The most eventful football matches ever played on Christmas Day | The Knowledge

“What has been the most eventful match played on Christmas Day,” asks Bryn Mills.

“I’d offer Bury 6-5 Manchester City in 1925,” answers, erm, Bryn, who was clearly always planning on featuring prominently in this week’s edition. “As was often the case in those days the reverse fixture was played on Boxing Day, with Bury winning 2-0 at Maine Road. Christmas Day matches were a Football League commonplace right up until the late 1950s, with a single late outlier of Blackpool 4-2 Blackburn on Christmas Day 1964. The most eventful English League Christmas Day seems to have been 25 December 1957, when Chelsea beat Portsmouth 7-4 at home in Division One and Swansea beat Bristol Rovers 6-4 at home in Division 2.”

We should obviously mention the Christmas Truce match played on No Man’s Land which, if it actually happened, is about as eventful as festive football gets.

Liverpool and Everton scarves adorn a Christmas Truce statue outside a church near Goodison Park.

Liverpool and Everton scarves adorn a Christmas Truce statue outside a church near Goodison Park. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

If we stick with the theme of the often wild days of wartime football, we can find a Christmas Day scoreline that would look ludicrous after 12 sherries, never mind while stone cold sober: Norwich 18-0 Brighton.

Yes, you read that right. On 25 December 1940, Albion boss Charlie Webb made the 175-mile trip to Norfolk on Christmas Eve with with just four players. His plan was to meet the rest of his team in Norwich on the day of the game but, with travel discouraged by the wartime government, no one else turned up. Instead of cancelling the match, however, it was decided that the 1,500 paying fans would get their football fix come hell or high water. So the rest of Brighton’s team was formed of youth players and randoms plucked from the crowd after stewards advertised the vacant positions in the Brighton team. The website listed the XI thus:

1) A Bartram – pulled from the crowd. Conceded 18 goals.
2) Roy Watts – right-back played six wartime games for Albion.
3) F Pinchbeck – another random fan. Played left-back.
4) Charlie Chase – played sporadically throughout the war.
5) Jimmy Ithell – Norwich 18-0 Brighton wasn’t Ithell’s only appearance for the Seagulls. He also turned out in a 2-0 defeat away at Tottenham three seasons later.
6) Derek Dye – a Norwich youth-team player. This was his only appearance for either club.
7) Charlie Harman – considered one of the best young prospects on Brighton’s books, Harman made his wartime debut as a 16-year-old six months before the Norwich defeat.
8) S Bird – the third man pulled from the crowd. Played inside right.
9) WA Stacey – started up front after answering the stewards’ call for volunteers. Hardly touched the ball.
10) Joe Wilson – the only senior Brighton player to make it to Carrow Road. Played 353 times for Albion and scored 49 goals.
11) A Smith – the fifth and final player found from those in the crowd. Played outside left.

Now, you might expect the Canaries to understand their rivals’ predicament and show a little charity at Christmas, but nope. Norwich were 10-0 up at half-time and added another eight in the second half. Four players scored three or more – with Fred Chadwick bagging six – while poor youngster Ithell slashed into his own net.

In 2001 Harman, who was 16 at the time of the game, spoke about the “unforgettable” experience of playing in the match:

It was quite funny really but Mr Webb wasn’t laughing when the other seven didn’t turn up … but instead of scrubbing the game, Mr Webb insisted it was played. Before the game stewards went round the ground appealing for players and listing the various vacant positions, goalkeeper, and so on. Eventually 11 players turned out, but we would have been better off sticking to us kids led by Joe Wilson. Quite a few Bolton players were guesting for Norwich during army service and one or two played for us. I don’t know who he was but the goalkeeper was hopeless. I remember afterwards Mr Webb saying how proud he was. We knew we didn’t have a chance. Come to think of it, we didn’t take it all that seriously, but I’ll never forget it.

Kings of Christmas

“Given that Peterborough have only won once on Boxing Day in 15 years, who are the most and least successful teams at Christmas?” tweeted xAnder50nx in December 2011.

Davy Allen sent us a lovingly crafted spreadsheet on the subject and it turns out you really – really – don’t want to mess with Norwich City on Christmas Day. They’ve played on 25 December five times and won every time. Admittedly, those games all took place between 1925 and 1948, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. At the other end of the festive spectrum come Darlington. They’ve played 10 times on Christmas Day – including a humdinger of a 5-4 defeat against Accrington Stanley in 1951 – and won only once.

Baby, it’s cold outside

“What is the coldest recorded temperature that a football match has been played in?” wondered Stephen Robbins in December 2010.

We couldn’t find a definitive answer for this one but Rosenborg – who play in Trondheim, Norway – hosted Bayer Leverkusen in a 2010 Europa League tie. The temperature had plunged below -14C by the time the match kicked off. We’ll forgive players for wearing mittens on string for that one.

Players of Rosenborg prepare for their European League Group B match against Leverkusen at Lerkendal Arena in Trondheim on 1 December 2010.

Players of Rosenborg prepare for their European League Group B match against Leverkusen at Lerkendal Arena in Trondheim on 1 December 2010. Photograph: Kallestad, Gorm/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the former Morton striker Marko Rajamaki criticised the SFA for the rash of postponements during a cold snap in Scotland and said: “There’s a league club, RoPs, in Lapland, where it gets down to -30C. But they have access to a full-sized indoor training pitch so they can still work.”

Explore our previous Christmas specials in the Knowledge archive, including: which football teams appear in the Bible? and who were the first team to use the Christmas tree formation? And for thousands more questions and answers look through our archive.

Knowledge archive

Can you help?

“Liverpool have conceded seven (against Villa) and scored seven (against Palace) in matches this season. Can any team from a top League ‘better’ this achievement?” asks Bob Bancroft.

“Some sources on the internet claim that Grimsby and Hull had special dispensation from the league not to play on Christmas Day, citing the needs of the fishing industry as the reason,” writes Kári Tulinius. “What is the truth in all this?”

“Portsmouth won 2-0 at Hull with only one shot on target and it didn’t come from Pompey (there were two own goals),” writes Eddy Reynolds. “Is this a record?”

Erin Raif

My mate Nathaniel asks what the highest number of comeback wins is in a season – especially if they can be broken down into home/away.

December 22, 2020

“As a political act in La Plata, Buenos Aires province, governor Axel Kicillof announced that the city’s stadium is renamed ‘Diego Armando Maradona’,” reports Bruno Calquin. “So that’s the third stadium with the name of our legend, alongside Argentinos Juniors’ and Napoli’s now-renamed ‘San Paolo’. Is this the highest amount of stadiums in football with the same name?”

Liquid 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

East Germany’s record defeat is only by 3 goals; they lost 4-1 on three occasions.

Which teams have the lowest score for a record defeat?

December 22, 2020

“Which Englishman has the worst record of defeats in international football?” asks Ross Eldridge. Let’s throw this wider: how about any international player?

Email your questions and answers to [email protected] or tweet @TheKnowledge_GU.