The History of Boxing Day football in Britain
Boxing Day is one of the most popular days of the British football calendar. Boxing Day football in 2016 saw the English Football League draw more than 500,000 fans to games across England and Wales. The English Premier League did very well in 2016, too. The top-flight of football in England and Wales saw 97.22% of combined capacity across 10 stadiums that housed post-Christmas games. That was a larger percentage than at any other time during the first 18 weeks of the 2016-17 season.
While plenty of football fans know there is a feast of Boxing Day football watch, few know where the tradition actually comes from. The tradition dates back to 1860, when the world’s two oldest football clubs, Sheffield FC and Hallam FC, clashed on December 26. The two Yorkshire teams not only played the first ever Boxing Day football fixture, but the clubs also played the first recorded derby. An amazing feat. A few years later, Sheffield and Hallam would also play the first ever charity match. The clubs got together to raise money for injured soldiers who had fought in the American Civil War.
In the 1880s, as football grew in Britain and the number of clubs increased, matches on Boxing Day became even more common place. In fact, teams also played on Christmas Day. The players would endure a match on the holiday and turnaround 24 hours later and compete once more. It was even more of a football feast than what fans get today.
The tradition of playing on both days died out, however. In the 1950s, people began to become less interested in Christmas Day matches. The advent of new technologies and things to do on the holiday also added to the decision to end football on December 25. In 1965, the final Christmas Day match was played. The game was contested between Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers. Interestingly, the idea of playing on Christmas hasn’t resurfaced.
Boxing Day football has changed little since the 1960s and it is still regarded as one of the best times, if not the best, for fans to see a match live. It brings families together and with relatives visiting, it is a chance for families to see a game. Or it is a chance to escape the in-laws.
Just like in years past, this Boxing Day will see bumper numbers in attendance. Fans will join in with the feast of football and for 90 minutes, forget about their team’s table position, and enjoy a day at the stadium.
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