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When Christmas Day & Boxing Day meant game after game for Swansea !
Sunday, 26th Dec 2021 12:55 by Keith Haynes & Open Source

It used to be seen as the finest week of the football year. Teams facing up to each other home and away over twenty four hours on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The crowds used to be incredibly high and the fixtures themselves could sway dramatically game to game.

In fact Everton hold the daunting stat of actually playing two games on Christmas day and again the next day, seriously !

Swansea & Bristol Rovers played their final Christmas Day fixtures in 1957,at Swansea on Christmas Day. Then the swans went to Eastville for the return twenty four hours later. Whilst it’s only about eighty miles to Swansea from Bristol and, these days, takes no more than an hour and a half to travel between the two cities, it would have taken a fair bit longer sixty four years ago as there was no motorway linking England to Wales, and no Severn Bridge crossing either, the first bridge being completed in 1966.

Those facts, along with the small matter of it being Christmas Day and a public holiday, means that it’s unlikely that few Rovers supporters were at the Vetch and that there were very few Swans supporters at Eastville the next day.

Christmas Day 1957

Bristol Rovers : Nicholls, Bamford, Watling, Sykes, Hale, Sampson, Petherbridge, Biggs, Meyer, Ward, Hooper.

Swansea City : King, Griffiths, Beech, Brown, Peake, Kennedy, Allchurch (L), Lewis, Charles (M), Allchurch (I), Jones (C).

Under the heading ‘ROVERS LET IN SIX’ the match report began; ‘This Christmas Day game was one Swansea fans will remember for a long time. ‘Luckless Swansea, struggling at the foot of the table, played brilliant copybook football which at times had Rovers in so much trouble that even centre forward Meyer was seen in the Rovers penalty area lending a much needed hand. Although Swansea were in such devastating form, the Rovers were by no means outplayed and deserved full credit for the way in which they fought back to level the score at 4-4 after being 3-1 down. Nevertheless, for Rovers manager Bert Tann, it could not have been a very Happy Christmas Day.’

Bottom of the table going into this game, Swansea opened the scoring on 19 minutes through Mel Charles (brother of John) while Cliff Jones, the future Spurs star, added a second, from the penalty spot on the half hour mark before Peter Sampson scored his first goal in more than two years to reduce the deficit on 36 minutes. Two minutes later Ivor Allchurch restored the Swans’ two goal lead though Ward, on 42 minutes, and Biggs two minutes into the second half, made it 3-3. Jones scored again for the home side on 62 minutes, but it was 4-4 eight minutes later as Meyer equalised for The Gas. However, Swansea finished with a flourish as Charles scored his second goal of the game on 72 minutes and Jones completed his hat trick after 78 minutes. The Christmas Day crowd of 11,340 certainly got their moneys worth as they saw a CRACKER of a game!

The twenty four hours later!

The Boxing Day headline was; SWANSEA TOWN OUTPLAYED AT EASTVILLE and the match report began as follows; ‘Bristol Rovers supporters who have waited patiently for a home success since 16th November, were more than amply rewarded at Eastville yesterday when they saw their team playing good class football throughout, backed up with splendid determination. They completely outplayed Swansea who had been the winners on Christmas Day.’ Rovers, for whom Meyer and Biggs had both gone close with early headers, took the lead after only eight minutes. Petherbridge played in Ward and his pass found Hooper who crossed into the box where Meyer headed past King.

Two minutes later another Meyer effort was cleared off the line and as they continued to take the game to their opponents, a second goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived on 29 minutes. Ward played in Petherbridge, who found Meyer out on the right and then took a return pass from his team mate and raced through the Swansea defence before placing a shot wide of goalkeeper King and into the net.

Petherbridge scored his second, and Rovers third, in the second half after Hooper played in Biggs and he, in turn, found Petherbridge who took the ball in his stride and ran on to beat King with a well placed effort. There was no way back for Swansea after that, though they did go close to pulling a goal back through Ivor Allchurch before the ninety minutes were up. Pyle, playing only his third game of the season (he would end the season with 18 appearances to his name), was named as Rovers Man of the Match. Incredibly, there were 22,640 fans at Eastville for this game in a season when home gates of 20,00 were the norm rather than the exception.

Petherbridge against Swansea on Boxing Day 1957

When did football stop being played at Christmas in Britain ?

Formerly an annual Football League tradition, the last fixtures to be played on December 25 in England were in 1959. There were only two games on that day - Blackburn beat Blackpool 1-0 in the old First Division and Coventry beat Wrexham 5-3 in the third, the latter fixture providing more in the way of merriment. The last time a full round of fixtures was scheduled on December 25th was in 1976, though many games were postponed due to the weather. It was five years previous to that when a full round of Scottish top-flight fixtures was played on Christmas Day, with Celtic and Rangers both winning that day in 1971. The first division as it was then back in the early eighties tried to revise the Christmas Day fixtures, but an attempt to do so ended up with the games being played on Christmas eve. Nothing has really come close since. The byline for the idea, “ Men go to the game, she cooks the Christmas dinner in peace” I do not jest.

Photographs licensed from Reuters

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