As the frenetic Christmas schedule swings into action, players in England are very much in the minority among major European leagues in readying themselves for the customary glut of games squeezed into the tightest of holiday schedules. While the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 are embarking on a winter break, Premier League and Football League clubs face the prospect of three games in a week, starting with the traditional Boxing Day fixture. Until the late 1950s, there was even a full programme of games on Christmas Day itself, as one of the few public holidays that allowed working people to attend matches.
Boxing Day has become enshrined in English football culture as a much-loved curiosity of the fixture list. One reason why Boxing Day matches gained popularity was the extraordinary events of 1963, when 10 matches in the First Division produced a scarcely credible 66 goals, a feat that is still commemorated to this day. What fans may not know is what happened in the fixtures that followed two days later on 28 December. Many of the games were rematches from Boxing Day and there were some stunning turnarounds.
Manchester United v Burnley
Burnley’s 6-1 triumph over Manchester United at Turf Moor on Boxing Day was not a huge shock as the Clarets had won the title in 1960 and had finished in the top four in the three intervening years. Meanwhile, United were still rebuilding after the devastating impact of the Munich air disaster. They had failed to finish in the top six since 1960 and had narrowly escaped relegation the previous season, 1962-63, finishing 19th in the 22-team league.
Burnley striker Andy Lochhead scored four for the home side on Boxing Day, with Willie Morgan – who would go on to leave Burnley for Manchester United in 1968 – grabbing the other two. United’s side included Bobby Charlton, Paddy Crerand and David Herd, who scored their only goal.
The sides met again at Old Trafford two days later and there were only two changes to the line-up, with Willie Anderson replacing Shay Brennan and club stalwart Albert Quixall left out. That defeat at Turf Moor was Quixall’s last match for United after 165 appearances over six years. Quixall was replaced by a 17-year-old, who was beginning to establish himself in Matt Busby’s side. Having made his United debut in September, this was George Best’s second appearance as a United player. He made an immediate impression, scoring his first goal for the club between braces by Herd and Graham Moore as United won 5-1.
Best became a regular starter for the remainder of the season, helping United to finish runners-up to Liverpool and reach an FA Cup semi-final. The teenager would have become the joint-youngest player to appear in an FA Cup final had United not lost to West Ham in the last four. Instead, that honour went to Howard Kendall, who was born on the same day as Best and made it to the Cup final that season with Preston North End, who were then in the Second Division. Preston were beaten in the Cup final by West Ham, who were also involved in a turnaround over Christmas in 1963.
Blackburn v West Ham
Blackburn ran riot against West Ham on Boxing Day, scoring eight goals at Upton Park against a side that contained the holy trinity of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. Johnny Byrne scored two consolation goals for the Hammers in the 8-2 defeat, but they must have dreaded their trip to Ewood Park two days later.
Peters was replaced by Eddie Bovington as the only change in the West Ham line-up but the transformation in the result could hardly have been greater. Byrne hit another brace but, rather than being a desultory footnote to a humiliating thrashing, this was the foundation for a 3-1 away win. Geoff Hurst scored the other goal as West Ham beat the league leaders. By the end of the season Blackburn had slipped down to seventh in the table while West Ham were winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
Ipswich Town v Fulham
The games at Old Trafford and Ewood Park on 28 December were eclipsed by an even greater reversal of fortunes between Fulham and Ipswich. Fulham thrashed Ipswich Town 10-1 on Boxing Day at Craven Cottage. It remains Fulham’s biggest win and Ipswich’s joint-worst defeat alongside their 9-0 loss to Manchester United in 1995.
Graham Leggat scored three goals in just over three minutes for Fulham. It was the fastest hat-trick in top-flight football history and he held that record for over 50 years until Sadio Mané scored three goals in 176 seconds when playing for Southampton against Aston Villa in May 2015. Among the other scorers that day was Bobby Robson, who would go on to manage Ipswich with great success between 1969 and 1982 before taking over England, following the same path as one of his illustrious predecessors.
What made Fulham’s resounding victory even more remarkable was that Ipswich had been crowned champions 18 months earlier in what was their first ever season in the top division. Alf Ramsey’s achievement led to him getting the England job in the summer of 1963, with former Newcastle hero Jackie Milburn taking over after Ipswich had tumbled down the table and finished 17th in Ramsey’s last season.
After the 10-1 hammering at Craven Cottage on Boxing Day, Milburn rallied his team for the return match at Portman Road on 28 December and, even though Leggat was on the scoresheet again, Ipswich won the game 4-2. It was only their third win of the season. They remained marooned at the bottom of the table and were eventually relegated – just two seasons after they had won the league.
Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday
Although not quite as dramatic as the other three turnarounds, Bolton Wanderers achieved some neat symmetry against Sheffield Wednesday on 28 December. Having lost 3-0 at Hillsborough on Boxing Day, Bolton restored their pride two days later with a 3-0 win against the same opponents at Burnden Park.
In the space of those two days in December 1963, the aggregate score swung from 27-4 in favour of Burnley, Blackburn, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday to 15-4 in favour of Manchester United, West Ham and Ipswich and Bolton Wanderers. When it comes to seasonal goodwill, these clubs clearly recognised that it is as good to give as it is to receive.