A game changer?
Is December the defining month of the season? Johnny Phillips unwraps a festive conundrum.
Last Updated: 06/12/11 10:53am
All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit. So sang Birkenhead's finest Half Man Half Biscuit, encapsulating the beautiful relationship between football and the festive season.
Now December has arrived we can fully embrace the most important month in the football calendar. Why is it the most important month? I've no idea, but that's what everyone is telling me it is.
"There's a lot of important games coming up over Christmas." Every year it's the same. Likewise managers cast their eye over December earnestly declaring how crucial it is to get through this period without picking up any injuries. As if some sort of plague is going to beset training grounds up and down the country and strike down star forwards simply because it's December. Like Tuberculosis or Meningitis, squads must be inoculated against the Congested Christmas Fixture List.
And we fans are no different. Simply because one extra game happens to be thrown in on Boxing Day it suddenly becomes a defining month of the season. There are still only three points available in that game but listening to supporters it's easy to be lulled into thinking the league table will take shape at this time of year and remain cast in stone for the rest of the season.
No-one can afford a bad Christmas. We know this because the stats men tell us so. Being the bottom side at Christmas must be avoided at all costs. Like turning on the radio and hearing Chris Rea's 'Driving Home For Christmas', it is an affliction that leaves permanent scars. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse lie in wait for whichever side is bestowed the fate of Bottom Club at Christmas.
Of course this is not to dilute the excitement of festive fixtures. Boxing Day has always been a favourite although there was a time when teams would play successive days on the 25th and 26th.
The last Christmas Day fixtures in England were played in 1959, but in Scotland they played on this date right up until 1976. Goodness knows how fans would cope with that scenario now. A Boxing Day game usually draws a bumper crowd as fans look to break free from the shackles of the leftover turkey, in-laws and wartime films. In fact, this fixture is a football fan's very own Great Escape.
And what about this for a set of results from the top flight on Boxing Day 1963: Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea, Burnley 6-1 Man Utd, Fulham 10-1 Ipswich, Leicester 2-0 Everton, Liverpool 6-1 Stoke, Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield Utd, WBA 4-4 Tottenham, Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton, Wolves 3-3 Aston Villa, West Ham 2-8 Blackburn. Sixty six goals in one division, no wonder we get so excited at this time of year.
And of course it is embraced at Sky Sports with the snowmen graphics, festive music bubbling along under the promos, Christmas trees on the set of every show and Christmas Day special editions of Soccer AM and Soccer Saturday.
Out in the regions Sky Sports News reporters will be popping up at training grounds asking embattled managers what they want for Christmas before being dispatched to the Stoke City club shop in search of a Peter Crouch gnome. And manna from heaven if it's actually snowing because there'll be a groundsmen's snowball fight to be filmed too.
The Soccer Saturday staff love Christmas. Secret Santa is diligently organised every season. And every year it follows the same format.
Our assistant producer Caroline marshals the draw with a keen eye and threatens everyone to secrecy. Carly, our production co-ordinator, then spends the next fortnight working out who has got who. The lads in the office lack any imagination so are more than happy to seek advice on what to buy.
I thought I'd pulled a blinder out a couple of years ago when I gave Bianca Westwood, an avid Hammers fan, a ten pound bet on West Ham for the FA Cup at 80/1, only to realise later they'd drawn Arsenal away in the third round.
But at least that offering had potential. Pity the soul who Jeff Stelling picks out of the hat. He bought Caroline a wooden hen last season, about as much use as an igloo in the Bahamas.
Jeff's stats man Trev wasn't going to take any chances with his pick this year. He thoughtfully emailed me asking what I wanted. Well what do you think, Trev? A Dukla Prague away kit, of course.