I’ll start with a brief history relating to Boxing Day football. In the Victorian and Edwardian era’s football was known to be played back-to-back on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. With public holidays clubs would gain bumper crowds as the working class had the free time to attend the games. Over the years with the improvement to the working class’s living standards, with the peacetime that came from the end of the world wars, the improvement and availability of food standards. Christmas Day became more of a family orientated day leaving the space for Boxing Day to take the lead for the festive football. In fact, it was 1965 the last time the football league hosted a game on Christmas Day. Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Blackpool 1st Division and Coventry City 5-3 Wrexham 3rd Division. So for the last fifty five years Boxing Day has truly cemented itself as the standout fixture in the football calendar and a true English tradition.
Given the chance Herr Klopp and Senior Guardiola would love to end this tradition in favour of taking their prima donnas on a winter break, especially if there is an African Cup of Nations ahead in the January. They can keep those thoughts to themselves, and we will carry on like we have been since the late 1800’s enjoying our festive football calendar.
Boxing Day to me means a freezing cold day out at County, wrapped up warm and an undrinkable hot Bovril. However, it wasn’t until 1995 when I could quite clearly pinpoint and remember going to a boxing day game. Carlisle United at home, County win 2-0, goals coming from Alun Armstrong and a magnificent solo effort from the late great John Jeffers. This isn’t why I remember the game so much though. The pitch was frozen, the Railway End was packed with Cumbrians, and an alternative goalkeeper kit was worn by two county players that day. A 35th minute injury to Neil Edwards forced Dave Jones into a tough decision, no sub keeper available so Tony Dinning took the gloves and took his place between the sticks. Dindo would go on to keep a clean sheet for county.
My first Boxing Day away day experience would come twelve months later. A short trip along the M56 and over the Welsh border into Wrexham. A 1200+ blue and white army taking over. I was excited to see Martyn Chalk and Peter Ward as they had both been brilliant to me when I was mascot a few years earlier. This was a special season as we all know, and it was the reverse fixture with Wrexham that was the catalyst for the season success. In true County style we would fall to an early two goal deficit, but we turn it around to win 3-2 with that man Tony Dinning slotting the winning goal from the penalty spot.
1997 would bring a boxing day bumper crowd of more than 10,000 to Edgeley Park with the visit of Port Vale. County now playing in the second tier of English football. Not only were the crowd treated to an emphatic 3-0 win, but we also witnessed one of if not the best team goals scored by a County side ever. This was a fast slick passing move from back to front finished off by Tom Bennett. The kind of goal you would become accustomed to watching Brazil score. Truly a magnificent County moment.
1998 would present me with my first taste of defeat on a boxing day. 1-0 loss to Barnsley courtesy of a first half Arjan De Zeeuw goal. Again a 10,000 strong attendance packed into Edgeley Park. I can also remember meeting a special guest at this game, former darts world champion Dennis “The Menace” Priestley. Moving onto 1999 we are again back at Edgeley Park for a visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers and again treated to a festive spectacular event. County sitting sixth in the first division table again attracting a 10,000 attendance for the visit of one of the bigger clubs in English football, and yet again a game that did not disappoint. Some calamitous defending gifting Wolves two goals either side of a (that man again) Tony Dinning spectacular free kick. Then record signing Ian Moore comes off the bench after arriving late to the ground to score with his first touch to equalise and then go on to net the three points. Another special County Day.
After the turn of the millennium, we would face a trip to Blundell Park for a 1-1 draw against Grimsby. 26/12/01 would see a 3-1 home defeat to Barnsley in a miserable season for county. 2002 didn’t get any better, a trip over the tops to Mansfield. Absolutely frozen I was and a truly lacklustre performance losing 4-2. Interestingly Dave Challinor makes his first County Boxing Day appearance. 2003 brings more disappointment as County lose late on at home 0-1 to Wrexham. 2004 brings another defeat this time 2-1 home defeat to Bristol City, yet again that man Tony Dinning makes another Boxing Day appearance this time playing for Bristol at Edgeley Park. County would go onto drop down another tier that season.
2005 Boxing Day fixture goes down in County history, a local away day, I’m now old enough to drink legally, the away end is packed, I’m stood with my mates all half cut revelling in the pre match atmosphere. What could possibly go wrong? Well, where to start, it all went wrong when the ref blew the whistle for the match to kick off. Macclesfield Town 6-0 County, the less said about that bit between 15:00 and 16:55 the better. What happened next was more important, a chant from the fans that have been able to handle watching until the end “Turner give us a wave, Turner, Turner give us a wave” we get a wave from Chris Turner, “Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio” followed by many expletives from the County faithful. Step forward Mr Gannon. Safety from relegation to non-league is secured on the last day of that season.
2006 a first win in five attempts on boxing day came at home to Notts County 2-0. 2007 Shrewsbury away a 3-1 loss at our last visit to Gay Meadow, after going 1-0 down in the first half we would also go a man down with a Michael Raynes dismissal, County would come back to equalise with 15 to play but eventually would concede twice. A fantastic day out though none the less. 2008 another defeat 1-0 away at Walsall. 2009 again a 4-1 loss away to MK Dons with Jermain Easter scoring against us. 2010 would bring a postponement for the first time since 1994. 2011 would see a first boxing day in non-league Barrow away a very forgettable 0-1 defeat, my first visit to Holker Street and a very long drive home. 2012 brings a new low, a toxic atmosphere in Edgeley Park 0-2 Hyde United, sickening. 2013 finally brings a win 4-1 at home to Bradford Park Avenue, unfortunately now playing at tier six. 2014 could it get any lower? A very forgettable 1-1 draw at home to Colwyn Bay. 2015 proved yes things could get lower a 1-2 home defeat to Harrogate Town. Three games later though Neil Young is relieved of his duties Mike Flynn takes caretaker charge, then Jim returns. Things start to turn around on the pitch.
2016 Harrogate away the shoots of recovery are well and truly growing. Courtney Meppen Walters scores a beauty in front of a packed away following along the side of the pitch. 1-0 away win. 2017 another win, 1-0 at home to Alfreton Town. 2018 2-0 home win to Altrincham, step forward Frank Mulhern, what a touch, what a goal at a Cheadle End that is starting to fill up again, County are on our way back.
2019 would see us back into the fifth tier. A home match against Halifax Town producing an almost complete team performance. 5-1 win with an Elliot Osbourne hat trick. A crowd back at 5500. Nobody expects what was next to come. Covid hits and the season is halted and decided on ppg and county miss out on the play offs.
2020 was a new one for us all. A boxing day fixture behind closed doors. 1-1 away at Altrincham watching on a stop start overpriced live stream. We all know football is for fans and not to be watched through a television screen.
We have missed this fixture and this year we get to be back in Edgeley Park, festive drinks with our mates, some of whom we only know through County. Let’s make it another special County Day.
Until I did the research for this article, I didn’t really realise how much Tony Dinning loved this fixture, County’s very own Boxing Day gift that kept on giving.
Merry Christmas to all the County family.
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Photo credit: Mike Petch