Sport

Boxing Day, and its Association with Football in the UK

Boxing Day is the most common name for the public holiday now celebrated on the 26th of December, though it has many synonyms. Perhaps the most popular of the bunch is Saint Stephen’s Day, given that this is the original Christian name for the holiday. Ireland goes for a slight variation of this common terminology with “The Feast of Saint Stephen”, whereas South Africa calls it The Day of Goodwill, harking back to the day’s roots as a day of giving to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Our ancestors would traditionally designate Christmas Day as being strictly for them and their families, but many households, particularly among the aristocracy, had several servants and maids who were expected to work on Christmas Day. Over time, the tradition became that Boxing Day should be a day for them, their employers would present them with a “Christmas Box”, and often give them the day off to spend with their own family, if they had one.

It should be noted that there are various other accounts of the origins of Boxing Day, but this seems to be the one most agreed upon when browsing the web today.

Boxing Day & Sports

Several countries have a tradition of scheduling sporting events on Boxing Day. Here are a few examples:

  • In Australia & New Zealand, both the Boxing Day Test Cricket match (held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground) and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race begin on Boxing Day
  • In Italy, Serie A football is now played after a successful test program began in 2018. This was inspired by the popularity of Boxing Day Football in the United Kingdom.
  • In South Africa, Test cricket is also played on Boxing Day.
  • In England, the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse is held in Surrey. It is the second most prestigious chase in Britain, after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Several other popular racing meets are held around the country on the same day.
  • The IIHF World Junior Champion Ice Hockey tournament begins on 26th December in Davos, Switzerland.
  • The Swedish tradition of Annandagsbandy, formerly marking the start of the bandy season, begins on Boxing Day and always draws large crowds.

There are many more examples around the world, too.

Boxing Day Football in the United Kingdom

Today, it is traditional for all football leagues, including lower leagues, the English Premier League, and the various rugby leagues, to hold a full program of matches on Boxing Day. This has been going on for quite some time, although originally it was Christmas Day when these matches were held. Football clubs would contest these matches during the late 1940s and 1950s, calling them unfair to players with families. As such, it was decided that Christmas Day would be kept strictly as a family day, with traditional sporting practices rolled over onto Boxing Day.

Originally, the rules were that such fixtures had to be held between two teams who were located as geographically near to one another as possible. This was because it was often difficult for spectators to travel to matches being held on a public holiday. This is not such a problem nowadays, as much of the UK’s public transport network runs a Sunday service on Boxing Day. The sheer number of different games taking place all on one day means that Boxing Day is among the busiest days of the year for English bookmakers and those who enjoy betting on football.

Boxing Day Schedule 2021

If you are truly football mad (or for those with children who simply won’t allow you to sleep past 6AM as they MUST get back to their new presents!), you can get out of bed early to enjoy the best imported matches from Australia. BT Sport are showing a range of matches including the Newcastle Jets vs Western Sydney Wanderers, Melbourne Victory Women vs Melbourne City Women, and McArthur FC vs Sydney FC beginning at 6:05AM.

If you like your boxing day football a little later in the day, the big games kick off at 12:30pm:

12:30- Liverpool v Leeds United         Premier League          BT Sport 1 & Ultimate

12:30- St Johnstone v Celtic               Scottish Premiership   Sky Sports Main Event & Football / Sky Showcase

15:00– Barnsley v Stoke City              Championship             Sky Sports Main Event & Football / Sky Showcase

15:00– Cardiff City v Coventry City     Championship             Sky Sports Red Button

15:00- Huddersfield v Blackpool         Championship             Sky Sports Red Button

15:00- Hull City v Blackburn Rovers    Championship             Sky Sports Red Button

15:00- Luton Town v Bristol City        Championship             Sky Sports Red Button

15:00- Peterborough v Reading         Championship             Sky Sports Red Button

15:00- Aberdeen v Dundee                 Scottish Premiership   RedTV

15:00- Dundee v Hibernian                Scottish Premiership   DuTV

15:00- Hearts v Ross County               Scottish Premiership   Hearts TV

15:00- Motherwell v Livingston          Scottish Premiership   Motherwell FC Live

15:00- Rangers v St Mirren                 Scottish Premiership   RangersTV

17:20- Bromley v Southend United    National League          BT Sport 1

17:30- Aston Villa v Chelsea               Premier League          Sky Sports Main Event, Premier League & UltraHD

20:00- Brighton & Hove v Brentford  Premier League          Sky Sports Main Event, Premier League & UltraHD

As you can see, the Brits truly are dedicated to their boxing day football – you best get your PVR ready to record if you want to catch even half of the matches on offer!

Huynh Nguyen

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