Every year when teams start flagging in England, without fail, conversations turn to the idea of ‘The Winter Break’. English clubs crash out of the Champions League in early Spring or we perform poorly as a nation in a major tournament (again), we lambaste the lack of a break over Christmas and New Year. “The Germans have a break and look how good they are…”
It may well be a valid point. But let’s be honest, which of us, as football fans, could really picture this time of year without football? The rammed fixtures, chilly afternoon matches, Father Christmas hats and unexpected Match of the Days. And Christmas time has thrown up some sterling football in its time. It really has. Here are six of the finest examples in the Premier League era.
2003: Charlton Athletic 4 – 2 Chelsea
You wouldn’t know it based on the past few years, but Charlton used to be pretty good. Regular over performers, good organisation, team spirit and a real community feel made the south east Londoners a model club. Under Alan Curbishley they even finished seventh in 2003/04. And that season’s highlight? A 4-2 battering of Claudio Ranieri’s expensively-assembled Chelsea team. It took Herman Hreidarsson just 42 seconds to start the goalfest. Goals then came from John Terry, Matt Holland, Jonatan Johansson and Jason Euell to see the Addicks running riot at 4-1 on 53 minutes. Eidur Gudjonsson pulled a consolation effort back with fifteen minutes to go.
Charlton, languishing in League One under a despotic owner nowadays can only dream of such heady days…
2000: Arsenal 6 – 1 Leicester City
At the turn of the millennium, we had no Chelsea or Manchester City spending big and Hoovering up points in the Premier League. We had Arsenal and Manchester United slugging it out. And United usually came out on top. The 2000/2001 season saw Sir Alex’s lot finish ten points ahead of Arsenal at the summit of the league. But Arsene Wenger’s side were still irresistible at times. Like on Boxing Day when they bulldozed a Leicester City side that had to rely on Ade Akinbiyi for their goals. A hat trick from Henry and goals from Viera, Ljungberg and Tony Adams rounded off the rout.
1992: Sheffield Wednesday 3 – 3 Manchester United
The classic United side of this season. People in the red half of Manchester still talk about it, don’t they? Just as the Class of ’92 were graduating, those lace-up shirts were hanging in the dressing rooms and Ryan Giggs and Paul Ince would do that daft celebration thing they used to do when one of them scored (see above). They never knew when they were beaten, that was one of the great things about this side. They were 2-0 down in six minutes here against Wednesday – and three down on the hour mark – but battled back to end things in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Interesting sidenote: Five of the players that represented United in this game would go on to manage in the top flight (Ince, Hughes, Bruce, Phelan and we’re counting Giggs filling in for those few post-Moyes games).
2007: Chelsea 4 – 4 Aston Villa
Sometimes, games just go nuts, don’t they? And this Boxing Day thriller was certainly one of those. The 2016/17 season has seen some seriously sloppy work at the back so far, with pundits queuing up to say that the art of defending is lost. But they forget games like this. Avram Grant’s Chelsea and Martin O’Neill’s Villa duked it out here for the three points and The Worst Defending of the Season Award. Eight goals, two penalties, three red cards… This was a real Christmas treat (for non-purists).
2005: Wigan Athletic 4 – 3 Manchester City
A few years back when Roberto Martinez’s Wigan nicked the FA Cup from under the noses of Man City with a smash n’ grab win via Ben Watson, we all gave them a big, well-deserved round of applause. But that wasn’t the first time that Wigan had upset their local rivals in the modern age. Eleven years ago, they edged out a thriller the day after Christmas that entertained everyone in the crowd and sat watching Match of the Day at home with a sherry.
Goal fans’ turkey indigestion was eased by this game that saw some serious blast from the past types score… Andy Cole, Jason Roberts, Lee McCulloch, Henri Camara and even cult hero Antoine Siberski all got on the scoresheet.
2012 Manchester United 4 – 3 Newcastle United
Some of the Premier League’s greatest all-time games have included Newcastle United or Manchester United. So it shouldn’t have come as a huge to festive footy fans that when Alan Pardew’s Magpies took the trip west to Old Trafford on Boxing Day in 2012, it would be a top afternoon’s entertainment. Seven goals and a twisting, turning game certainly proved that true. Newcastle led three times, but Mexican striker Chicarito snatched a late winner after an impressive United comeback. Not a gift Geordie fans would have asked Father Christmas for, certainly.
There you have it. Proof that the Premier League’s Boxing Day fixtures really do throw up some Christmas crackers. Here’s to this year’s…
Oh, and Merry Christmas!