Let’s face it: Boxing Day is the best day of the festive period for most football fans. In all honesty, once the hangover from Christmas Eve has relented and the relative excitement of the big day itself has died off for another year, 26 December gives us the real reason to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
This is the day when normality is finally restored. The shops are open once again, the festive public transport noose that has driven us into the arms of expensive private hire car drivers is loosened ever-so-slightly. And, of course, football makes a long-awaited appearance again — just like that bottle of vermouth from the kitchen cupboard did 24 hours earlier.
In the same way that an animal emerges from its den after months of winter hibernation, the Boxing Day programme lures us all out while rubbing our eyes and looking forward to what the coming weeks have in store for our team; in turn, the games rarely let us down either.
So here are some of the most exciting and memorable games to have ever been served-up on 26 December; matches that were anything but soggy sprouts or stale stóllen; encounters that are still talked about today and might just make anyone who is an advocate for a winter break at this time of year choke on their turkey sandwich.
Bolton Wanderers 4-3 Newcastle United, 2002
When these two met back in 2002 it appeared both sets of defenders had somewhat over done things during the festive period as the opening 10 minutes saw no fewer than three goals scored. Jay-Jay Okocha opened the scoring and Ricardo Gardner added another only for Alan Shearer to reduce the deficit for the Toon.
Michael Ricketts then joined in with what were to be his final league goals for the Trotters and the points were sealed despite late efforts from Shola Ameobi and Shearer that made for a gripping finale.
Chelsea 4-4 Aston Villa, 2007
Not only was this game a real Christmas cracker the result delivered a huge blow to Chelsea’s title hopes as 2006 came to an end and 2007 dawned. Shaun Maloney opened the scoring for Villa when he crashed home a volley from close range before putting the claret and blues 2-0 up after a rare mistake from the Chelsea ‘keeper.
But an Andriy Shevchenko penalty halved the deficit before he popped-up to grab his second shortly afterwards for Chelsea’s equaliser, with a fine drive that flew into the net. The comeback seemed complete when Brazilian Alex put the home side in front for the first time when he finished off a lovely move, but the joy was short lived as Villa soon responded through Martin Laursen.
Michael Ballack looked to have won it for Chelsea two minutes from the end with a superbly executed free-kick, but Gareth Barry secured a much-deserved point for Villa when he calmly converted a late penalty.
Manchester United 4-3 Newcastle United, 2012
Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were well known for their epic comebacks during his time at the club, and in 2012 their Boxing Day clash with Newcastle at Old Trafford provided yet another thrilling turnaround.
James Perch put the Magpies ahead, before Johnny Evans equalised for United with a rare strike, only to put through his own net to give the visitors the lead once again. Patrice Evra then pulled United level as normal service appeared to have been resumed, only for Papiss Cisse to put Newcastle in the lead for the third time in the match.
That wasn’t the end of the scoring though: Robin van Persie grabbed another equaliser for United, to make it 3-3, and with just a minute remaining, Javier Hernandez found himself on the end of a Michael Carrick pass to score the winner for the Red Devils. The dramatic win put Ferguson’s men five points clear at the top of the table and well on the way to their final title under their great manager, who retired that May.
Tottenham Hotspur 4-4 Southampton, 1980
In keeping with the usual goal fests that we see the day after Christmas, White Hart Lane witnessed a real Christmas cracker that saw Southampton twice come from two goals down to snatch a point.
Lawrie McMenemy’s side found themselves two goals down inside 20 minutes following strikes from Steve Archibald and Gary Brooke; but they were back on terms by half-time thanks to a fine effort from Graham Baker and a Charlie George strike.
With just 20 minutes remaining, Spurs restored their two-goal advantage once again and appeared to have the points in the Christmas sack. However, the Saints were still not finished and came roaring back once again with Steve Moran netting a couple to ensure another memorable yuletide clash.
Grimsby Town 7-3 Manchester United, 1933
The second game in what were regular festive double-headers back then, Grimsby town defeated Manchester United in a memorable second flight encounter.
United would spend much of their time yo-yo-ing in the lower regions of English football back then, that was until Matt Busby arrived and changed everything. But their inconsistent form was highlighted in this second game between the two in less than 24 hours.
The Christmas Day game had been a routine 3-1 win for the Reds, but, on Boxing Day, the Mariners got instant revenge, beating them 7-3 on their way to promotion from the Second Division.
“Ten goals, a convincing victory and some capital football! What more could the followers of the Mariners want?“ proclaimed the Grimsby Telegraph. In fairness they had a point: this classic match showed exactly why Christmas football was such a hit, particularly in the days when games were played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Coventry City 3-2 Arsenal, 1999
Gordon Strachan’s team turned over the Premier League title challengers Arsenal on Boxing Day of 1999 but the way they did it meant the result would be remembered for years to come among Sky Blues fans.
Goals from Gary McAllister and Mustapha Hadji gave the the home side a 2-0 lead at the break, though Freddie Ljungberg got the Gunners back into the game on the 67th minute and at the same time gave them a real confidence boost, but Robbie Keane made it 3-1 with a brilliant piece of improvisation, flicking the ball past Seaman. A rare league strike away from home for Davor Suker set up a tense final four minutes but Coventry held on for a famous victory.
Derby County 4-4 Manchester United, 1970
On a Baseball Ground pitch almost entirely covered in snow, a struggling Manchester United side — which still contained the “Holy Trinity” of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton — did battle with the fast improving Derby County on a freezing cold Boxing Day afternoon.
Bizarrely, the game was played with a white ball, making for some often comical defending as players struggled to pick it out against the lying snow. A Dave Mackay thunderbolt free-kick put the Rams 1-0 up after just three minutes, before Frank Wignall doubled their lead soon after.
A trademark Denis Law header pulled one back for United to make it 2-1 after just 10 minutes, and a scrambled effort from George Best and another from Law meant that going into the break United were 3-2 to the good. An equaliser from Kevin Hector on 67 minutes set up a grandstand finish and Derby thought they had taken the points when Archie Gemmill made it 4-3, only for Brian Kidd to rise at the far post and make it 4-4.
Aston Villa 2-2 Arsenal, 2008
Another memorable Boxing Day comeback from Aston Villa came just a year after their heroics at Stamford Bridge in 2007, this time against Arsenal.
The Gunners struck first through Denilson just before half time when he took the ball off Nigel Reo-Coker and slotted it past Brad Friedel. The visitors looked to be in complete control when Abou Diaby scored four minutes after the restart after exchanging passes with Emmanuel Eboue before smashing the ball home.
However, Villa had other ideas and reduced the deficit in the 65th minute when Gareth Barry scored a penalty after Gabriel Agbonlahor was brought down in the box and Zat Knight had the final say when he latched on to a Stiliyan Petrov cross deep into injury time.