Boxing Day fixtures remain one of the great quirks and traditions of English football, and as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this season, the Premier League now has a whole quarter-century of festive clashes to look back upon.
But is there any truth to the theory of harsh weather conditions and footballers bloated on mince pies making Boxing Day a midseason leveller? Do some clubs historically enjoy greater Boxing Day success than others? And who are the reigning kings of Boxing Day? Here’s a look back at the history of the Premier League on Boxing Day…
Throughout its 25-year history, the Premier League has never averaged less than 2.5 goals per match during a single season, while the average for last term matched the all-time high of 2.9. On Boxing Day though, the overall rate is closer to the lower end of the spectrum at roughly 2.6 with 582 goals scored over 224 games.
While the difference may be marginal, that does suggest Boxing Day games are cagier affairs than usual, teams looking to get the job done and return to the festivities rather than putting on a show for the supporters. But does that mean the top sides fare any worse in terms of results?
The biggest argument dispelling the myth of Boxing Day upsets is Manchester United’s presence at the very top of the table. Throughout the entire Premier League era, they’ve averaged just shy of 2.1 points per match, but that return jumps up by half a point for Boxing Day and they’ve dropped just ten points from a possible 69. In fact, they’ve only ever lost twice on Boxing Day from 23 games – a 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough and a 2-0 loss to Stoke in 2002 and 2015 respectively.
Likewise, the top seven in the Premier League’s eternal table – United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City – also make up the Boxing Day top seven, albeit composed in a different order. Five of those seven average more points on Boxing Day, while the remaining two have suffered a Boxing Day dip of no greater than 0.15 points, a very slight difference in the grand scheme of things.
Overall then, Boxing Day has been an occasion for the Premier League’s top sides to further assert their dominance over the rest of the division rather than suffer midseason upsets.
That’s not to say some of the so-called ‘lesser teams’ don’t raise their games on Boxing Day. Coventry City are without doubt the Premier League’s most formidable Boxing Day specialists, taking a whopping 17 points and scoring 14 goals from their eight outings on December 26th.
While the quality of their opposition has been more favourable than some (which we’ll come onto shortly), they claimed some impressive scalps during those eight games – chiefly a 3-2 victory over Arsenal, one of just two sides to average more Boxing Day points than Coventry, in 1999 when Arsene Wenger’s side finished second and reached the final of the UEFA Cup. Goals were provided by Gary McAllister, Mustafa Hadji and Robbie Keane.
Also punching somewhat above their weight, Blackburn and Birmingham have both averaged as many as or more points than Chelsea on Boxing Day, although the former achieved their rate over a much longer period than the latter and faced more testing opposition. They’ve either drawn or beaten United, Leeds, Newcastle (when they finished second) and Liverpool.
Even during their last season in the top flight when they finished 19th, Rovers still pulled off an impressive draw at Anfield. West Ham, meanwhile, will consider themselves the Boxing Day entertainers; nine goals scored in 1999 and 2000 at the respective expense of Charlton and Derby makes them the top scorers outside the Boxing Day top seven.
Boxing Day isn’t so fortuitous to every club, however, and Newcastle fans will be particularly pleased they’re not facing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on the 26th this year, with their clash at St. James’ Park scheduled for Wednesday instead. Rather incredibly, Newcastle average less points per match on Boxing Day than Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Portsmouth and Wimbledon to name a few. In fact, they’ve won just five of 20 Boxing Day appearances, despite facing some relatively modest sides during that time such as Derby, Bolton and Wigan, who they all lost to.
Aston Villa too, considering they were at worst a solid mid-table side for the majority of their time in the Premier League, will be disappointed to have returned just 15 points from 21 Boxing Day outings – only Chelsea and Everton have made more Boxing Day appearances in the Premier League. But Villa’s return comes with a caveat; rather incredibly, only five of those games were against sides lower than them in the Boxing Day table and 13 of those were against members of the Boxing Day top seven. Accordingly, Villa have shown defiance at times – famously drawing 4-4 with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and then 2-2 with Arsenal the following year.
Similarly, West Brom will feel somewhat aggrieved with the schedulers having averaged just one point per two Boxing Day appearances and lost all of their first five while scoring just once. That’s a consequence of significant Boxing Day hardship for a side that has continually floated between the top two divisions, their eleven Boxing Day opponents including Arsenal (twice), Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City (twice since the Sheik takeover) and Tottenham.
Although only three teams have failed to win any points on Boxing Day, an incredible nine have failed to win a single game from a combined 26 attempts. The worst performing of the bunch are unquestionably Norwich City – they’ve scored just one goal in six games while conceding a staggering ten. However, the Canaries can count themselves somewhat unfortunate in that four of those games were against Tottenham, alongside meetings with Chelsea and Fulham.
Wolves, meanwhile, have made the most appearances, three, without picking up any points, losing to Arsenal, Liverpool and Wigan, whereas Sheffield United, despite gaining a point in a scoreless draw, have featured the most times on Boxing Day without scoring. Bournemouth and Cardiff City are the other sides to join them in the Boxing Day no goals club.
Boxing Day is a truly wonderful time: the sales start, the nightmare of an extended period of confinement with your family is all but over, and there’s a full flight of Premier League fixtures to look forward to. If you’re thinking of having a punt on the day after Christmas, be sure to check out the LeoVegas coupons we’ve picked out first. Let us know what you think of our selections—and have yourself a lovely Christmas!