On Boxing Day Football

I’m not entirely sure what the history of Boxing Day is, or indeed how it got its name. I’d look it up, but I’ve foolishly chosen to write this in the one café in London that manages to boast floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, yet receives no phone signal and offers no wifi. What is this 2012? Anyway, let us presume it is due to a tradition relating to boxed gifts of some kind, and not a long and sustained marketing campaign by Don King or the WBA.

But I’m digressing, the purpose of this column is not to deliver an episode of Call My Bluff dedicated to the meaning of Boxing Day (*ding* “actually pronounced Be-oxing Day Bob, it takes its name from the trade of cattle…”). Nor, for that matter, is it a Tripadvisor for South London cafes.  No, we’re here for the football, which I would strongly argue, is precisely why Boxing Day exists. Local derbies, a heady smell of alcoholic spirits drifting from all in attendances, an arsenal of Christmas-themed terrace chants at your disposal, nothing really hanging on the game; it really is as good as it gets.

Doncaster Rovers 0-0 MillwallAs fans of Doncaster Rovers, we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some brilliant Boxing Day games. The win at Nottingham Forest back in 2008 springs immediately to mind, as the game in which everything which Sean O’Driscoll had preached finally came together. My then-girlfriend came to that game with me, and on the way there, as she tired of my enthusiasm and excitement with each passing junction of the A57, she boldly (well, more through irritation and resignation if I’m honest) predicted a 6-0 Rovers win. Like any adult would, I duly sulked at her refusal to humour me with a proper prediction for the rest of the journey. Two hours later, as Paul Heffernan punched the air in front of us having just made it 4-0, I began telling everyone in ear-shot that we were due two more goals; “6-0! 6-0! I’m telling you, she predicted it on the way here! 6-0!”

And then there was the 1-0 victory over Scunthorpe back in 2003. Top of the league, a packed Belle Vue and Gregg Blundell wheeling away to celebrate the only goal; tearing off his shirt to reveal a torso so white it could make an albino blush with jealousy. So dazzlingly white was Blundell’s chest that even now, when I close my eyes, I can still see it… like that glow you see after you’ve inadvertently looked straight at a light-bulb.

I should point out, that whilst Boxing Day is most definitely football, I don’t advocate the whole holidays being dedicated to the sport. I am big enough to concede that Christmas Day can probably be spent with family. I can live with that. I quite like my family. However, in recent years this concession has meant me spending Christmas in Kent. Thankfully, contrary to media depictions, it’s not all rugger and UKIP-switching down here, they do have a bash at football too. Last year we pitched up at Maidstone United versus Margate, the year before my mum and I enjoyed Tonbridge Angels against Dover Athletic – more of a shock for her than me, given the previous match she’d been at was Australia vs Guam.

Seeing out the clock; Doncaster Rovers 3-0 Wigan AthleticBut if Kent is the garden of England, it appears that this year they’ve wedged a ‘No Ball Games’ sign in the lawn. Gillingham are away. Dartford is the wrong side of Bluewater . And the Scrooges and Grinchs of the Ryman League committee have chosen to play their holiday games on the 27 December this year. Boxing Day football on the 27th?! The game is lost. That’s like moving Good Friday to a Tuesday afternoon. So, now I find myself facing the year’s major football date, without football. What will this mean? What do those poor sods without football in their lives actually do with this day?

Go to the sales? Shop among the sort of people who think it’s acceptable to queue outside Next from 4am, cheerily oblivious to the fact Next doesn’t actually sell anything worth queuing for; two hours they spent rummaging in the loft for that sleeping bag, and all for another pair of black fucking trousers. Not for me. Cook? Spend hours in the kitchen trying to find a vaguely new thing to do with yesterday’s turkey, and then spending the rest of the day trying to explain to a grandparent how to eat a fajita. No, ta. And yes, I’ve checked the television schedules and there is nowt there to fill the void either. It’s all soap-opera deaths, something or anything guest-starring Miranda Hart going arse-over-tit again or ‘celebrities’ clad in inverted commas and sequins, twatting about on the arm of an over-tanned, under-dressed Lithuanian clothes horse for the mis-timed pleasure of the latest incarnation of Bruce Forsyth.

No. None of this is Boxing Day. Not for me. And we should all pity any of those non-football fans who are subjected to this every year. Imagine taking your last mouthful of Christmas Pudding and facing the realisation that the only thing left for you now is an afternoon nap and an hour of brussel-sprout based fart jokes in the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special. The poor sods. No, Boxing Day is, and always should be football.

Boxing Day is sticking on all the socks you’ve been bought the day before, giving your new jumper its solitary wear, stuffing your pockets with as many chocolates as you can from the giant tin of chocolates on the side-table and heading outside to the match. Boxing Day is standing at the game in a 3,000 person strong collective hangover alongside fifty-year-old men in gravy-stained santa hats – men who’ve been permanently pissed since Mad Friday – feeling your feet go numb and laughing and yelling at twenty-two fellas who are inevitably hopeless and are trying to pretend they wouldn’t rather be where you are.

That’s Boxing Day. It is football, and I can see no other purpose for its existence. To try and separate the two is to take the turkey from the previous day;s table, or the sleigh-bells from every Christmas single ever recorded. You just can’t have one without the other. So, if you’re my sister or my mum and you’re reading this, I reckon we can get to Whitstable Town versus Herne Bay and get back before grandma has finished her afternoon nap. You defrost the car, I’ll get a carrier and ransack the Quality Street. Let’s go.

by Glen Wilson

This piece first appeared in Issue 73 of the print fanzine popular STAND. Copies and subscriptions are still available.