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Dec 26, 2011

Boxing Day bonanza

On Boxing Day 1963, in the midst of the 'Big Freeze', the English First Division saw a glut of goals unlike anything before. In total, 66 were scored in the ten matches in the top flight, while across all four divisions there were 160 netted, with seven players bagging hat-tricks and four men sent off. One of the most incredible days of football saw the watching public speculate loudly whether or not the players had enjoyed Christmas Day a little too much and the Daily Mirror's Harry Miller wrote under a headline of 'Mad, mad, mad, mad world of Soccer on Boxing Day' that the ''First Division defenders had got into the gift-giving act".

Fulham 10-1 Ipswich was a result that remains both Fulham's record league win and Ipswich's heaviest defeat and was all the more impressive as the Tractor Boys had been champions only 18 months earlier. Ipswich's deep-lying forward Jimmy Leadbetter had received plenty of praise in the previous season, but was outdone on the day by winger Joe Broadfoot, who was remarkably given a standing ovation by the home fans after giving defender Jim Langley a torrid afternoon, despite the heavy defeat.

The game was essentially over after just 20 minutes as Fulham's Maurice Cook opened the scoring, before Graham Leggat bagged the fastest ever hat-trick in the First Division with a three-minute blitz on a quagmire of a pitch. Fulham's ''white whirlwind'' continued to rip Ipswich apart and Bobby Howfield then picked up three goals of his own, with Bobby Robson, Alan Mullery and Leggat's fourth finishing them off. Gerry Baker's consolation was a rare moment of joy for the away support.

Fulham boss Bedford Jezzard said after the game: ''It must have been those lovely turkeys we gave 'em for Christmas. From now on, they get one every week." Ipswich chairman John Cobbold could only retort: "It could have gone either way, until the match began."

League leaders Blackburn won 8-2 against West Ham away from home, as they enjoyed another trip to London. Earlier in the season, Rovers had hit seven against Tottenham and four against Arsenal and inflicted the heaviest ever home defeat on a West Ham side who had not won in the First Division since November 2.

Miller wrote: "Their [West Ham's] tactics were all wrong and their covering terrible. Blackburn on a rain-lashed, pudding of a pitch, banged the ball about with poise and precision." It was attrition warfare, as Fred Pickering opened the scoring after seven minutes and Bryan Douglas made it two after half an hour. Before the break, it was 4-0 with goals from Andy McEvoy and Mike Ferguson. In the second-half, Pickering and McEvoy strolled through the Hammers' ''woefully weak defence'' to claim their hat-tricks and, despite Johnny Byrne's double, there was no way back.

The Guardian's Albert Barham summed up the game thus: "Everything West Ham did was tinged with misfortune. Everything Blackburn did was coldly calculated and correct."

Amid a row over the length of the Baggies' trousers, West Brom came back from 4-2 down to secure a thrilling 4-4 draw at the Hawthorns. Days earlier, West Brom's players had gone on strike when they were told by manager Jimmy Hagan that they would have to wear shorts while training in freezing conditions, but peace was reached ahead of their Boxing Day fixture and the Daily Mirror's Ken Jones wrote that "the only crisis at the Hawthorns was in the Spurs defence".

Hagan's men looked like they may crumble when Jimmy Greaves volleyed his side into the lead and Baggies' skipper Don Howe blasted a penalty over the bar after a quarter of an hour, before Greaves set up Bobby Smith for his 200th league goal. The home side rallied and got back into the game with a John Haye header, but it was soon 3-1 as Cliff Jones got one of his own. Clive Clark closed the gap again and made it 3-2, but Greaves proved the inspiration for Spurs once more to put them two clear for the third time in the game.

The Baggies were not done though and, perhaps spurred on by the cold, saw Mickey Fudge finish off a mazy 60-yard run from Clark, before Howe made amends for his penalty miss by grabbing an equaliser with ten minutes to go to make it 4-4. Spurs held on for the draw, but failed to keep up with Blackburn at the top of the league and ultimately finished the season in fourth place.

Five of Liverpool's goals in a 6-1 win against Stoke were scored in the second-half as they began their title assault in earnest, but it was Roger Hunt who stole the headlines for netting four of them. Ian St John began the scoring, and it was only 1-0 at half-time, but Hunt took over with a quickfire brace inside three second-half minutes and Alf Arrowsmith added the fourth. Another double from Hunt ensured that the Reds were well and truly on their way to glory, with Hunt (31 league goals), St John (21) and Arrowsmith (15) providing a vital contribution towards the club record 92 goals in the First Division that season.

Sun columnist Tim Heming later wrote: "Stoke got their revenge on the final day of the season but by then Bill Shankly's side were the newly-crowned champions."

Andy Lochhead was another to claim four goals as Burnley beat Manchester United 6-1, but it was 18-year-old Scottish schoolboy trialist Willie Morgan who caught the eye of The Guardian's Eric Todd, who wrote: "[His] all-round performance was one of the best I have ever seen from one of such tender years." The Clarets were organised and compact as they set about dismantling the FA Cup holders and it was down to ''Morgan's mastery'' that a series of frustrated fouls ultimately resulted in a red card for United defender Paddy Crerand.

Good work from John Angus saw Lochhead open the scoring early on and it was 22 minutes before Burnley allowed United their first shot on target - a tame effort from Bobby Charlton. The equaliser came from David Herd, but with Ray Pointer, Brian O'Neil and Lochhead in such form that Todd wrote "United never seemed likely to stop any of these characters", Burnley roared on and Lochhead's volley flew past David Haskell before the break.

With Morgan taking command in the second-half, the youngster scored his first for the club and then set up Lochhead as the duo added two more goals between them before the end. United were humbled, and the defeat would cost them dearly as they finished four points behind Liverpool at the top of the First Division.

While slightly overstating the scoreline, given the others on show, the first line of the Daily Mirror's match report sums Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea up. "This was a massacre,'' it read. "Everyone could have gone home at half-time."

The Chelsea players had spent Christmas Day in a seaside hotel in preparation for the game, but they showed little desire to hang around once the whistle went and put the game beyond reach before the break. Blackpool goalkeeper Tony Walters was kept busy early on but could not stop Albert Murray from opening the scoring, and Barry Bridges dived in to head the second soon after. Bobby Tambling then hit the third before Bridges bagged another before half-time to make it 4-0.

Blackpool made some positional changes, but Chelsea were "always that yard further to the ball" and, although Dave Durie got a goal back, saw out the game with a strike from the unselfish Terry Venables. Evidently all that the Blues had to lament was that full-back Eddie McCready was booked.

By comparison, the rest of games on show that day were poor, even though they contributed 17 goals between them. Nottingham Forest's 3-3 draw with Sheffield United was arguably the most interesting as the Blades were three behind and came back to secure a point with two goals from Mick Jones and one from Welsh star Len Allchurch.

A midlands derby between Wolves and Aston Villa ended 3-3, although both finished within ten points of the drop, while Sheffield Wednesday hammered Bolton Wanderers 3-0 to condemn the Trotters to a run of results that would ultimately see them relegated. Managed by future Barcelona boss Vic Buckingham, the Owls won through a Colin Dobson brace and one from Mark Pearson.

The lowest scoring game of the day was played at Filbert Street as Leicester City shocked the current champions Everton 2-0. The Toffees lost their title to their bitter rivals come the end of the season and The Sun later maintained that, after the Boxing Day bonanza, "the pendulum of power on Merseyside had tellingly swung from blue to red".

What happened next? There would never be another day like it in the English top flight, but these were times in which the return game between two sides could follow quickly on and, just two days later, West Ham beat Blackburn 3-1 at Ewood Park to begin a run that would see Rovers eventually slide down to seventh in the table. Ipswich also turned the tide on Fulham and won 4-2 at Portman Road (although they were relegated at the end of the season), while Manchester United recovered from their mauling against Burnley to hammer them 5-1 at Old Trafford and Bolton overcame the Owls 3-0 in their return game. Ultimately, the 1964 spotlight went to Liverpool as they lost just three in 16 games to claim title glory.

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