Blogs & Opinion


Johnny Phillips:

Most Popular Posts:

A game changer?

No-one can afford a bad Christmas, say stats men...

Johnny Phillips - Johnny Phillips Posted 5th December 2011 view comments

All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit. So sang Birkenhead's finest Half Man Half Biscuit, encapsulating the beautiful relationship between football and the festive season.

Now December has arrived we can fully embrace the most important month in the football calendar. Why is it the most important month? I've no idea, but that's what everyone is telling me it is.

"There's a lot of important games coming up over Christmas." Every year it's the same. Likewise managers cast their eye over December earnestly declaring how crucial it is to get through this period without picking up any injuries. As if some sort of plague is going to beset training grounds up and down the country and strike down star forwards simply because it's December. Like Tuberculosis or Meningitis, squads must be inoculated against the Congested Christmas Fixture List.

Making a gnome for himself: Stoke's Peter Crouch

Making a gnome for himself: Stoke's Peter Crouch

And we fans are no different. Simply because one extra game happens to be thrown in on Boxing Day it suddenly becomes a defining month of the season. There are still only three points available in that game but listening to supporters it's easy to be lulled into thinking the league table will take shape at this time of year and remain cast in stone for the rest of the season.

Excitement

No-one can afford a bad Christmas. We know this because the stats men tell us so. Being the bottom side at Christmas must be avoided at all costs. Like turning on the radio and hearing Chris Rea's 'Driving Home For Christmas', it is an affliction that leaves permanent scars. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse lie in wait for whichever side is bestowed the fate of Bottom Club at Christmas.

I gave Bianca Westwood, an avid Hammers fan, a ten pound bet on West Ham for the FA Cup at 80/1, only to realise later they'd drawn Arsenal away in the third round.

Johnny Phillips
Quotes of the week

Of course this is not to dilute the excitement of festive fixtures. Boxing Day has always been a favourite although there was a time when teams would play successive days on the 25th and 26th.

The last Christmas Day fixtures in England were played in 1959, but in Scotland they played on this date right up until 1976. Goodness knows how fans would cope with that scenario now. A Boxing Day game usually draws a bumper crowd as fans look to break free from the shackles of the leftover turkey, in-laws and wartime films. In fact, this fixture is a football fan's very own Great Escape.

And what about this for a set of results from the top flight on Boxing Day 1963: Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea, Burnley 6-1 Man Utd, Fulham 10-1 Ipswich, Leicester 2-0 Everton, Liverpool 6-1 Stoke, Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheffield Utd, WBA 4-4 Tottenham, Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Bolton, Wolves 3-3 Aston Villa, West Ham 2-8 Blackburn. Sixty six goals in one division, no wonder we get so excited at this time of year.

Embattled

And of course it is embraced at Sky Sports with the snowmen graphics, festive music bubbling along under the promos, Christmas trees on the set of every show and Christmas Day special editions of Soccer AM and Soccer Saturday.

Out in the regions Sky Sports News reporters will be popping up at training grounds asking embattled managers what they want for Christmas before being dispatched to the Stoke City club shop in search of a Peter Crouch gnome. And manna from heaven if it's actually snowing because there'll be a groundsmen's snowball fight to be filmed too.

The Soccer Saturday staff love Christmas. Secret Santa is diligently organised every season. And every year it follows the same format.

Our assistant producer Caroline marshals the draw with a keen eye and threatens everyone to secrecy. Carly, our production co-ordinator, then spends the next fortnight working out who has got who. The lads in the office lack any imagination so are more than happy to seek advice on what to buy.

I thought I'd pulled a blinder out a couple of years ago when I gave Bianca Westwood, an avid Hammers fan, a ten pound bet on West Ham for the FA Cup at 80/1, only to realise later they'd drawn Arsenal away in the third round.

But at least that offering had potential. Pity the soul who Jeff Stelling picks out of the hat. He bought Caroline a wooden hen last season, about as much use as an igloo in the Bahamas.

Jeff's stats man Trev wasn't going to take any chances with his pick this year. He thoughtfully emailed me asking what I wanted. Well what do you think, Trev? A Dukla Prague away kit, of course.

back to top

Other Football Experts:

Latest Posts in Football:

Guillem Balague

Balague: Contenders not ready

Athletic, Sevilla and Valencia haven't yet got what it takes to crack the top three, says Guillem Balague....

Gary Neville

Neville blames Toon signings

Gary Neville says Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is suffering for failing to sign enough experience....

Graeme Souness

Souness mystified by Hart call

Should Costa start? Why was Hart dropped? Read Graeme Souness' Champions League preview....

Latest News RSS feeds

Pardew job safe for now

Sky sources understand that Alan Pardew’s job as manager of Newcastle United remains safe for the time being.

Ronaldo return 'two years off'

Cristiano Ronaldo's dream return to Manchester United is unlikely to happen in the next 12 months, says Guillem Balague.

Carragher questions Mignolet

Jamie Carragher says Liverpool may need to look for another goalkeeper if Simon Mignolet fails to improve.

Manchester City v Roma preview

Premier League champions Manchester City welcome Roma to the Etihad Stadium for their Champions League Group E clash.

Sporting v Chelsea preview

Sporting Lisbon host Chelsea at the Estadio Jose Alvalade in the Champions League with both chasing a first Group G win.

Features

Champions League: Andre Villas Boas has made a strong start to his time in charge of Zenit St Petersburg

Champions League: Andre Villas Boas has made a strong start to his time in charge of Zenit St Petersburg

“If we win all nine matches, Zenit will be champions.” The words of Andre Villas Boas upon being named Zenit St Petersburg manager in March seemed wildly optimistic given the circumstances.

Champions League: Francesco Totti hoping to star for AS Roma against Manchester City at the age of 38 years old

Champions League: Francesco Totti hoping to star for AS Roma against Manchester City at the age of 38 years old

If the country’s island mentality dictates that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to score four goals in an international friendly for Sweden before having his genius recognised in England, then Francesco Totti really is in trouble. The Roma icon’s record on English soil is bewilderingly bad.

Inter's 2010 Champions League side: Where are they now?

Inter's 2010 Champions League side: Where are they now?

Some have retired, others are back in South America. One has even found his way to the Indian Super League, while another has opted for the less exotic climes of Leicester. Here we remember Inter's Champions League winning squad from 2010...