Had your Christmas dinner yet? If not then spare a thought for those days when professional football in England would take place on Christmas Day. In the modern era the thought of playing League football on Christmas Day is totally unacceptable, but in years gone by games were played on consecutive days over Christmas, including Christmas Day, and these were often the best attended matches of the winter.
The last Christmas Day game featuring Manchester City took place in 1957 when the Blues were defeated 2-1 at Burnley. The City team for that landmark game was: Trautmann, Leivers, Little, Barnes, Ewing, Warhurst, Barlow, Kirkman, Johnstone, Hayes, and Fagan. Fionan Fagan was the last City player to score on Christmas Day
The following day City defeated Burnley 4-1 at Maine Road in front of a crowd of 47,285. The only change to the line up was Ron Phoenix, who replaced Bobby Johnstone.
The First Noel
The first League game ever played by City on Christmas Day was at Christmas 1896 against Newton Heath (present day Manchester United). The game was played at Bank Street, Clayton (roughly across the road from the Etihad, the site of the BMX centre behind the present Velodrome) and was attended by 18,000 – a figure described by the Athletic News as being huge for Newton Heath: “The crowd was an enormous one and I never saw so many lads at a football match. They were really the cause of the encroaching in the first half, for they were continually creeping under the rails, and as a natural consequence their elders were bound to follow if they were to get a glimpse of the game.”
Fans streamed on to the pitch on several occasions and the game was almost abandoned at half time: “Mr. J. Parlby, one of the League Management Committee, told the crowd point blank that if they did not keep beyond the touchline, the game could not proceed, and the Newton Heath Club would have to suffer the consequences.”
Parlby, was actually a City director, and his words may have been influenced by the fact Newton Heath were the better side that day! The game ended 2-1 to the Heathens.
The two sides met on two further occasions on Christmas Day, the last (1902) ended 1-1 at Clayton before 40,000 with Billy Meredith scoring for the Blues.
Highest Christmas Crowd
City tended to be away from home on Christmas Day, but the best Maine Road crowd on the 25th was 56,750 in 1930 when City faced Arsenal. The following day a mere 17,624 attended the return game at Highbury.
The previous year a crowd reported as 70,000 watched Aston Villa beat City 2-1 on Boxing Day at Maine Road. This is the highest Christmas crowd at a City League game.
Perhaps the most entertaining – if disappointing – game ever played by the Blues on Christmas Day was the 6-5 defeat by Bury at Gigg Lane in 1925.
The following players made their Manchester City League debuts on Christmas Day:
1946 – Peter Robinson (V. Plymouth Argyle)
1933 – Frank Swift (V. Derby County)
1902 – Johnny Mahon (V. Manchester United)
1909 – George Wynn (V. Bradford Park Avenue)