January 26, 2010
[image1]Football over the Christmas period is a tradition in the English game that has often been questioned but the ethos appears strong and destined to continue for as far as we can see. Bad weather breaks and an influx of overseas players and managers into our game have forced the agenda for change in recent years but the call for Christmas football remains as popular as ever in our country.
Certainly the stats show that the games immediately prior to the festive season generally attract lower than average attendances, Christmas shopping and lots of other activities’ going on, but Boxing Day games usually record gates at the top end. Diet, fitness, preparation and self discipline tend to make festive matches more of a level playing field these days but not so in the past when unusual scores and results threw up a Christmas Gift or two for clubs and supporters alike.
This season we are playing two games in three days, today and on Monday because of the way Christmas Day has fallen but in past seasons it was not unusual for matches to be played on consecutive days, even against the same opposition, as well as on Christmas day itself.
Take season 1955/56 for example. I remember this season particularly because it was my very first season as a member of the Supporters Club, I still have my membership card from that season to prove it, and not least because we beat the then famous Busby Babes 4-0 in the third Round of the FA Cup soon after the New Year on the seventh of January. Back to the festive period; we played Football League Two fixtures against Leicester City on the Boxing Day at Eastville and then away at Filbert Street on the following day the 27th. For our younger readers, Division Two in those days is The Championship today.
Those two games presented Christmas gifts to forward player Barrie Meyer who scored in both matches. I was there with my Grampy on the Muller Bank and 21650 other festive football soles around the stadium as we ran out 2-1 winners with Alfie Biggs notching the other Rovers goal; nice Christmas gift and a happy bus journey back to Hazelbury Road just off West Town Lane. How happy I would be these days with the Rovers Training Ground within spitting of my bedroom window? I digress.
The next day the Rovers team again put a couple of goals on the score sheet with Geoff Bradford adding to another Barrie Meyer effort. Unfortunately Leicester got their own back as they ran out 4-2 winners in front of a Christmas crowd of 35000; happy days and happy Christmas memories. I am sure we all have them.
Don’t mention the season before. We played on Christmas Day up at Meadow Lane in front of 19647 and got beat 2-0. On the 27th we brought the Notts boys down to Eastville and for an opportunity to reverse the score. No less than 28855 turned out to witness the revenge only to see us go down again, 1-4 the score with an unsung Rovers legend Vic Lambden scoring the solitary festive season goal. No Christmas gifts that season I’m afraid.
In season 1956-57, we again played on Christmas Day, but this time with a return fixture on Boxing Day. Not much of a Christmas night for the Rovers boys in those days. We were up at Bury on the 25th and had them back at our place on the following day. A small crowd for the times of 8962 packed into Gigg Lane to land a proper Christmas gift for the Bury fans; Bury 7 Rovers 2, yes seven to two! It was the most miserable Christmas night I can ever remember.
It was a bit surprising to be honest because just a couple of days or so before on the 22nd the Rovers boys had hammered Doncaster 6-1 at Eastville with a Dai Ward hat trick, a brace from Meyer and total legend Geoffrey Bradford adding the sixth. What was in store for the 19672 fans, including me, at Eastville on the Boxing Day? The score lines were going crazy. Was there to be a special Christmas gifts for us Rovers fans or just a normal score line like 1-0 or 2-1 perhaps? As it turned out I was to get the best Christmas gift of my young life after all and one that I will never ever forget.
It was Peter Hooper’s turn to score a hat trick. His penalty was hit so hard I could not believe my eyes. Barrie Meyer got two more and Alfie Biggs chipped in with another one; a 6-1 win and revenge was sweet. Surely we will never see the likes again, but for one young boy it was a Christmas gift to treasure for life.