman Abramovich had high expectations upon taking control of the club in summer 2003, and he was never going to tolerate too many afternoons like this one.
Hermann Hreidarsson gave the Addicks the lead within the first minute, and although John Terry equalised soon after, Chelsea were second best for the entire contest.
Coventry 3-2 Arsenal, December 1999
Arsenal’s hopes of regaining the title from Manchester United were dealt a blow on Boxing Day 1999, as they came unstuck at Highfield Road.
Gary McAllister and Mustapha Hadji put Coventry 2-0 up at the interval, before Freddie Ljungberg got Arsenal back in the game in the 67th minute. Their hope was soon extinguished by Robbie Keane, however, and Arsene Wenger’s side couldn’t find an equaliser after Davor Suker set up a nervy finish with four minutes to go.
Derby 4-4 Manchester United, December 1970
An eight-goal thriller in December 1970 saw Derby and Manchester United each depart the snow-soaked Baseball Ground with a point. Brian Clough’s side, who would go on to win the First Division title the following season, drew first blood thanks to a superb Dave Mackay free-kick, before Frank Wignall doubled their lead later in the first half.
A Denis Law brace and George Best strike turned the match on its head, but the Rams fought back and levelled through Kevin Hector. Archie Gemmill then edged them ahead once more, only for Brian Kidd to restore parity and earn his side a share of the spoils.
Everton 2-6 Manchester United, December 1977
Younger readers may think this result was entirely in keeping with the natural order of England’s top flight, but that wasn’t the case in 1977/78. United found themselves in lower mid-table when Christmas came around, while Everton were among the challengers for the title.
A 6-2 home defeat certainly didn’t seem to be on the cards before kick-off, then, but the Red Devils were ruthless in taking Gordon Lee’s side apart. Lou Macari was the star of the show, scoring twice to ease some of the pressure on manager Dave Sexton.
Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle, December 2012
Newcastle struggled for much of 2012/13, but they came close to taking a major scalp at Old Trafford on Boxing Day 2012.
Alan Pardew’s charges went 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 up against eventual champions Manchester United, yet still departed empty-handed. Robin van Persie notched the hosts’ third equaliser of the day after 71 minutes, before Javier Hernandez stepped up to give Alex Ferguson’s men victory late on.
Manchester City 5-1 Hull, December 2008
A game remembered for a half-time team talk more than any other. Phil Brown infamously decided to conduct his mid-point monologue on the Etihad Stadium turf and in full view of the cameras, a decision which didn’t go down well in the dressing room when Hull were finally allowed back in.
Brown protested that his side went on to draw the second half 1-1, but that was primarily because Manchester City eased off at 4-0 up. Hull won just one of their remaining 19 fixtures, yet still stayed up by the skin of their teeth.
Sheffield Wednesday 3-3 Manchester United, December 1992
Manchester United went on to win the inaugural Premier League title by 10 points, but they found themselves down in fifth at the start of December. Their position had improved by the time Santa Claus boarded his sleigh, but a 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day raised further questions of their credentials.
It could have been much worse for United, who were 3-0 down until goals from Brian McClair and Eric Cantona rescued a point for the visitors to Hillsborough.
Aston Villa 2-2 Arsenal, December 2008
Arsenal took control of this top-four tussle at Villa Park on Boxing Day 2008, with midfield duo Denilson and Abou Diaby striking either side of half-time to put Arsenal 2-0 ahead.
Villa refused to hold, however, and began to pin the Gunners back in the second period. A Gareth Barry penalty halved the deficit, before Zat Knight notched a 90th-minute equaliser to keep Martin O’Neill’s men three points clear of their chief challengers for a Champions League spot.
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