The idea of Boro playing on Christmas Day is something unheard of for fans of modern football. Yet, in Boro’s days at Ayresome Park the Christmas Day fixture proved a big draw to for Teesside’s football faithful.

Dr Tosh Warwick

Manchester Metropolitan University | Heritage Unlocked

07591093136 | t.warwick@mmu.ac.uk

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Some at the Riverside will still remember attending these matches which continued into the 1950s.

In fact, the Christmas Day football fixture was one of the staples of sporting culture on Teesside dating back to the Victorian period at a time of scarcity of public holidays and less leisure time than today.

In the club’s early decades Boro often faced familiar local opposition on Christmas Day including Darlington and a number of ties against South Bank in the 1890s, including a 7-1 win at the Linthorpe Road Ground in 1893 which Glasper and Kershaw’s The Boro Bible reveals brought the club record gate receipts of £40 (worth approximately £3,300 today). Of the large attendance, the Northern Review reporter declared:

‘I really didn’t think there were so many people in the town willing to forsake the pleasures of the Christmas table and family circle to see the merry football chased about’.

After the move to professionalism and Ayresome Park, the famous old ground’s first Christmas Day league fixture was a 1-0 win over Birmingham City courtesy of a goal by world-record signing Alf Common. Other notable Christmas Day matches in the first decade at the Boro’s new home including a defeat of Sunderland and an incredible 7-3 home defeat to Bradford City in front of 25,000 in 1909.

In 1914 in the early months of the First World War, Boro defeated Notts County 1-0 in front of a depleted Ayresome Park wartime crowd of 9,000.  The fixture proved to be the club’s final Christmas Day Division 1 fixture until the end of the war and the resumption of League football in 1919, with the first yuletide tie fixture until a 5-3 defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor with Butler, George Carr and goalscoring legend George Elliott on the scoresheet for the Teessiders.

The Second World War would also bring further disruption to life on Teesside, depleted crowds and turmoil for the football fixture calendar with league football suspended and the North East Regional League provided Boro’s competitive football. One particularly notable wartime fixture was what the North Eastern Daily Gazette ‘a heartily welcomed, and perhaps unexpected, Christmas box’ as Boro defeated Bradford City 6-0 in front of 4,000 fans at Ayresome.

Ayresome Park last league home Christmas outing saw Brian Clough grab a brace in a 3-2 win as  Boro completed a fightback against Doncaster Rovers in 1956 in front of a crowd of 16,515. Ominously the Boro’s last Christmas Day fixture was against Huddersfield Town, this year’s Boxing Day visitors, with a 1-0 defeat at Leeds Road in 1957 bringing to an end Boro’s mixed fortunes on Christmas Day!