Cardiff City and Christmas Day football.

There was a programme on the BBC last year called “Back in time for Christmas” where a modern day family lived out a “typical” Christmas day from every decade from the forties onwards. My memories of Christmas Day stretch back to the sixties, so I found it very interesting to be reminded of how much it has changed and remained much the same in that time.

Anyway, the reason why I mention it here is that I just remembered something from the programme about the fifties, the decade I was born in, where the father and son went off to watch a football match on Christmas Day afternoon –  getting to the ground was easy enough, because public transport was still running on Christmas Day back then.

Now, I was aware that City had played matches on Christmas Day in their days as a Football League club and that their last such game was against West Brom at Ninian Park – I knew that it took place sometime in the mid fifties and that we won 3-2.

So, I thought I’d pass a bit of time researching City’s Christmas Day matches since they were elected to the Football League in 1920/21. Here’s a list of those matches with a few details as well about the next game they played ;-


December 25 Coventry C  A  4-2 W Gill 2, Cashmore, Beare 22,000
December 27 Coventry C H 0-1 L 42,000

On the way to promotion from the Second Division in their first season as a Football League club, City had an odd pair of results as they won away, but then lost at home to the same opposition two days later. The home game was watched by their biggest crowd of the season so far, but it was bettered a month later when they entertained Bristol City and there was another 40,000 gate against Wolves for the last home game of the campaign. One other thing, George Beare who scored in the win at Coventry, also scored for City in victories over Merthyr Town on Christmas Day in 1915 and 1919.

The team that played Wolverhampton Wanderers in the F.A. Cup Semi Final at Old Trafford on 23rd March 1921.
(L-R): George Beare, Billy Grimshaw, Fred Keenor, Bert Smith, Charlie Brittan, Ben Davies, Arthur Cashmore, Albert Barnett, Billy Hardy, Jack Evans, Jimmy Blair.


December 25 Sheffield Utd A 1-1 D Hardy 45,000
December 26 Sheffield Utd H 3-1 W Davies 2, Keenor 50,000

City were top of the league over Christmas in the season where they came as close as they have ever done to winning the League Championship. Again, the same team (this time from 250 miles away!) were played over the holiday period, but this time the games took place on consecutive days, with another impressive crowd (almost double the average for that season) at Ninian Park. Three huge names from City’s history got the four goals against the Blades with Len Davies (the man who missed that title losing penalty of course), getting two of them.


December 25 West Ham Utd A 2-3 L Davies L., Gill 27,000
December 26 West Ham Utd H 2-1 W Davies L., Beadles 31,000

After the previous season’s heartbreak, City were more concerned with a possible relegation than league titles when they took on West Ham – their win on Boxing Day left them in sixteenth position with twenty points, but a better second half to the campaign saw them finish eleventh.


December 25 W.B.A. H 3-2 W Ferguson 2, Davies W. 13,683
December 26 W.B.A. A 0-3 L 35,504

The defeat at the Hawthorns left City in seventeenth position and they ended up one place better off than that, but the thing that takes my eye is that Christmas Day attendance. There were only two gates lower than it in the league all season – perhaps the poor crowd was down to the weather, but it was a season where attendances looked to be a lot lower everywhere with only just over 9,000 watched City’s late season 1-0 defeat at Manchester United!).


December 25 Newcastle Utd A League A 0-5 L 36,250
December 27 Arsenal League H 2-0 W Ferguson, Curtis 25,387

The Christmas Day trouncing at Newcastle of all places was a sixth loss in seven matches for City who would drop as low as twentieth within a week, but a win over the team they were beat in the Cup Final four months later hinted at better things to come. That Arsenal match was the first of only three league appearances for City for Merthyr born left winger Percy Richards.


December 25       Leeds Utd  A       0-3     L  20,439

December 26       Leeds Utd H       2-1     W   Wake, Thirlaway  12,554

City’s eventual decline to the lower reaches of the Third Division (South) had started now and this was the season where they finished bottom of the First Division having conceded fewer goals than any of their rivals. The win over Leeds was only their second in fourteen matches and the first at Ninian Park in three months – that small crowd was fairly typical for a miserable season, with just 5,738 present for the final home game against Blackburn.


December 25 Bristol C A 0-2 L 17,140
December 26 Bristol C. H 1-1 D Wake 25,244

City mounted a challenge for an immediate return to the top flight that was beginning to fizzle out somewhat when they faced the wurzels in a much more sympathetic pair of Christmas fixtures – they’d end the season in eighth place and that decent crowd was the second biggest of the home campaign (there were less than 6,000 present when City entertained Charlton two days later!).


December 25 Luton T  A 1-2 L Keating  11,609

December 26 Luton T H 4-1 W Robbins 2, Keating, McCambridge 13,515

City were finding their first season in the Third Division (South) something of a struggle when they beat Luton (it was their first league win in eight games), they dropped as low as nineteenth, but, largely thanks to the goals of Jim McCambridge, they recovered to finish ninth.

The City side that lost 1-2 to Coventry City on 7th September 1931.
BACK (L-R): Frank Harris, Jack Kneeshaw (assitant trainer), Jock Smith, Len Evans, Fred Stewart (secretary/manager), Bill Roberts, Eddie Jenkins, Billy Hardy, John Galbraith.
FRONT: George Emmerson, Owen McNally, Jim McCambridge, Harry O’Neill, Walter Robbins.


December 25 Coventry C League A 1-4 L Maidment 27,589
December 26 Coventry C. League H 3-3 D Postin, Curtis, Bisby (og) 10,729

What is probably City’s worst ever team were bottom of the Third Division (South) over Christmas and they stayed there until the season’s end – lowest league position, most goals conceded, most defeats and least points means that they were probably even worse than some of those teams from the eighties and nineties!

The City team that lost 1-4 at Coventry City on Christmas Day 1933.
BACK (L-R): Leslie Adlam, Bob Calder, Tom Farquharson, George Russell, Eddie Jenkins, Eli Postin.
FRONT: Eddie Marcroft, Tom Maidment, Leslie Jones, Ernie Curtis, John Duthie, Alex Hutchinson.


December 25 Southend Utd A 1-3 L Everest 8,478
December 26 Southend Utd H 1-1 D Diamond 11,574

City, with Enoch Mort a regular in defence during the first half of the campaign, were still struggling, but not quite as badly as in 33/34 as four straight wins in March enabled them to reach the giddy heights of twentieth position at the end of the season.


December 25 Torquay Utd A 0-1 L 4,582
December 26 Walsall H 2-2 D Walton, Melaniphy 31,954

City had topped the league in the autumn, but were in the middle of a run of one win in fifteen games come Christmas, so it’s hard to imagine where that amazing Boxing Day crowd came from. That said, there were even more at Ninian Park for the visit of Grimsby in the FA Cup a few weeks later and there were other 20,000 plus crowds that season. Irish law student Eugene (Ted) Melaniphy scored his first goal for the club against Walsall after having made his debit for us the previous day, while Charles Turner made the first of only two starts for City on Boxing Day (the other one came in an 8-1 defeat at Luton a couple of months later).


December 25 Mansfield T A 0-3 L 12,114
December 27 Mansfield T H 4-1 W Pugh, Collins, Turner 2 (1 Pen.) 37,726

City were right in the promotion mix when they beat Mansfield in front of a season’s best crowd on Boxing Day (again, attendances were good with 35,000 watching an early season match with Notts County), but a slump in January and February saw them lose momentum to eventually finish tenth – a big improvement on what had gone previously though.


December 25 Leyton Orient A 1-0 W Rees 12,947
December 28 Norwich C. H 6-1 W Richards 3, Rees, Allen, Clarke 36,285

No surprise that the all conquering team of the first post Second World War season was the first to record successive wins in these games. The Norwich thrashing made it fourteen wins in fifteen matches (the other one was drawn) for the side which delivered the club’s first league title as they returned to the Second Division after a gap of eighteen years.


December 25 Brentford A 1-1 D Allen 22,813
December 27 Brentford H 2-0 W Allen, Stevenson 49,236

City were recovering from a start of one win in six and then four straight losses in October when that huge crowd saw them beat Brentford and they maintained their improvement to finish fourth.


Coventry C. H 2-1 W Edwards 2 32,778
December 26 Coventry C. 1-2 L Grant 33,194

Again, an inconsistent autumn cost City dear – the Christmas Day triumph over Coventry was a fourth straight win, lifting us to fifth and we got as high as second at the end of March, before having to settle for a third place finish.


December 25 Swansea T A 1-1 D Tiddy 19,260
December 26 Swansea T H 3-0 W Baker, Grant, Tiddy 46,003

By now a strong Second Division team, a “proper” pair of holiday fixtures left City top of the league, but one win in seven in February/March looked to have cost them, until five wins out of their final six matches saw them finish runners up.


52/53 December 25 Newcastle Utd A 0-3 L 36,143
December 27 Newcastle Utd H 0-0 D 52,202

The Christmas fixtures went from the sublime to the ridiculous as City tried to establish themselves at the higher level. At times it looked like there could be an immediate relegation, but six wins in eight in March/April led to a comfortable twelfth place finish. The Newcastle game saw one of three 50,000 plus attendances at Ninian Park that season.


December 25 W.B.A. H 3-2 W Ford 2, Montgomery 22,845
December 27 W.B.A. 0-1 L 50,885

City were looking comfortable in mid table when the Christmas games were played and things stayed that way until mid March before a run of four points from eleven matches (none of which were won) saw them plummet down the table. It needed a 3-2 win over Wolves in their penultimate match, thanks to two goals from Trevor Ford and a first one ever from Gerry Hitchens, to keep City up.

The team that played Preston North End on 1st September 1954.
BACK (L-R): Charlie Rutter, Roley Williams, John Frowen, Graham Vearnecombe, Mike Tiddy, Billy Baker.
FRONT: Tommy Northcott, Alan Harrington, Alf Sherwood, George Edwards, Wilf Grant.

And that was it, Christmas Day fixtures stopped after that. As to why, that crowd for West Brom’s visit in 1954 was well under half what we were getting for Christmas games only two or three years earlier, so maybe the appetite for Christmas Day football was on the decline? However, further analysis shows that it’s impossible to read too much into how Cardiff felt about football on 25 December, because, invariably, when City played that day, they were away from home.

There are eighteen seasons listed above where City played on Christmas Day, but in only three of them, was the game played in Cardiff. Only in 25/26, 50/51 and 54/55 did City not have to travel on Christmas Day and, only in the middle one of these games (nearly 33,000 against Coventry) does it strike me that there was a crowd that would bear comparison with the attendance there would have been if the match had been played a day later.

The other thing that leaps out at me from those fixtures is that while it’s almost certainly right to say that the modern day footballer needs to be fitter than his predecessors because of the pace of the modern game and the amount of ground a player is expected to cover now, it’s bit rich to hear all of this bleating about congested fixture lists and the lack of a winter break from so many within the game when you compare the Christmas Holiday programme now with what is was back then.

City had to travel to Sheffield, Leeds and Southend one day and play them in Cardiff the next during this time, while the authorities at least did City and Newcastle a “favour” by allowing them a days rest before they played the second part of their daft double header in 52/53 and all of this on the “maximum” wage – which I believe was around £20 before it was done away with in 1961!

A merry Christmas to all readers of this blog.











This entry was posted in Memories, 1963 - 2017 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Cardiff City and Christmas Day football.

  1. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    I remember some of that 54/55 side.

    Graham Vearncombe, Alan Harrington, Alf Sherwood (of course) and though I didn’t see Billy Baker play for Cardiff I did see him play for Ton-Pentre in the Welsh League.

  2. Clive Harry says:

    You must be as ancient as me Colin! I remember watching Vearncombe and Harrington play later in the decade as well as Wilf Grant being a ‘trainer’ and George Edwards being a Director. Charlie Rutter also ran a pet stall in the market for many years afterwards. Also interesting to see Enoch Mort still posting on CCMB!
    As for the fixtures, Newcastle away on Christmas Day proves there were idiots running football in those days as well.
    Have a great Christmas, Paul, Colin and the other regulars on here.

  3. BJA says:

    Paul – Thanks for this most illuminating report on Christmases past and for the info on the West Brom game in ‘54 for I was there.
    If I recall the match accurately, the kick off was in the morning, perhaps 11.00.a.m. and I had cycled down from Ely, left my bike as usual in one of the enterprising residents of Broad Street who welcomed cyclists and who charged three old pence for parking. And some thirty minutes after the game, I was home with Mum and Dad ready to tuck into Christmas lunch. Oh happy days!
    Thank you for all of your thoughts over the years, and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year ( and Championship survival ).

  4. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    I still read your reports on the Cardiff games, but alas when I do try and make a response, the other guys have beaten me to it with the same thoughts on the matches.
    This trip down memory lane is great, it has brought back memories when I first started watching Cardiff City as a boy back in the fifties.
    That photograph of the team in 1953/54 was great , because I had managed to get the autographs of all those players. How ? Because I lived in 210, Lansdowne Road, next door to George Edwards who was in lodgings, with Mrs Padfield, and he kindly took my autograph book in to be signed by those players. The book has long gone.
    Also after a game, I sometimes used to walk home to Canton with Rowley Williams.
    Great days in the old First Division at Ninian Park, with crowds sometimes circa 50,000 thousand.
    Thanks once again Paul for doing you research and have a good Christmas to you and fellow Supporters.
    Best Regards

  5. Geoff Lewis says:

    Sorry it was 1954/55

  6. rhondda blue says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for your in depth views of all City games,
    would like to wish you and all City fans a happy Christmas and a better
    New Year in life and on the football front,
    keep up the good work and thanks again
    rhondda blue

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the replies all and it’s good to hear from you again Geoff. I was hoping that I might get to hear from someone who was at the West Brom match, so thanks BJA for that – I would say it was definitely better to have gone to a game on Christmas Day before dinner, rather than after it!

  8. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for a great year of insight and reviews, and to the many excellent contributors, who make this this wonderful blog what it is

    “”"real football “”"

    Merry Xmas to you all.

  9. Geoff Lewis says:

    You are right “REAL FOOTBALL” comments beats all the other blogs.

  10. Dai Woosnam says:

    Fascinating stuff, Paul. Especially to me who saw my first City game in 1954.

    First…I was struck by that curious police identification parade photo from 1921.
    Now assuming that City were not a century ahead of their time, and were not trying to do a “Cookie Coleman Wales” of 2015/16 in deliberately choosing to face the camera in an unorthodox positioning for the photo, can you tell me…was that quite a common thing for the day? I mean, all eleven guys stretched out like that? (Instead of in the usual 6 standing at the back, and 5 on their haunches in the front?)

    Second, I was surprised to see from your excellent report that City played their last Christmas Day game as early as 1954…as Christmas Day football was still being played by some Football League clubs as late as 1958 or 1959. I wonder was it the pure lottery of the fixtures computer (strike the word “computer”, for the 1950s !!) that made some clubs still play on a few seasons more, against their will?

    I also note that Christmas Day football was being played North of the Border into the 1970s…!! Mind you, HOGMANAY was always the holiday there.

    And then we come to the subject of crazy scores at Christmas. The most exhilarating game I ever saw at Ninian*, was the 6-1 victory over Liverpool, on the day after Boxing Day 1957. It is obvious in retrospect, that Liverpool – and especially their Scottish international goalkeeper – had been celebrating Christmas a bit too enthusiastically the previous 2 days, as they were an amazing 5-0 down at half time…!!

    And I guess this desire to celebrate the holiday must have been widespread…how else can one explain the crazy Christmas scores? I will end with this, culled from The Guardian”

    On December 26 1963, an amazing 66 goals were scored in the old First Division, leaving some teams wishing there had been a repeat of the previous season’s Big Freeze (which had wiped out nearly all the football between Boxing Day and March). Here are the classifieds:

    Blackpool 1-5 Chelsea, Burnley 6-1 Man Utd, Fulham 10-1 Ipswich, Leicester 2-0 Everton, Liverpool 6-1 Stoke, Nottingham Forest 3-3 Sheff Utd, WBA 4-4 Tottenham, Sheff Wed 3-0 Bolton, Wolves 3-3 Aston Villa, West Ham 2-8 Blackburn.

    If that wasn’t weird enough, the results two days later – when many of the teams played the “return leg” – beggar belief. West Ham, who had lost 8-2 at home to Blackburn, won 3-1 at Ewood Park. Manchester United, fresh from a 6-1 thrashing at Burnley, turned the tables at Old Trafford with a 5-1 win. And poor Ipswich, who had clearly been on the Christmas Day pop, avenged their 10-1 defeat by Fulham with a 4-2 victory over the Cottagers at Portman Road. Much good the two points did them, mind you: they finished bottom.

    * as opposed to the “best” …which will always be the victory over the Spurs “Double” team.

  11. The other Bob Wilson says:

    That brings back memories of my first ever football book Dai. I’m guessing I had it on Christmas Day 1964, it was smaller than your normal annual size and had a yellow and black cover. Much of the book was a review of the 63/64 season with stuff on things like the FA Amateur Cup (won by Crook Town that year if I remember rightly) which, in a nod to attitudes that still prevailed at that time, got more coverage than Alan Hardaker’s Football League which was looked down on then and still is today to a degree. Anyway, there was also plenty of photos in there as well and the one which probably made the most impression on me was of the West Ham 2 Blackburn 8 game that had two or three players from either side scrambling about on the floor in a mixture of water and mud the like of which I’d never seen before.
    I’ve been doing some looking about and managed to find a couple of pictures from the 2-8 match and Fulham 10 Ipswich 1
    The Upton Park pitch is in much better condition in that photo than in the one from my, now long lost, book – I suppose it must have really poured down some time after the one appearing here was taken (I’m sure that must have made all of those hungover West Ham players feel even better!).

  12. BJA says:

    Paul – I mentioned to my son about my recollections about the West Brom game and the time of the kick off. He went on e.bay, asked about a programme for this particular game and sure enough, up came a picture of the front of the programme confirming that the kick off was indeed 11.00am. And the cost of the programme, three old pence.
    So for 6d ( old money ) I parked my bike and could buy a programme. Anyone have any ideas what that might be in today’s money?

  13. Colin Phillips says:

    Eight pounds to park a car and three quid for a programme – I think.

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