Arsenal On Christmas Day
A merry Christmas to all; if it is not your bag or you are avoiding the festivities for whatever reason, hope your Saturday is fine and dandy. And a happy birthday to Arsenal Football Club, formed on this day in 1886, ArsenThe Royal Oak public house explaining why the club’s fortunes have driven many to drink whilst setting a precedent for a large number of their descendents – a snifter or two has been commonplace in English footballing culture.
For many decades Christmas Day offered no respite for the professional footballer. Indeed, it is a little surprise that Rupe has not tried (and succeeded) in persuading the Premier League to have an offering on this day of the year. It might turn many a stomach but there is no doubt that News Corp would love to be putting Arsenal v Chelsea on the television today, Richard Keys salivating, “You’ve had your turkey but what about this for a stocking filler…“.
Between 1893 and 1956, Arsenal played matches on Christmas Day. In a startling bout of originality, 1893 and 1894 saw the same opponents on Christmas and Boxing Day; Port Vale at the Invicta and Manor Grounds with a visit to Grimsby twenty four hours later. A pattern emerged; Arsenal won both of the home games with defeats suffered on their travels. Port Vale must have complained after their third consecutive defeat in 1895 having conceded thirteen goals in the three fixtures; they never appeared again.
The depth of professional football’s history is shown from the opponents on this day. Defunct clubs such as Burton United and Bradford Park Avenue were played, the former winning the 1902 encounter. Eleven of the clubs who have played Arsenal on this day are current Premier League members, although Blackpool and Newcastle have just joined those ranks.
Much footballing history assumes that fixtures played on Christmas Day were reversed twenty four hours later. That was not always the case. Indeed the practice started for Arsenal in 1911, losing at White Hart Lane (0-5) before winning 3-1 on the 26th. 1922s encounters with Bolton highlight the point; a 1 – 4 reverse in the away game was followed by a 5 – 0 win at Highbury.
On occasion, there was another game on the 27th – 1913 and 1919 – which did not seem to bother the players overly; Arsenal only lost one of those six fixtures to Derby on Christmas Day 1919. Were Premier League players to be asked to partake of that schedule, the whinging and complaining would still be heard the following September.
The period covered by Christmas Day matches was Arsenal’s “Golden Era“. The club’s first seven league titles were delivered in that time, six matches played on this date. Of those, the only defeat suffered was at the hands of Blackpool in 1937, Bloomfield Road witnessing The Tangerines emerging victorious by the odd goal in three. On the other occasions, Manchester City (1930 4-1), Leeds (1933 1-0), Preston (1934 5-3), Liverpool (1947 3-1) and Bolton (1952 6-4) were the presents given to Arsenal fans.
Football on Christmas Day was a tradition that died out half a century ago, the last two fixtures against Monday’s opponents Chelsea. 1954 saw Arsenal win by a single goal at Highbury, two years later honours were even at Stamford Bridge. A repeat of the home result will see everyone’s Arsenal world a lot brighter on Monday.