By Tony Attwood
The notion of playing football matches on Christmas Day does not go back to the very start of league football in England but rather was introduced in the second season of the football league. The first league game was on December 25th 1889 when Preston North End beat Aston Villa 3-2.
That was the same moment that Arsenal played their first Christmas Day match – a 5-0 home win over Preston Hornets. Obviously the idea was around at that time – it can’t be a coincidence that a club outside the league and the league champions both played a game on Christmas Day for the first time in 1889.
In 1890 Christmas Day was on a Thursday, but Arsenal didn’t play, yet they were back on 25 December 1891 against Sheffield United with a 3-3 away draw.
The first league match for Arsenal on Christmas Day was in 1893, beating Burslam Port Vale at home 4-1, and indeed the fixture was repeated for each of the following two years, Arsenal winning 7-0 in 1894 and 2-1 in 1895.
The sequence continued with a Christmas Day league match each year except 1904 and 1910 which had Christmas Day on a Sundays. Despite having league games on 22 and 26 December 1906 Arsenal played Celtic in a friendly on Christmas Day
However in 1913 Arsenal moved to Highbury and under the terms of the Highbury lease Arsenal were not allowed to play at Highbury on Christmas Day (the land being owned by a religious foundation). Thus from 1913 until 1924 Arsenal always played away on Xmas Day.
The first Christmas Day match at Highbury came after Arsenal bought the ground rather than leased it, and was a 3-0 win over Notts County in Division one on December 25 1925. Then curiously Arsenal reversed to away games on Christmas Day until 1934 when it was Preston who were beaten in a 5-3.
That was the only time Arsenal scored five or more on Christmas Day at home in the first divison, but there was a 6-4 away win against Bolton on Christmas Day 1952. The final Christmas Day gave for Arsenal was Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1 on on 25 December 1956, in front of 32,094. Indeed it was the general decline in Christmas Day attendances (Chelsea v Arsenal always drew much bigger crowds than this) and the rise in difficulties with transport that reduced the desire to play on the day.
Arsenal have played Tottenham on Christmas Day, the first time being 25 December 1897: in the United League (we lost 2-3). The crowd was 5000. 1911 was the only ever Xmas Day league game v Tottenham (47000 attend)
25 December 1957 was the last day on which there was a general programme of matches for Christmas Day – although not in the first division. Teams opted out quickly, with just two league matches on the day in 1959.
Two final attempts to revive the tradition have taken place. One was on December 25 1965 in a game that ended Blackpool 4 Blackburn Rovers 2 in the first division with a crowd of 20,851. Games on the day continued in Scotland until 1976 but then they too ceased. The last league game was on 23 December 1983 with Brentford 3 Wimbledon 4 in front of 6689.
The Anniversary Files