I can’t remember the last time we had a home game on Boxing Day, but I don’t think it has happened since we have been at the London Stadium. As a young boy I used to love going to Christmas games at Upton Park, and just like in modern times, they used to cram as many games as they could into the festive period. The first one I ever went to was actually on Christmas Day. Yes that’s right on 25th December. The Year was 1958, and my second ever visit to Upton Park on that day was for the visit of Tottenham. We beat them 2-1 with goals from my first favourite footballer, Johnny Dick and Vic Keeble. I believe that this was the very last time that West Ham played a game on Christmas Day. For good measure we visited White Hart Lane the following day and beat them 4-1 this time.
My next Christmas visit to Upton Park came on Boxing Day two years later (1960), but this wasn’t such a happy trip. Once again the visitors were our ‘friends’ from North London – this was their double season and they beat us 3-0. The following year (1961) Blackburn came down on Boxing Day and beat us 3-2. Two years after that on 26 December 1963 I witnessed one of the most remarkable games I have ever seen. Blackburn were once again the visitors and people never believe me when I say that it was a fairly even game – but they beat us 8-2! Two days later with just one change to the starting line up we went to Ewood Park and gained swift revenge with a 3-1 win. Johnny Byrne scored two goals that day – he was a magnificent footballer and goalscorer in his time with us – he hit 10 goals in a five game purple patch that culminated in the victory over Blackburn, and 25 league goals in the season (in 34 appearances), just eclipsing his 24 goals in 33 appearances the season before. He formed a formidable partnership with Geoff Hurst who was in the early part of his career.
On Boxing Day in 1966, we thrashed Blackpool 4-1 and the following day we went to their ground and won 4-0. Not surprisingly, Blackpool were relegated that season after finishing bottom of the table. The following year (26 December 1967) I saw one of the best ever games I can remember at Upton Park. We were 2-0 down to Leicester in the first 15 minutes or so, and then we fought back to win 4-2. Brian Dear scored a magnificent hat-trick and the other West Ham goal was scored by a very young Trevor Brooking wearing the number 9 shirt in his debut season. Four days later we visited Filbert Street and beat them again by exactly the same score (4-2). Brian Dear scored twice that day and Trevor Brooking scored again. Both times the score would have been much greater but for the performance of a teenage Peter Shilton in the Leicester goal who showed even then what a player he would become.
Draw specialists Southampton are today’s visitors. They have drawn 8 league games this season, the same as Palace, Brighton and Burnley. All four of those teams could be much higher in the table if they had managed to turn some of those draws into three points, but all four are currently in the bottom half. As I write this, one-third of the Boxing Day games have already been called off due to COVID, and only 6 of the 9 remain. But there could be more by the time kick-off arrives.
All these postponed matches make the league table harder to decipher with teams such as Arsenal having played 18 matches, whereas Tottenham have only played 14. We currently sit in fifth place having played 17, but both Manchester United and Tottenham could overtake us if they win games in hand. The form table from the last five games shows why we have been joined by others in the race for a top four place. We have picked up 5 points in that time, compared to Arsenal (9), Manchester United (10) and Tottenham (11).
I was one of the lucky 10,000 in the ballot to witness the final game of last season against Southampton when we won the game very easily 3-0. Pablo Fornals scored a couple that day and Declan Rice scored one where he just kept running with the ball, similar to a goal he subsequently scored in Europe this season against Dinamo Zagreb. If we had our best team available I would expect a similar outcome today, but injuries (and perhaps tiredness?) have taken their toll. The performance in the midweek defeat in the Carabao Cup against Tottenham wasn’t too bad, and one player who stood out for me in perhaps his best game in a claret and blue shirt was Vlasic. I think he played well enough to retain a place in the team.
So what chances a 3-0 repeat victory today? Despite our recent indifferent league form we are slightly odds-on to win the game at 5/6, and 13/1 to win 3-0. What are the chances?