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Football On Christmas Day

Waiters and Oates Look Back On Last Festive Encounter In 1965

27 December 2017

Mentions of a winter break in football often crop up in conversation at this time of year, yet one thing modern day players no longer have to do is play football on Christmas Day.

Fifty-two years have now passed since the long-standing tradition in English league football came to an end, with Blackpool beating Blackburn Rovers 4-2 at Bloomfield Road in 1965.

A Christmas Day fixture used to be a big draw in the town and was the reason why Blackpool persevered with the tradition longer than most other clubs, especially when it came to clashes with Lancashire opponents. 

“We just took it for granted to be honest in those days, you just got on with it. It was like at Easter, we always used to play three matches around Easter so it didn’t bother us really,” said Graham Oates, who featured for The Seasiders.

“I don’t have too many specific memories of the game itself with it being such a long time ago, but I imagine it would have been muddy – though Bloomfield Road was always one of the better grounds at that time so it wouldn’t have been too bad!”

While in the modern era of football the festive fixtures are some of the most competitive and sought-after games, Oates admits that back at that time there wasn’t anything different about the festive period compared to the rest of the season.

“We didn’t really think anything special of the game itself, it was just one of the 42 we had to play over the season, so it was just another game really.

“The games at Blackpool around Christmas would always be good games though, as there’d be a great crowd, and Blackburn brought a lot of fans too, so the atmosphere was really good, and then afterwards they’d go home and enjoy the rest of the day; I’d have a glass of wine and usually fall asleep after a game of football!”

The last full schedule of Christmas Day fixtures took place in 1957, with 38 matches being played. As public transport workers were given the day off from 1959, and buses and trains no longer ran, it was left to Blackpool to entertain the masses for a further six years.

Another man who featured in the match against Blackburn was goalkeeper Tony Waiters, who first debuted for the club against the same opposition on Boxing Day in 1959. Matches against the same opposition would often be played on consecutive days.

“It was one game after another; I made my debut on Boxing Day, 1959, against Blackburn at Blackpool. I came in for George Farm after he had been injured on Christmas Day at Blackburn,” he explained.  

“Even though I had been allowed to go home to Southport for Christmas, I didn’t go out next door to the biggest party of the year, even though I did not know George Farm had been injured. It wasn’t until I arrived at Bloomfield Road the next day that I found out.

“Christmas was not such a good time because family and friends were celebrating, whereas we as players could not afford to celebrate. It was only when I got to North America with a summer season that I could enjoy the Christmas season. Even as a manager, you could not celebrate the same.

“I can’t say I have any particular memories of the last Christmas Day game itself which stand out, except that it was a good win for us against strong opposition,” he added. 

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