When Christmas meant three games in three days!

Albion's festive programme this season is three games in 12 days. Seventy years ago it was a lot more hectic!

By Bruce Talbot • 25 December 2023

By BHAFC archive
The show must go on: Snow clearance ahead of a Christmas Day fixture at the Goldstone Ground in the 1950s

Roberto De Zerbi have had a week between their last Premier League game at Crystal Palace and Thursday's home match against Spurs. 

But Albion players once had to prepare for an even more gruelling schedule – three games in three days over the festive period!

Games on Christmas Day were a feature of the fixture list up until 1957 and over the years Albion have played 37 times on December 25. Their last match on this date was a 2-2 draw at Swindon in 1957, and you have to go back to 1946 for the last time they played a Football League fixture at the Goldstone Ground – a 6-1 home defeat to Exeter City in Division Three (South) in front of a crowd of 8015.

Christmas Day games traditionally kicked off in the morning. Anecdotal evidence suggests this was so men could get out of the house and leave their wives to cook the most important meal of the year.

Often, the reverse fixture would take place on Boxing Day but in 1919, when Albion lost 3-2 on Christmas Day at the Goldstone against Crystal Palace, they also played the following day and on December 27. That same exhausting schedule, when Christmas Day fell on a Thursday, was repeated in 1924 and 1930.

In 1924 Albion kicked off their festivities with a 2-1 win at Bristol Rovers in front of 19,000 at Rovers’ old ground at Eastville and were back there six years later to share six goals with Rovers with 13,229 in attendance.

By REX / Shutterstock
With trains running as normal, Christmas Day games attracted good crowds.

Christmas Day football continued in wartime and in 1940 a severely depleted Albion arrived at Norwich City with only five players – one senior, three juniors and a loanee – and cobbled together an XI using volunteers from the crowd. In front of 1419 spectators, Norwich won 18-0.

You might have thought that the fixture planners would have tried to reduce travelling by organising local matches and Albion have played Palace four times on Christmas Day. But they also had to travel to Newport County, Exeter City, both Bristol clubs and Port Vale down the years.

With no shutdown of public transport, teams would get an early train and return to Brighton afterwards in the same carriage with the players they had just faced for the Boxing Day re-match.

It wasn’t just the first team who would be in action. Albion Reserves played seven post-War games on December 25 and the 3-1 win over Watford in 1957 proved to be the last Christmas Day fixture at the Goldstone.

By then clubs were beginning to erect floodlights so there was no need to play on every public holiday. The last Christmas Day game in England took place in 1965 but the tradition lingered in Scotland until 1976. Brentford and Wimbledon tried to revive the tradition in 1983, but fans protested and the game took place on Christmas Eve instead.

With thanks to Albion historian Tim Carder