As I enter the final few furlongs towards my half-century I’ve being reminiscing a lot of late, especially about the festive football programme of yesteryear. It used to go something like this; Teams would play the same opposition home and away in the space of 48 hours and the results would often be chaotic. Your club would demolish their opponent 6-1 on Boxing Day then lose by the same score a couple of days later in the return game, and as for the front covers of the matchday programmes;
Well, take a look for yourself as we pick out five festive firecrackers from back in the day.
LEICESTER CITY (CIRCA 1978)
When big Jock Wallace headed south from Glasgow Rangers in 1978, he was determined to make a name for himself after getting the job as manager of Leicester City. Not only did he start by having the lads undergo a gruelling pre-season training regime with the help of the Parachute Regiment, he also subjected them to a Christmas photo-shoot which must have made their toes curl.
This late 70’s pose with the lads on the staircase at Big Jock’s house, features a young Sir Gary Lineker who is believed to have told family and friends shortly after this was taken, that he should have been yellow-carded (for what would have been the only time in his career) for allowing himself to take part in such a shocking event.
Big Jock by the way, is in the navy whistle to the left of the tree, goalkeeper Mark Wallington is the big guy at the back and he’s actually not standing on a stool.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1981
Big Ron Atkinson’s first Christmas in charge of United saw his side host Everton on Boxing Day so what better way to celebrate with the Old Trafford faithful than getting some of the first-team to build a snowman at The Cliff training ground and tie a scarf around its neck.
Record-breaking signing Bryan Robson was presumably injured which would explain his no-show, but Peter Sutcliffe look-a-like Gary Birtles makes an appearance just above the Snowman’s hat. The man Dave Sexton paid a fortune for from Nottingham Forest could have put his poor form and his lack of goals down to the fact that the police had yet to rule him out of their enquiries in their attempts to catch a certain infamous criminal.
After they finally did nick the perpetrator, Birtles headed back to The City Ground and started scoring for fun once again.
The caption at the bottom, declaring that this is what players get up to when the game’s called off is a little misleading, as United had the reputation for being the biggest piss-heads in the First Division around this time.
DERBY COUNTY 1987
Throughout 1987, Rams supporters had been complaining about the quality of the food in their hospitality areas and by Christmas of that year, Chairman Robert Maxwell was forced to concede that in order to cut costs, he had been forced to employ midfielder John Gregory as his head-chef.
Here’s the man himself pictured ahead of their pre-Christmas clash with Tottenham Hotspur, carving up the turkey for a hungry Mark Wright and Geraint Williams who were both mysteriously sidelined for the Boxing Day game against Norwich and the trip to Hillsborough two days later.
Gregory went on to have a decent career in management, but when he took over at Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis made him sign a contract stating he would not go within 50 feet of the Villa Park kitchens. One observation here is surely if you’d bought the programme then you wouldn’t have been watching the game live on the telly, right?
IPSWICH TOWN 1980
Its derby day in East Anglia and its Christmas with the stars at Portman Road as legendary Scottish comedian Billy Connolly drops in to see the lads and spread some festive cheer after a sell-out gig in the town. Here he’s pictured with Ipswich Town’s duo and fellow countrymen George Burley and John Wark with the caption inside the front cover alerting us to the fact that there’s nothing better than a triple scotch at Christmas.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however, and following claims from former Hearts own Vladimir Romanov that, during his managerial career, Burley has been a little too fond of the odd tipple on a school night, it seems only fitting that he should feature on the front cover at the time of year when its socially acceptable to get absolutely s**t faced.
This photograph also features a rare chance to Wark with a smile on his face, the tough-tackling midfielder going on to be voted the second most miserable footballer in England (behind Frank Stapleton) five years in succession 1980-85.
Programme covers courtesy of Miles McClagan @TheSkyStrikers