NBL plays on Christmas Day for first time, joins NBA, NFL and 1950’s Test cricket in scheduling December 25 games

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For those of you who believe Christmas Day should remain sacrosanct and free from professional sport, you might want to look away now.

Fields and courts around the country have been silent on December 25 for close to half a century, but no longer, as the NBL prepares to host its first Christmas Day fixture.

Melbourne United will travel to the Sydney Superdome to take on the Kings at 6:30pm AEDT.

The Sydney Kings are getting ready to slam some sport into our Christmas Day schedule.(Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

The NBL touted the match as “the last scheduling frontier in sport in Australia” when it was announced back in July and, from a modern perspective, that’s true.

However, once upon a time, Christmas Day was a fixture staple across the world and, in some places, still is.

Football, a UK Christmas tradition

In the UK, football is a festive season staple, with the Boxing Day fixtures one that fans look forward to all year.

However, football was also regularly played on Christmas Day as well, from the leagues’ earliest days in 1889, when Preston North End beat Aston Villa 3-2 at Deepdale, right through to the last Christmas Day fixture in 1965.

Santa holds an Aston Villa scarf
Aston Villa played the first Christmas Day match in the Football League in 1889.(Getty Images: Aston Villa FC/Neville Williams)

Playing matches on one of the few public holidays in the year actually makes sense — especially in the era before television — and the crowds were regularly very healthy.

Some memorable matches took place on Christmas Day, often with plenty of goals being scored.

Christmas Day 1940 was a particularly wild one, when Norwich thumped Brighton 18-0 — although Brighton did have to resort to fielding youth players and even pulled some people of the crowd to make a team — Southend United beat Clapton Orient 9-3, Bournemouth beat Bristol City 7-1 and Bury drew 5-5 with Halifax.

In 1937, Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram not only had to play on Christmas Day, but got left out in the field on his own for 15 minutes.

After heavy fog descended on Stamford Bridge in the match between Chelsea and Charlton, the referee ordered everyone off — but Bartram didn’t realise so remained on the field until a policeman emerged out of the mist to tell him everyone else had left.

A goalkeeper stands in the fog next to a goal
Arsenal’s Jack Kelsey had an issue with fog stopping a game in 1952, but presumably his teammates told him when the game had finished. (Getty Images: PA Images)

Christmas Day fixtures petered out in the late 1950s, with the last English Football League game to be played on Christmas Day being Blackpool versus Blackburn Rovers in 1965, when Blackpool won 4-2 in front of a crowd of 21,000 people.

It wasn’t just the men who played on Christmas Day though.



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