In America, sports and Christmas go hand in hand, and in Australia it used to be

In America, sports and Christmas go hand in hand, and in Australia it used to be

For those of you who believe that Christmas Day should remain sacred and exempt from professional sports, you may want to look away.

Pitches and courts across the country have been silent on December 25 for almost half a century, but not anymore as the NBL prepares to host its first game on Christmas Day.

Melbourne United travel to the Sydney Superdome to take on the Kings at 6.30pm AEDT.

The Sydney Kings are about to add some sport to our Christmas Day schedule.(Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

The NBL promoted the match as “the last scheduling frontier in sport in Australia” when it was announced in July, and from a modern perspective it’s true.

However, Christmas Day was once a fixture around the world, and in some places it still is.

Football, a British Christmas tradition

In the UK, football is a staple of the festive season, with fans looking forward to Boxing Day all year round.

However, football was also regularly played on Christmas Day, from the first days of the league in 1889, when Preston North End beat Aston Villa 3-2 at Deepdale, until the last match on Christmas Day in 1965.

Santa holding an Aston Villa scarf
Aston Villa played the first Christmas game in the Football League in 1889.(Getty Images: Aston Villa FC/Neville Williams)

Playing matches on one of the few bank holidays of the year actually makes sense – especially in the pre-television era – and the crowds have regularly been very healthy.

Some memorable matches took place on Christmas Day, often with plenty of goals scored.

Christmas Day 1940 was particularly wild as Norwich beat Brighton 18-0 – although Brighton had to resort to fielding young players and even pulled in some people from the crowd to make the team – Southend United beat Clapton Orient 9-3, Bournemouth beat Bristol City 7-1 and Bury drew 5-5 with Halifax.

In 1937, Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram not only had to play on Christmas Day, he was left alone on the pitch for 15 minutes.

After thick fog descended on Stamford Bridge for the Chelsea v Charlton match, the referee ordered everyone to leave – but Bartram didn’t realize he had stayed on the pitch until a policeman emerged from the fog to tell him everyone else had left.

The goalkeeper is standing next to the goal in the fog
Arsenal’s Jack Kelsey had a game-stopping fog problem in 1952, but his teammates probably told him when the game ended. (Getty Images: PA Images)

Christmas Day matches ended in the late 1950s, with the last English Football League match played on Christmas Day being Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers in 1965, with Blackpool winning 4–2 in front of a crowd of 21,000.

However, not only men played on Christmas Day.

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