It is natural to be nostalgic for the past. Christmas is full of nostalgia, much has nothing to do with our own person experience; Santa Claus in a red and white suit (derived from Coca Cola), snow (derived from Dickens), the timeless Victoriana which represents nobody’s life and yet is in every advert.
Football also places huge capital on tradition. As you get older, the world changes, you pine for things from the past. Everything in the past was better. The music was better, the films were better, the football was better. This is probably because the music you heard when you were a teenager was pretty much the first music you heard. Thereafter anything you hear is benchmarked against that visceral virginal feeling. It’s rarely, if ever, going to be matched.
In football, I pine for goalkeepers in green shirts wearing the shorts and socks of the rest of the team, for away fans flying their scarves out of car windows on the way to games, I don’t pine for terracing in the same way others do, but I can see why they do. Life changes and evolves, but one tradition seems to endure. Boxing day football.
Miserablist savants such as Arsene Wenger attack the tradition of playing through Christmas by calling for a winter break. But he also wants the right to field weakened teams for competitions he doesn’t value. In fact he may only be contented when the only games his team plays are Champions League finals, which presumably Arsenal will automatically qualify for. Unlike the goal line technology debate, the media haven’t jumped on the winter break bandwagon. Why would they? English teams remain successful in Europe despite their lack of rest and the national team debate is only really relevant once every couple of years. Plus, football sells really well when people are on holiday.
Sky and the Premier League actually enhances Christmas football. Scheduling was always peculiar over Christmas, so there’s no real change with the advent of Sky. It’s just that you get to see some of the games. For the last 20+ years, my Boxing Day morning has been spent hacking around the local park with a ramshackle bunch trying to shake the cobwebs. Afterwards, I ease myself into the shower and then spend a few minutes watching whatever live game is on before preparing myself to head off to the game.
Christmas day is a kind of autoerotic asphyxiation, we prepare fastidiously for it, and its discomfort and pain is the whole point. Boxing Day football becomes like opening the window after the claustrophobic suffocation of the previous day.
When we’re at home, the crowd is a decent size and there’s always a good atmosphere. The away following is normally pretty good and you can spot the families who are taking in a game just to get out of the house. There are more women around, it’s less aggressive. But that’s OK, it’s kind of nice and Christmassy. It reminds me of my own early football experiences when I’d go to The Manor with my dad when visiting my grandparents in Abingdon.
Of course, we haven’t had a Boxing Day game at home for 5 years, when Phil Trainer (PHIL TRAINER!) scored a rasping winner against Crawley. Despite the forces that schedule fixtures working against us, we’re quite good at Boxing Day football; in the last 11 years we’ve lost the game after Christmas day just once, Chris Wilder’s first game in charge (yeah, I know, Wilder out and all that).
Despite traditionally having good form over Christmas, the Boxing Day win over Exeter was still unexpected, as unexpected as it was emphatic. As a one-off performance, it was a sweet release from the jaw grinding, hand wringing of recent weeks. But, quietly, slowly, we’re building a run. Unbeaten now in 5 in the league (8 in all competitions); only Bradford and Southend have matched our form in the league and they’re both safely ensconced in the play-offs. It’s not yet showing in the league table although we’re now closer to the top points-wise, than we are to the bottom. In the main, it’s still not pretty; but there’s a doggedness from which we should continue to draw encouragement.