There's no longer established tradition in the sport than Boxing Day football. For well over a century, games have been played on the day after Christmas. In fact we have two non-league clubs to thank for the tradition, Sheffield FC and Hallam FC played the first-ever match on that day in 1860. It’s a tradition that’s even survived the war, with soldiers on the Western front in 1914 finding time for a kick around during a temporary truce.
In recent years, however, the tradition has been on the decline. Several leagues at Step 5 and below have reduced their festive fixtures. Similarly, the Isthmian League has offered clubs the chance to opt-out of Boxing Day and New Year's Day football this season - an option many teams have taken.
Last week on the Non-League Show I spoke to Ware manager Paul Halsey - the Hertfordshire club has asked for no Boxing Day and New Year's Day games this season. Paul explained that whilst some of the players would be keen to play, the team felt it was unfair on volunteers to give up time away from their families to get a game on. Paul commented that the break also had the bonus of allowing him to go on a Christmas cruise!
Players often take a similar view. On the show I spoke to Aylesbury United midfielder Greg Williams and former non-league defender Steve Nott-Macaire. Both agreed they'd rather have the time off – traveling on a long away day on New Year’s Day somewhat puts a dampener on any celebrations the night before.
Whilst there's no scientific measure of this, it does feel as if there are fewer big local derbies over the Christmas period. Traditionally games would match up two local neighbours in a big derby game to pull in bigger crowds. That seems to have slightly waned in recent years. Certainly locally we have far fewer big local rivals playing each other on Boxing Day, perhaps because of the way the leagues have been restructured. Crowds seem to be down too, with back to back Premier League games on tele and rubbish weather outside people be forgiven for staying inside and munching their way through cold ham and Christmas cake instead.
Personally, I’d be sad to see the end of festival football, especially when they involve good local derbies. This season’s doubleheader between Boreham Wood and Barnet over Christmas and New Year is an exciting prospect. Barnet born Wood manager Luke Garrard said he relishes the derby every season, thanks in part to the ‘away’ tie being within 4 miles of his home. Down the leagues, Flackwell Heath v Burnham and Thame v Aylesbury United are other tasty looking sides. Perhaps with less local clubs playing over Christmas, these local games can expect a bigger crowd.