Tis the season, everybody! It’s that time of year when we embrace gluttony, drink sherry for some reason, row about board games we’ve not played since the same time last year and watch specials of whatever crap BBC is churning out nowadays. Yes, merry Christmas everybody!
Anyway, forget about unwrapping presents and pretending to be happy with that Russell Howard DVD your gran bought you, there is a much better part of Christmas - Boxing Day football. It’s the glorious combination of staggering to the match hungover from essentially a week-long bender and looking on in bemusement as literally no form of public transport exists on one of the busiest footballing days of the calendar.
And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Sunderland getting a shoeing off a bunch a jobbers like Tranmere Rovers, Everton or Manchester City. As Boxing Day 2016 takes us to Old Trafford to face an annoyingly rejuvenated Manchester United, let’s look back at those times when we didn’t get mullered (on the pitch).
Newcastle United 1-3 Sunderland - December 26th, 1903
Ah, I remember this one well. I mean who doesn’t, right? It was a simpler time in a soot-covered north-east England when no-one had ever heard of a world war and in-keeping with a tradition that has continued over 110 years later - we smashed the Mags.
It was a team of incredible names such as sea captain Sandy McAllister, small time Chicago mafia henchman Dicky Jackson, fast-speaking talk show host Jimmy Watson and wartime mechanic Billy Hogg. Managed by Big Alex Mackie, those glorious gents in red and white destroyed those goops from up the road 3-1 with Arthur Bridgett and shoemaker Harold Buckle grabbing the goals.
After the match, Newcastle supporters took to their quills and parchment to goad their Sunderland counterparts’ lack of an airport and their preference for combining potatoes and cheese - sizzling banter that remains to this day.
Bradford 1-4 Sunderland - December 26th, 2000
Hey, remember that brief period in the late 1990s when we were git mint? You know what I mean? Just after we were crap but just before we were really crap? Well, in a glorious 3-year spell between 1999 and 2001 we were kind of considered European and, even, title contenders (crazy, right?).
At Christmas 2000, we headed to Bradford’s Valley Parade on the back of 5 wins in our last 6 and we gave them a festive stuffing. The likes of Wayne Jacobs, Billy McKinlay and Robert Molenaar were no match for the battering ram of Niall Quinn and the sheer, gorgeous brilliance of Kevin Phillips.
Bradford were walloped 4-1, Phillips bagged a hat-trick, some bloke dressed like Elvis got on the pitch and we went third in the league (THIRD). What a time to be alive.
Blackburn 0-3 Sunderland - December 26th, 2001
Twelve months after that Bradford smashing, we arrived at Ewood Park (the coldest place on earth, no matter what time of year you go) in that false sense of security that we weren’t rubbish when we actually were.
Niall Quinn and Kevin Kilbane helped us mug off a Blackburn Rovers team that was surprisingly good at the time, with the hilariously named Bernt Haas at right back. We went ninth in the league that evening and everything felt like it would be alright but, of course, it wasn’t and we plummeted like a stone. We only avoided relegation on the final day thanks to Ipswich Town also being terrible.
But, boy that was a good day out.
Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City - December 26th, 2012
Before we spent every season languishing at the bottom of the league around Christmas time, and before the cracks in Martin O’Neill’s tenure began to show we were a glorious bog standard, mid-table Premier League side.
Boxing Day 2012 saw us welcome the Premier League champions Manchester City to the Stadium of Light. In the midst of our weird run where we kept beating them 1-0 at home, we racked up yet another one. Simon Mignolet played out of his skin, Adam Johnson became the last person in the ground to realise he’d scored and we played a centre back partnership of Carlos Cuellar and Matt Kilgallon to stop Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and David Silva - and it worked (lol).
It propped us back into boring mid-table and that’s the way it stayed ever since...
Everton 0-1 Sunderland - December 26th, 2013
Ondrej Celustka, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge and Phil Bardsley. That was the back four that actually won away at an Everton side that would finish fifth. How on earth did no-one think we’d not stay up after that? It was written in the stars.
Rock bottom of the league, without a league win at Goodison Park since 1996 and with the sexy Diakite-Roberge partnership at the back. God, I love Christmas so much. Ki Sung-yeung played Tim Howard for an absolute plum, got him sent off and smashed in the penalty. What ensued was a sensational defensive display including some ridiculous saves from Vito Mannone.
It proved a catalyst for a season that had looked completely finished a couple months in and gave the players and fans belief that we could stay up. Supporters sang “things can only get better” and, for a change, they did.
Merry Christmas everyone.