Boxing Day Soccer Tradition In England

A fan dresses up as father Christmas
Fans often dress up on Boxing Day. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Soccer on Boxing Day is a long-held English tradition whereby league matches are played on December 26th.

Boxing Day gets its name from an old custom where the rich gave boxes of gifts to the poor.

When the fixtures are released in the summer, fans are eager to see who their side are playing, as it is often an occasion when the entire family go to a match.

In most countries, there is a winter break of at least a week (Germany have six), but in England matches are played throughout the festive period.

Matches are traditionally played against local rivals or teams within a close proximity of each other so as to avoid supporters having to travel a long distance after Christmas Day when the train timetables are reduced.

Why Is Soccer Played on Boxing Day in England?

Having 10 games all in one day at a time when most of the other leagues across the globe are shut down means that the eyes of the world are on the Premier League. This means extra revenue for advertisers and undoubtedly strengthens the hand of the Premier League when it comes to negotiating TV rights deals.

Commercially, it is also a money-spinner for the the clubs because most people around the country are on holiday, meaning they can travel to games. This results in bumper gate receipts and a prime reason why those calling for a winter break are unlikely to get their way.

What Prompted the Tradition?

The romantics believe that the boxing day soccer tradition in England came about as a result of English and German soldiers downing their weapons during World War I in 1914 and playing a friendly game of soccer.

It seems that a kickabout did take place in Belgium, but weather it was a full-scale match or a few men knocking a ball about is open to debate.

Nonetheless, the English Football Association paid tribute on its 100-year anniversary by organizing a tribute match between soldiers from Great Britain and Germany in 2014, calling it the "Game of Truce".

Critics of Boxing Day Soccer

Some foreign players in the Premier League bemoan the hardship of playing over the Christmas period, while others accept that it is part of the English tradition and relish the intense fixture list that can take in three Premier League games and an FA Cup third-round tie.

There have been calls for a winter break to be introduced in England as many argue that players suffer from fatigue and need a break in order to be fresh in the second half of the season.

The struggles of English clubs in Europe are often put down to the hectic festive schedule. Some believe that the exertions around Christmas cost them dear when it comes to the latter stages of the Champions League, and playing against teams that benefited from a mid-season break.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is one of the tradition's greatest critics.

“There is no winter break and I think that is the most evil thing of this culture. It is not good for English football,” he was quoted in the Guardian.

“It is not good for the clubs or the national team. England haven’t won anything for how many years? Because all the players are exhausted at the end of the season.”

Boxing Day matches also occur in the Scottish Premier League.