Re-Publishing historical football content digitally

I’m Dreaming of a Warm Christmas / I’m Dreaming of a Warm Christmas

I’m Dreaming of a Warm Christmas

By on 21 December 2017

In the January 1965 issue of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly (published in the third week of December 1964) Roland Allen penned quite an endearing article telling some football-related Christmas tales from history. As SoccerAttic prepares to go on a Christmas break, we thought it would be appropriate to re-publish it here for your enjoyment.

Forgive Mr Allen if the article seems a little rambling. We wonder if there was a little Christmas spirit flowing in the offices when he wrote this. This might explain his grumpiness when he talks about travelling by train in the snow with no buffet car refreshment! But there are some interesting snippets also not least the stories behind the formation of Chelsea and Glasgow Rangers. If you wish to read the pages as originally published you can read them by zooming in on the scans shown here. Oh, and because it’s Christmas, we’ve included a great pic of Jimmy Greaves from the centrefold of that same issue. Merry Christmas from Soccer Attic and enjoy.

… A series of Christmas Tales told by ROLAND ALLEN—who this year will be away from scenes like above.

ALFRED GOVER, Surrey and England fast bowler, stepped cautiously from a frail boat on to the towpath at Richmond, wearing a straw hat. Gentle snow was flaking the Thames. Boxing Day, 1947.

And before anybody thinks this has any connection with seeing pink elephants, let it be explained that Alfred had been coxswain, or something, in the Christmas annual regatta, organised by Middlesex Wanderers. Horace and Bob Alaway were not, as it might seem, a singing act, but two eminently respectable estate agents in the West End of London. Middlesex Wanderers were a touring team with no ground, no regular players, who invited distinguished amateurs to go abroad with them, were started by the Alaways. To play for them had the status of an International cap. The regatta, resulting from a challenge, included a soccer match on the green and and barrel organs in the streets. All for charity.

So, when the man on the next bar stool says: “What a pity we can’t keep the spirit of Christmas all the year round,” I think of the Alaways, and others, whom I shall drink a silent toast on Christmas Day and feel inclined to retort: “Well, don’t we?”

High on my list of happy warriors is Sam Cowan, captain of Manchester City in their 1933 and 1934 F.A. Cup finals, a good loser and a modest winner. A few weeks before he died, he and I and Joseph Hulme, Arsenal and England outside right, had a natter in the lunch room at Sussex County cricket ground. Joe talked of his five Cup Finals. Sam of his code of secret signals, used at Wembley. We got up to go back to the cricket.

“You might as well stop for tea, now,” said our waitress. So does time fly when the company is pleasant. May Sam, who did not need the spirit of Christmas to spread happiness, rest in peace. And the others.

Some aspects of Christmas we can do without for the rest of the year. When my stationer gently insinuates his Christmas greeting card book in my direction I know we are approaching the start of another Soccer season. Some day they will start trying to sell us things for the following festive season at the January sales.

Dreaming of a white Christmas? All right, as long as it remains a dream. On the day after Christmas in 1962 my front and back doors were blocked waist high with snowdrifts. I was supposed to go to a match in London. Mine and many other matches were snowed off. It snowed and snowed. By the time of the general thaw more than 400 League and Cup games had been postponed, some Cup-ties as many as ten times.

The F.A. Cup third round was begun on January 5, but only three matches could be played. It ended on March 11, when Middlesbrough beat Blackburn Rovers in a replay after ten postponements. You can keep your white Christmases . . . a sentiment which will be echoed by all who recall those awful cross-country journeys in trains without corridors, heat, dining cars or buffets, and refreshment rooms closed at all except the main stations.

Under Rule 19 of the F.A., any clubs, players, officials, referees and linesmen can opt out of Christmas Day matches. Of the many players who have done so, in all sincerity, there was Harold Fleming, the elegant and artistic Swindon Town forward, who ornamented several England sides before the First World War.

People who did play on Christmas Day got mixed up with some fantastic results. Whether because of the travelling, the weather, or that vague spirit of the season, we shall never know.

Eight shots—seven goals

In 1924 Johnny Duncan scored six for Leicester City against Port Vale. On Boxing Day, 1935, R. Bell got nine for Tranmere Rovers, who beat Oldham Athletic 13-4.

The Christmas tree was illuminated on Paddington station a few days earlier when the Arsenal travelled to Villa Park—and their centre-forward, Ted Drake, took eight shots at goal and scored with seven.

Dreaming? Potential F.A. Cup giant killers know just before Christmas which of the giants they have to meet just after it. Perhaps they dream of lots of lolly and luxury hotels and of victory.

Maybe, for a lot of them, there are just nightmares. The benevolent F.A. with their concern for players’ Christmas consciences, did a bit of clumsy timing in 1947. On December 21 they issued their first, and last, Black List.

On it were the names of 73 players who, between August 23 and December 13, had been cautioned by referees for offences ranging from the merely stupid to the unpleasantly vicious, some more than once. Famous names among them included internationals and representative players. They spent an unhappy festive season wondering what else was going to happen to them. Nothing did.

A Glasgow boy named Bill was given a football in 1873. His pals thought it called for the formation of a football team. They had got a bit bored with rowing on the Clyde, which had been their week-end recreation. But they decided that, although Bill could be admitted as a member, he was too old to play.

“No game for me, no football for you,” retorted Billy. So they raised the money for a ball. There was heated discussion as to what the club should be called. Eventually, they fixed upon Glasgow Rangers, the Rangers part being after an English Rugger club making a Christmas tour of Scotland.

Talking of tours, the Corinthians played the Rovers at Blackburn on Christmas Day in 1884. The great amateur side, which had been formed two years earlier to provide players for England—to match the Scots of Queen’s Park—won 8-1. To put this in perspective, the Rovers had won the F.A. Cup in the previous Spring for the first of three successive seasons. The Corinthians have gone.

Glasgow Rangers had a full-back named Robert McEwan. He moved from them a day or two after Christmas in 1904 and travelled to Stamford Bridge. There he joined the team which had no name and which up to then nobody had asked to play.

Five months later, two brothers named Mears having meanwhile turned down a handsome offer from the Great Western Railway—who wanted the Stamford Bridge ground for a marshalling yard—Chelsea were admitted to the Second Division of the Football League. Try to imagine Soccer show business without Chelsea to realise what a momentous decision it was!

A most curious game

Peace! Goodwill!! That would mean no penalty kicks. The objections of The Corinthians and the chief Old Boy clubs, when the kick was introduced in 1891, nearly prevailed.

They took the view that no sportsman worthy of the name would incur such a punishment, and that it was a slur on the good names of footballers in general.

There was no peace for me on Christmas and Boxing Day, 1917. I played in Soccer and Rugger matches outside the North gate of Baghdad. At Soccer my partner was a Chelsea goalkeeper, or so we gathered. In the Rugger match I got the ball and ran hard. The rest stood still until a very famous player of the time shouted:

“You’re running the wrong way, you B.F.!” I was, too.

I never took to that curious game. Again on a personal note there was the match on the Aston Villa ground between a local Press side and people playing in the pantomimes at the Birmingham theatres. The other 21 of us did all we could to give a goal to the late George Robey who was, let me tell you, no mean performer. Somebody signed George for Chelsea, the idea being put about that it was not fair that all the comedians should be in the directors’ box.

There will be no matches this Christmas Day. There never was any logical reason that there should be. It is not the higher motives, but simply the fact that they do not pay which inspired the decision. There are so many other things people can do, much more comfortably. I hope the Manchester United supporters visiting Bramall Lane on Boxing Day will enjoy their cold beer from plastic containers.

For me the sunshine somewhere near the equator. For the people who like Christmas at home . . .

God Rest You Merry, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Jimmy Greaves from CBFM Jan 1965. Click or tap to view a larger image