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Football: Festive feats and feasts of goals

Boxing Days down the years have regularly served up healthy helpings of enjoyment.

Tranmere 13

Oldham 4

FOR MANY years tradition dictated that teams played each other twice at Christmas, generally (until Christmas Day football finished in the late-1950s) on the 25th and 26th. Whether or not winning teams tended to overdo the celebrations, there were some extraordinary reversals in the two games, including this one.

Having beaten Tranmere, who were top of the table, 4-1 the previous day, Oldham must have arrived at Prenton Park for their Third Division North game full of good cheer. Whatever else they were full of, Tranmere took advantage by scoring six times in the first 20 minutes. Bunny Bell (pictured), the centre-forward who would later follow Dixie Dean across the Mersey to Everton, claimed three of those and added two more before half-time, at which stage the visitors staggered back to the dressing-room 8-1 down.

The home side reached double figures before Oldham got their second and at 11-4 there were fully 20 minutes left. But there was no further scoring until the last two minutes, when Bell, having missed a penalty, defied the ankle-deep mud by striking twice more to set a new individual record of nine in a match. Bizarrely, that stood for only four months, Luton Town's Joe Payne switching from wing-half to score 10 against Bristol Rovers in his first senior match as a centre-forward.

Tranmere failed to gain promotion and finished only four places above Oldham. The missed penalty prevented Tranmere standing alone as the only side to score 14 in a League match, but the match-aggregate of 17 goals stands to this day.

Tranmere: Bell 9, Urmson, MacDonald, Woodward 2. Oldham: Walsh 2, Davis, Brunskill. Attendance: 12,000.

1963 Fulham 10 Ipswich 1

26 DECEMBER 1963 was the day it rained goals, with 66 scored in 10 First Division games.

Ipswich Town's epicurean chairman, John Cobbold, had a characteristic explanation for the result at Craven Cottage: "Only our goalkeeper was sober!"

Roy Bailey, whose son Gary would later play in goal for Manchester United, was the unfortunate man betwen the sticks on this occasion, against a Fulham side that was also near the bottom, but had players of the quality of Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson, Alan Mullery and the England full-backs George Cohen and Jim Langley .

It was a Scot who did most of the damage, Graham Leggat recording the quickest ever hat-trick at this level, in the space of three minutes, and later adding a fourth. Three goals also came from possibly the least heralded member of the side, a left-winger called Bobby Howfield, who was in his only season with the club.

The sequel was as unexpected as the result, even by the unpredictable standard of these two clubs. Teams still played each other twice over Christmas and in the return at Portman Road 48 hours later, Ipswich won 4-2.

Champions only 19 months earlier, their ageing side were nevertheless on the way to relegation. They eventually conceded 121 goals in 42 games, which included losing 9-1 at Stoke and 7-2 at home to Manchester United.

Fulham: Leggat 4, Howfield 3, Cook, Mullery, Robson. Ipswich: Baker. Attendance: 19,374.

1963 West Ham 2 Blackburn 8

WITH THE score level at 1-1 after almost half-an-hour's play, and Johnny "Budgie" Byrne having just hit the bar, West Ham followers had no reason to believe that a Cockney Christmas was about to be ruined by the club's worst-ever home defeat.

Byrne had equalised an early goal by Fred Pickering, but thereafter Blackburn's tricky little England winger, Bryan Douglas, ran amok in the mud. By half- time he had scored one goal and laid on two others, for Andy McEvoy and Mike Ferguson. In the second half, goalkeeper Jim Standen and a defence including Bobby Moore were beaten four times more as McEvoy and Pickering both completed hat-tricks before Byrne scored his second.

After the game West Ham's manager Ron Greenwood deliberately stayed away from the dressing-room, going to his office instead to write out a team for the return match. He initially made nine changes, then eventually decided on just one, replacing Martin Peters with the more combative Eddie Bovington. In the second game, Douglas was curbed and goals by Byrne (2) and Geoff Hurst gave the London side enjoyable and unexpected revenge.

The only unhappy Eastender was Peters, unable to reclaim his place for the rest of a season that took West Ham all the way to Wembley and victory over Preston in the FA Cup final.

Blackburn slipped to seventh, despite scoring 89 League goals, 32 of them by the Irish international McEvoy.

West Ham: Byrne 2. Blackburn: Pickering 3,McEvoy 3, Douglas, Ferguson. Attendance: 20,500.

1970 Derby 4 Manchester Utd 4

EVENTFUL ENOUGH in itself, this game was even more significant for what followed two days later - the sacking of Wilf McGuinness as United's manager. Promoted to take on the daunting, if not impossible, task of succeeding Sir Matt Busby, the likeable McGuinness had a reasonable first season in which United finished eighth and reached the semi-final of both domestic cups. The second one was harder, even with Charlton, Law and Best still playing regularly.

They went to the Baseball Ground in danger of slipping into a relegation struggle, on the back of embarrassing home defeats by Manchester City (4-1) and Arsenal (3-1, in front of only 33,000), followed by a League Cup semi-final defeat against Aston Villa, then in the Third Division.

Derby were not yet at their peak, but had the nucleus of the following year's championship side in players like McFarland, Gemmill, Durban, O'Hare and Hector. So on the face of it, an away draw, after trailing 2-0 at the interval, did not look a bad result. United came back strongly to enthral a crowd close to capacity and earned a useful point with goals by Brian Kidd, Best and Law (2).

McGuinness was therefore shattered to be called into Busby's office the following day and told: "The directors have asked me to take charge again." The team improved considerably to finish eighth once more; McGuinness reverted briefly to his old job with the reserves, then went to Greece, where his hair fell out.

Derby: Mackay, Hector, Wignall, Gemmill. Manchester Utd: Kidd, Best, Law 2. Attendance: 34,068.


Oldham 3

Manchester Utd 6

TWENTY-ONE years on, United finally appeared to have another manager capable of winning the League championship. A free-wheeling victory up the road at Boundary Park in a midday kick-off took Alex Ferguson's team to the top of the table.

It was a huge game for Joe Royle's Oldham, playing in the top division for the first time in their history and cramming almost 19,000 into their ground. They saw United take a 2-0 lead at half-time, with their former full-back Denis Irwin (pictured) among the scorers. Graham Sharp halved the deficit but, as a rousing second half wore on, Irwin scored again, and with Andrei Kanchelskis, Brian McClair (2) and Ryan Giggs (a substitute for Bryan Robson) also contributing, United led 4-1 and 5-2 before finishing comfortable winners.

When United drew 1-1 at Elland Road three days later, they were two points ahead of Leeds, having played two games fewer, and were therefore strongly fancied to take the title after a 25-year wait.

Winning away to Leeds in the FA Cup and the League Cup should have provided a further psychological boost and with four games to go United were still favourites. They then contrived to lose at home to Nottingham Forest and at West Ham and away to Liverpool, while a certain Eric Cantona inspired Leeds to three wins in four games and the championship. It had seemed a highly unlikely outcome on Boxing Day.

Oldham: Sharp, Milligan, Bernard. Manchester Utd: Irwin 2, Kanchelskis, McClair 2, Giggs. Attendance: 18,947.

...and briefly

1931 Manchester United suffer their joint-record defeat, 7-0 at Wolves in a Second Division game.

1952 18-year-old England youth international Johnny Haynes makes his League debut for Fulham at home to Southampton.

1954 Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Arsenal leaves them fifth in the table, but they eventually win the championship for the only time - so far.

1962 Oldham beat Southport 11-0 in the Fourth Division, scoring nine times in 42 minutes, with six from centre-forward Bert Lister.

1971 Chelsea defender David Webb plays the whole game in goal against Ipswich because of injuries, and keeps a clean sheet.

1979 In a critical meeting of the top two at Anfield, Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-0 (Hansen, Johnson) and go on to win the title by two points.

1983 Charlie Nicholas, who had not scored since August, comes good at last in an eventful north London derby as Arsenal win 4-2 at Tottenham.

1987 Liverpool pass Christmas unbeaten in 20 matches after a 3-0 win at Oxford (Aldridge, Barnes, McMahon).

1997 Arsenal, 13 points behind Manchester United in sixth place, beat Leicester 2-1 with Steve Walsh's own goal to launch an unbeaten run of 18 games culminating in the title.

Mayhem at Merthyr as money runs out


A DESPERATE financial predicament and a long-running struggle for ownership have combined to ensure that there has been little to celebrate this Christmas at Merthyr Tydfil Football Club.

The south Wales outfit, who have in the past enjoyed the fame and fortune of European competition, are in danger of going out of business. This week supporters of the aptly-nicknamed Martyrs interrupted their preparations for the festive holidays to try to raise money to pay the players' wages.

The fans have had to take such emergency action to ensure that tomorrow's Dr Martens League Premier Division match at Gloucester City goes ahead. Last weekend the players only travelled to fulfil their fixture at Ilkeston Town after a whip-round among club officials came up with enough money to pay part of the previous week's wages.

Funds to cover the weekly wage bill of over pounds 2,000 had not been provided by the club's owners, Charles Stanley, a Milton Keynes solicitor, and his wife Sharon. The Stanleys have been tangled up in a protracted takeover battle for much of this campaign with Eugene Caparros, a Bridgend hotelier.

Caparros has been investing in the club this season - but he has said he is not providing any more funds unless he gains control of the club from the Stanleys, whom he has threatened to sue to recover the pounds 200,000 he claims he has invested in Merthyr since the summer.

Such has been the confusion at Penydarren Park that earlier this month the team effectively had two managers - one appointed by the Stanleys and one by Caparros.

Colin Addison, the experienced former Newport County, Hereford United and Derby County manager, was in charge in the summer, but he was replaced at the start of the season by another former Newport manager, John Lewis, who was appointed by the Stanleys.

Earlier this month Caparros launched his first, unsuccessful takeover bid, sacked Lewis and replaced him with Eddie May, the director of football at the League of Wales club Haverfordwest County and a former Cardiff City manager.

However, the Stanley camp claimed that Caparros had no authority to hire and fire managers and re-instated Lewis - who resigned within a week after the Stanleys had failed to pay the players' wages. "I am finished with football," Lewis said at the time. "I feel I have been badly used and don't need all this hassle."

This week Merthyr sold the former Swansea City player, Shaun Chapple, to Forest Green Rovers for a four-figure fee, which will help to pay the wages over the holiday period. Overall, the club is about pounds 300,000 in debt.

May is apparently back in charge of the team while Caparros tries to complete his takeover. "I am not putting another penny into the club until I have ownership, Caparros said this week. Meanwhile, Bob Phillips, a director of Cardiff City, is acting as a mediator between the two sides in the takeover saga.