Football Features

The stories behind the crazy scores of Boxing Day 1963

By Ben Green

The stories behind the crazy scores of Boxing Day 1963

Published: 12:00, 25 December 2023

Dread it. Run from it. The First Division scores from Boxing Day 1963 arrive on your Twitter feed all the same. And now it’s here.

Boxing Day football and social media have spawned the inescapable tradition-within-a-tradition of peppering your timeline with the screenshot below. But how about the stories behind those scores?

To paint a picture of the time, The Beatles had just released their debut album Please Please Me in March of that year, From Russia with Love (the second James Bond film) premiered in Leicester Square around autumn, and Tottenham became the first British football team to win a European trophy in mid-May.

England had endured a particularly cold winter spanning from December 1962 to the following March, to put it mildly. You’ve heard of a cold, windy night in Stoke. Even this would have given Tony Pulis goosebumps. Or made Sean Dyche put a coat on. It was a winter so cold it is now infamously referred to as the “Big Freeze”. As a result, on December 26th, 1962, only three top-flight games went ahead.

But if Boxing Day 1963 was supposed to be a return to normalcy, the old English First Division had other ideas.

In total, a record 66 goals for a single day were scored across 10 matches. Six players claimed hat-tricks, too, and four men were sent off.

Let’s take this one game at a time…

Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea

In preparation for their game against Blackpool, Blues boss Tommy Docherty and his players spent Christmas Day in a seaside hotel. By half-time in front of around 17,000 fans at Bloomfield Road, Chelsea were already 4-0 up. Blackpool goalkeeper Tony Walters was probably relieved he was kept busy in the cold conditions, but this was a rout so comprehensive even he would have struggled to find the silver lining.

Terry Venables, later to become England’s manager, put the gloss on that triumph. Incredibly, though, this was one of the day’s lower-scoring affairs.

Burnley 6-1 Man Utd

Sir Matt Busby’s Red Devils made the short journey to Turf Moor only four points off the top of the table at the start of the day, and they were looking for a major response having just lost to Everton 4-0 five days prior.

For context, Burnley won the First Division in 1960. But with a side that contained the likes of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Nobby Stiles, this still seemed a likely win for the FA Cup holders. Burnley striker Andy Lochhead saw things differently. The physically robust Scotsman was one of the aforementioned six to net a hat-trick, and he went one better by registering a ‘poker’ (four goals).

Andy Lochhead fooling around with the greyhound track bell at Wembley ahead of the 1971 League Cup Final between Aston Villa and Tottenham

Reflecting years later, Lochhead did not doubt in his mind that his four-goal haul against Man Utd on that crazy afternoon was his greatest achievement. “In all my years in football, without a doubt it was the best game I was involved in,” he told the Scottish Daily Mail.

“It was just a magical day; 6-1 was a hell of a score and to score four goals was the icing on the cake. It was absolutely superb for a small town like Burnley and a fantastic day for the fans to do it against Man United.

“It was the highlight of my career. My mate Willie Morgan and I have been out a few times over the years doing the question-and- answer sessions. Every time that game comes up, he points out that he got Man of the Match, even though I scored four!”

But Burnley’s performance inadvertently led to the formation of Man Utd’s ‘Holy Trinity’, comprising Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and perhaps the most naturally talented player in the history of European football.

Man Utd exacted revenge just a couple of days later by beating Burnley 5-1 at Old Trafford, this time with a certain George Best in the side. Angered by the Boxing Day result, Busby reached out to Belfast, where a then 17-year-old Best was spending the Christmas period with his family. The teenager was recalled to Man Utd’s first team and scored in what was only his second senior appearance for the club. “Bobby [Charlton] was one among many convinced that Best was special after this [5-1] performance,” wrote Eamon Dunphy in A Strange Kind of Glory.

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Fulham 10-1 Ipswich

This tie remains both Fulham’s record league win and Ipswich’s heaviest defeat. Graham Leggat of Fulham scored the fastest hat-trick in English Football League history at the time, a record that stood till Sadio Mane broke it in 2015 while playing for Southampton against Aston Villa, claiming the match ball in just two minutes and 56 seconds.

Leggat added another to become one of three players who scored four that Boxing Day, the others being Liverpool’s Roger Hunt and the aforementioned Lochhead.

Graham Leggat of Fulham

It was some fall from grace for Ipswich. They were 1962 English champions under Alf Ramsey but finished the 1963/64 season in dead last with Jackie Milburn then at the helm, having shipped 121 goals. Ten of those came here and following their decimation, Ipswich chairman John Cobbold gave his thoughts on what went wrong: “Our goalkeeper was the only sober player in our team.”

Fulham boss Bedford Jezzard suggested Ipswich suffered their own festive “Lasagna Gate”, though only half-jokingly: ”It must have been those lovely turkeys we gave ’em for Christmas. From now on, they get one every week.”

Leicester 2-0 Everton

This was the lowest-scoring game of the day, which came at Filbert Street where the Foxes beat defending champions Everton 2-0. The Toffees would ultimately surrender their crown to Merseyside rivals Liverpool at the end of the season by just five points. Harry Catterick’s men ended up finishing third and would perhaps attribute their title concession to this two-day capitulation at the hands of that season’s ‘kingmakers’ Leicester, as they also lost 3-0 at Goodison Park in the reverse fixture on December 28.

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Liverpool 6-1 Stoke

Five of the Reds’ six goals were bagged after the restart in this Anfield showdown. Ian St John broke the deadlock to ensure both sides entered the dressing room with the scoreline at a relatively low 1-0. However, Roger Hunt took control in the second 45 minutes, netting four times. Alf Arrowsmith added the other to send the Potters back to Staffordshire with tails well and truly between legs.

If Ipswich’s owner suspected his goalie was “the only sober player” at Craven Cottage, the opposite was true of the eventual title winners here. St John commented after the game that alcohol was strictly prohibited during the festive calendar by the legendary coach Bill Shankly, who told his players they could look forward to Santa arriving after the season with a beach towel over his shoulder instead of a sack.

“We had back-to-back games. Bill Shankly was adamant that no one would get drunk at that time. ‘You have your Christmas in the summer,’ he said. ‘You can over indulge then, if you like’,” St John quipped.

Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager

The following summer, Liverpool became champions of English football for the first time. They would go on to win 19 titles, a tally trumped by Man Utd alone.

Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield United

In isolation, this game would have been the fixture of the month. It may have dwarfed, comparatively speaking, by the giant killings and shellackings dished out on this record-breaking day, but it is still arguably the contest that would have been the most riveting, as it was actually a contest.

Forest raced into a 3-0 lead and it looked to be heading in the direction of a rout, but the Blades rallied and restored parity through a Mick Jones brace and another from Welsh wizard Len Allchurch.

Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton Wanderers

In the space of two days, both of these sides beat each other 3-0 on home soil, but it was the Owls who enjoyed Boxing Day success. Managed by future Barcelona boss Vic Buckingham (also known as the man who gave a 17-year-old Johan Cruyff his league debut at Ajax), Sheff Wed were clearly in capable hands. The supposed pioneer of Total Football oversaw a 3-0 triumph that would eventually bloody the nose of Bolton en route to their relegation from the division.

West Brom 4-4 Tottenham

Then-Baggies manager Jimmy Hagan would be wincing at the sight of snoods, under-armour and dugout blankets in the modern game as he actually forced his players to train in shorts despite the bitter cold.

This sparked a training ground walkout by the West Brom players in January, days after their eight-goal Boxing Day thriller. Facing the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup holders Spurs, the Midlands-based side pulled off a commendable 4-4 draw in front of 34,000 spectators in the Black Country.

Jimmy Greaves got on the scoresheet twice and gave a glowing account of the “rip-roaring atmosphere at The Hawthorns.” They certainly produced a spectacle worthy of such a percussive audience.

West Ham 2-8 Blackburn

“We got absolutely smashed that day, Blackburn murdered us. They got a standing ovation off the pitch, and you could hear a pin drop in the home dressing room afterwards,” said a then 16-year-old Harry Redknapp.

The Hammers were in the age of a golden era during the 60s. Then managed by future England head coach and East End immortal Ron Greenwood, the esteemed tactician won the FA Cup that year with a squad containing World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore, as well as other 1966 heroes Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.

Bobby Moore of West Ham

Still, that wasn’t enough to prevent the bloodthirsty attacking exploits of then league-leaders Blackburn, who executed a demolition job at Upton Park. Fred Pickering and Andy McEvoy both helped themselves to hat-tricks, with Guardian journalist Albert Barham reflecting, at that time, that “everything West Ham did was tinged with misfortune, while everything Blackburn did was coldly calculated and correct.”

Wolves 3-3 Aston Villa

Another six-goal thriller that perhaps paled in comparison to some of the more script-defying fixtures up and down the land. When a 3-3 is considered a bore-draw you know it’s a special day. Tony Hateley, Vic Crowe and Dave Pountney were all on the scoresheet for the visitors, while a goal from Terry Wharton and a Ray Crawford brace secured the point for Wolves.