Two games and 21 goals in London

icon goalposts26 December ~ Boxing Day was different half a century ago. You could travel by public transport as if it were a normal Sunday and, if you were up early enough, you could get from Chobham, in the Surrey stockbroker belt, to Upton Park for an 11am kick-off. Then, if you were hungry for more, you could take the District Line to Putney Bridge and be inside Craven Cottage well before 3pm. It had been a wet Christmas Day, and as I began the four-mile cycle ride to Woking station, my fear was that the games at West Ham and Fulham might not take place.

It was a miserable dawn, misty, dank and drizzly, and the rest of the day was no better. It was very different from Boxing Day a year before when, after seeing Woking lose 5-0 to Kingstonian, I had cycled home from Kingfield in a blizzard that was the start of the big freeze.

I leant my bike against a hedge in the station car park and caught a train to Waterloo. I was about to witness a pair of games the like of which will surely never be seen again on the same day. (And I would be very interested to know if there is anyone else out there who saw both those games). The two matches, Blackburn’s 8-2 win at West Ham and Fulham’s 10-1 thrashing of Ipswich, were both played on pitches that, appropriately, resembled a Christmas pudding. Today they might even be considered unplayable, but back then they excited no comment. Such conditions were normal by the time Christmas came round.

But that is where the similarities ended. At Craven Cottage the game was effectively over after 20 minutes as Fulham scored four goals in five minutes, including a hat-trick from Graham Leggat that was the fastest in the history of Division One. Fittingly, Leggat also scored the goal that made it ten after 89 minutes. The scoreline did actually tell the truth. On the day Fulham were nine goals better than an abysmal Ipswich team.

Their other goals, in front of 19,374 spectators, came from Cook, a Howfield hat-trick, Robson and, a minute before Leggat scored the tenth, Mullery. I remember the Fulham fans screaming for ten after Mullery’s goal and getting it, and then applauding outside-right Joe Broadfoot, the one Ipswich player who never gave up. Ipswich’s goal came from Gerry Baker on the stroke of half time and made the score 5-1.

It was not quite the same at Upton Park in the morning, which was a much more even game than the score suggests, and West Ham played some of their trademark attractive passing football. In front of 20,500, it was still 1-1 after half an hour with Johnny Byrne soon levelling Fred Pickering’s fifth minute opener, and there was no hint of what was to come. Then Blackburn scored three in 15 minutes to take a commanding lead. The game was still not quite over even when Blackburn made it 5-1, because Byrne quickly pulled one back with half an hour to go before three further goals completed the rout.

Blackburn, of course, thoroughly deserved to win, and West Ham’s their defending was dreadful, but it was one of those games when every shot Blackburn tried seemed to go in. Pickering and Andy McEvoy got hat-tricks with the other goals coming from Bryan Douglas, who was the game’s outstanding player, and Mike Ferguson. My abiding memory of this game is the philosophical way the Hammers fans took what is still their club’s heaviest home league defeat and the standing ovation they gave to Blackburn at the end.

So, in the space of under six hours, I saw 21 goals, none of them a penalty or an own goal, and at least five goals in each of the four halves. I saw one player score four, three hat-tricks and 11 different goalscorers. It was something unique even for Boxing Day, which often produced strange results. Richard Mason

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