Let’s be honest, Boxing Day is by far best day of the festive period for football fans as once the hangovers have relented and the excitement of the big occasion has died off, it’s usually when a little normality is finally restored.
The shops are open again and, of course, football makes a welcome return after an absence of all of 48 hours or so; but there was nothing normal about Boxing Day 1963, when a remarkable 66 goals were scored in the First Division alone on just one day.
12 months previously the Christmas and New Year football programme had all been obliterated as heavy snow that had arrived on Boxing Day stuck around for the best part of three months as games across the country were wiped out; leaving fans and players starved of their usual festive football fix. To say they made up for it a year later would be something of an understatement.
Despite forecasters warning the nation to expect the worst once again the big freeze never occurred during Christmas 1963 and players and supporters alike filled their boots as some of the most incredible matches in the history of English top flight football were played out as not only did the 10 Division One games that day not produce a single goal-less draw, but only two sides in the entire division failed to find the net.
In an era long before sports scientists, balanced diets and isotonic sports drinks it might have been the case that a number of the players who turned out that day were feeling the effects of a little Christmas excess and the entertainment wasn’t confined to the top flight, in the top four tiers of English football, there were no less than 160 goals scored in one afternoon.
At Craven Cottage, Fulham defeated Ipswich Town, who had been champions just two seasons before, 10-1 thanks to a Graham Leggat scoring a hat-trick within three minutes; the quickest ever three-goal haul in the top flight. Meanwhile, across London, Blackburn were thumping a West Ham side which contained Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore 8-2.
Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United fought out a 3-3 draw as did Wolves and Aston Villa, while West Brom and Spurs went one further, drawing four apiece; but one of the biggest shocks on this momentous day came at Turf Moor as four goals from Andy Lochhead helped the Burnley to a 6-1 victory against a side who were only four points off the top of the table.
In the years since players involved on that incredible day have strongly denied that over-exuberance played a part in the bizarre set of results. “Have your Christmas in the summer,” Bill Shankly apparently told his Liverpool players. “You can over indulge then, if you like.” While legendary Spurs Boss Bill Nicholson was also a stickler when it came to alcohol, apparently instructing his coaching staff to search players’ rooms for booze on away trips.
And the fun didn’t stop there as the quirk of Christmas fixtures back in those days was that sides would face each other sometimes as quickly as 24 hours later and retribution was often as swift as it was sweet.
In the case of 1963 the full set of fixtures played on Boxing Day were mirrored just two days later and rather like the bubble and squeak or left-over turkey that was still kicking around in the kitchen revenge was very much a dish best served cold for a number of sides who had been humiliated 48 hours earlier.
West Ham avenged their 8-2 thrashing by Blackburn in London by winning 3-1 at Ewood Park and Manchester United, beaten 6-1 at Burnley, hammered their opponents 5-1 at Old Trafford Meanwhile Ipswich Town avenged their 10-1 tonking at Craven Cottage by beating Fulham 4-2 back in Suffolk and Aston Villa and Wolves drew again, this time 2-2, meaning the two sides had scored 10 goals between them over 180 minutes of football.
Whatever the reasons for this incredible sequence of results and the attacking flair on offer, not to mention the defensive frailties, there is no doubting that fans that turned out on Boxing Day 1963 were treated to a full-on festive feast of football with goals galore; once again confirming that for lovers of the beautiful game, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.