The last time football was played was on Christmas Day in England

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Football at Christmas is one of the best times of the year for fans in England.

It is not ideal for players and coaches as there are games at all levels that come thick and fast. But you may be able to see your team three or even four times in a little more than a week at the end of December around the Christmas weekend.

Second day football is a staple in the calendar, as is New Year’s Day. There will usually be another match between these and one just before Christmas, depending on where the weekend falls.

The Football Calendar Is Still Extremely Busy Around Christmas / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images

Christmas Day itself used to be a part of it, often a double header with Boxing Day when a team can play against the same opponent at home and away on consecutive days.

In 1957/58, the reigning First Division champions met Manchester United Luton at Old Trafford on Christmas Day and then traveled south to play against them again at Kenilworth Road the next day.

There were par for the course at the time, and if there were no back-to-back matches on Christmas Day and the second day of Christmas, it would be Christmas Day and December 27, as it was when Manchester United and Liverpool played against each other at home and away in quick succession 1948/49.

Football on Christmas Day was the norm from the very earliest years of the Football League, with champions Preston meeting other Victorian heavyweights Aston Villa on Christmas Day 1889.

Full league programs took place on Christmas Day / General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

It was the Manchester derby on Christmas Day both 1896 and 1897, while it was also a north London derby on Christmas day 1897 and again in 1911.

Arsenal had a drive to always play away on Christmas Day from 1913 when they moved to Highbury until more than 10 years after the First World War because the lease on the ground on which the stadium was built forbade Christmas games to take place there. It eventually changed in 1925 when the club bought the lease and could then use the land without restrictions.

Perhaps the most famous football on Christmas Day of all was not an organized game at all, but was part of the short truce on the battlefield of the First World War in 1914, when soldiers from both sides left their trenches and greeted each other in “no man’s land”. ‘.

Unlike today, entertainment for the masses was much rarer during the Victorian era and into the 20th century, before the advent of television and even radio before the 1920s. Christmas was a rare holiday and going to games was something to do.

There was less for people to do before WW2 / Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Christmas Day football continued during the 1930s and into the war leagues. When World War II was over in 1945, football on Christmas Day reached a peak in popularity in the last years of the 1940s, perhaps a response to the concessions made by millions of people during the conflict.

But despite huge turnout in the late 1940s – it is estimated that around 3.5 million people took part in matches over a three-day period in 1949 – football on Christmas Day did not actually last much longer in England. After an idyllic “white Christmas” in 1956, the last complete program for Christmas Day matches planned by the Football League took place in 1957.

That day, a teenager Jimmy Greaves scored four goals for Chelsea in a 7-4 victory over Portsmouth, while it was one of the last matches that Manchester United’s Busby Babes would play together, just six weeks before the plane crash in Munich on 6 February. 1958, beat Luton 3-0.

The Christmas matches were suddenly sparse, with only three in the top class on December 25, 1958 and only one the following year 1959. The first division competition in 1959 between Blackburn and Blackpool at Ewood Park and a lower league match between Coventry and Wrexham were the last Christmas matches in England in several years, with the last ever in 1965.

Blackpool hosted the last Christmas Day game ever in England in 1965 / Heritage Images / Getty Images

When it arrived, it was another top-class all-Lancashire deal between Blackpool and Blackburn on Bloomfield Road. Tangerines won 4-2, with a young future World Cup winner named Alan Ball among the goal scorers. And so a decades-long tradition came to an end.

Although football on Christmas Day was extremely popular immediately after the Second World War, times changed rapidly and there are a number of factors that are believed to have contributed to the relatively sudden abolition of the late 1950s.

One such reason was that public transport had always been running on Christmas Day during the first half of the 20th century, which made it possible for people to get to games. That changed in 1959, when suddenly there were no more trains or buses on Christmas Day.

Another is the advent of widespread headlight technology at the same time. Although first experimented with as far back as 1878, headlights in arenas were not common until the 1950s – Arsenal had lights on a stand at Highbury as early as the 1930s on behalf of manager Herbert Chapman, but the club refused to let them be used. But headlights meant that games that are normally packed during the day at Christmas could be rearranged for evenings at other times.

Floodlight technology helped end Christmas Day games / Alex Pantling / Getty Images

Another change was an increase in television ownership in households up and down the country in the late 1950s, where suddenly more and more families gained access to their own television set. This meant that there was a hope for new entertainment, which denied the need to go out to football on Christmas day.

Although it lasted longer in Scotland and an attempt was made to take back that of Brentford in 1983 that never happened, it has now been 55 years since the last match on Christmas Day in English football.

Related article

Christmas, Monday and New Year football TV schedule – Premier League

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