The prospect of Christmas and the subsequent football feast to get stuck into across the festive season, has provided some solstice into what has been a dark year for many.
Although Christmas day fixtures are very much a thing of history, jam-packed footballing schedules over the period is a staple of British festive tradition since the ‘game of truce’ in World War One. Despite the implementation of the February ‘winter-break’, matches over the festive period look unlikely to be consigned to the history books anytime soon.
As you sit by the crackling fire, watching the clock tick by, waiting for the day you can tear open the new Sparta Dioscuri catching your glaze from under the tree, we take a look back at some memorable Christmas fixtures for goalkeepers.
Christmas Day 1940
A Bartram, Brighton & Hove Albion
Professional football matches were sparse during the second world war, largely down to most players being drafted into the army.
However, what remained of the Brighton squad were handed the footballing equivalent of a lump of coal on Christmas day of 1940.
Brighton travelled to Norwich for an exhibition game with just five players, with the rest of the Seagull’s side made up of Norwich reserves and a fan, known only as ‘A Bartram’ was pulled from the crowd to take the goalkeeping spot.
Brighton was thrashed and the five actual first team players returned to East Sussex on Christmas night having lost 18-0.
Needless to say, A Bartram never played a professional game again, but having turned up to watch a football match with 2,000 other fans, being dragged from the crowd to play for a professional side is certainly a Christmas story worth telling.
Boxing Day 1992
Chris Woods, Sheffield Wednesday
England international Chris Woods was at the pomp of a very successful career in December 1992, but forty-five minutes of the Boxing Day fixture with Manchester United would be one half of football he would much rather forget.
The inaugural Premier League season which Manchester United would win in the first of Alex Ferguson’s dynasty, had Norwich City at the top of the tree at Christmas and United trailing by five points.
United’s deficit looked set to increase as they went into the Hillsborough dressing room 3-0 down at half-time.
Woods was Wednesday’s ‘keeper that day and after a joyous first half would pick the ball out of his net three times in the second, as United fought back to draw the game 3-3 with a Brian McClair double and an equaliser from Eric Cantona.
On the verge of an historic win over Alex Ferguson’s men, Wednesday and Woods would be returning home to feast on their turkey sandwiches in a foul mood.
Boxing Day 2000
Tim Flowers, Leicester City
‘Tis the season to be jolly, but Tim Flowers would be absolutely miserable festive period of the twenty-first-century after his Leicester team shipped six at Arsenal’s old Highbury stadium on Boxing day of 2000.
The now Barnet manager (see last week’s Sparta Spotlight) amassed nearly 300 Premier League appearances, but a harrowing St Stephen’s day game in North London meant there would not be many thereafter.
On the wrong end of a Thierry Henry masterclass, Flowers and the Leicester defence were left feeling like Christmas turkeys, conceding five times in the second half.
The Premier League winner went onto play only a further nine league games across the next two campaigns and was sent out on loan three times before retiring in 2003.
Christmas Day 1920
Cyril Spiers, Aston Villa
Back to the era of Christmas Day football and an extra special one for Villa and Spurs great, Cyril Spiers made his debut on the 25th December at Villa Park against Manchester United.
The FA Cup champions did lose 4-3, but Spiers who was aged just eighteen at the time, would look back with fondness as his glittering nineteen-year career started with a Christmas Day debut, likely attaching even more sentiment to the festive period for him.
Spiers played over 100 times for Villa and doing the same for Tottenham before moving to Wolves before the war, in what were generally successful periods for all clubs.
He also went onto have a successful managerial career with Cardiff, Palace and Norwich before his death in 1967.