Christmas crackers

Following on from yesterday’s bad Christmas experiences, day 22 of the WSC advent calendar sees us focus on the positives. The festive season always gets us excited about extra football matches and, in issue 131, January 1998, Piers Pennington remembered a great day out

Football at Christmas is all about escaping from the relatives, nursing bloated stomachs and monumental hangovers and showing off those unfortunate new jumpers; and the same goes for the spectators. What you really need, of course is snow (Tromsø v Chelsea reminded us of what it ought to look like); but unless you’re fortunate enough to support Inverness Caley or Carlisle the sight of an orange ball against a sea of white is rare. 

True, snow might encourage the away end to sing Jingle Bells if their team scores, but nothing will stop that happening between October and March anyway. So when the miracle of nature does occur at the traditional season, cherish the memories to sustain you through another mild and drizzly Boxing Day scoreless draw. Think back, for instance, to 1976.

Christmas Day itself was a Saturday; and it wasn’t until the Monday that the snow started to fall and disrupt the crowded holiday football schedule. By the Wednesday evening in Oxford it lay fairly deep, not uncrisp and far from even; but the local derby with Reading went ahead anyway.

What the players have to do in such circumstances, of course, is Overcome the Conditions; and while Oxford had no Vialli they had the anglicized version – Peter Foley. Like Vialli, Foley left it late and it was only after 89 minutes of comic ineptitude that he decided the time had come to make his mark. What he produced was surely one of the most memorable goals ever to grace the Third Division .

There is a Winter Olympic sport called the luge in which competitors go feet-first down a toboggan run sitting on a tea-tray; and while Foley had no tray to assist him, he did have the famous Manor slope. As another hopeful cross landed in a minor snowdrift ten yards from the Reading line, Foley launched himself from the edge of the area. His initial impetus took him as far as the ball, and showing great presence of mind, he parted his legs and grasped it firmly between his knees. As the effects of the slope began to kick in Foley, flat on his back, headed for goal at a rapidly increasing pace.

His progress having created a localised blizzard, he vanished from view as he was approaching the six-yard line, leaving defenders and goalkeeper gazing at each other with a wild surmise, clearly wondering how to set about tackling an avalanche. As the snow settled Foley was revealed sitting in the back of the net, Reading players on either side of him and the ball nestling cosily in his lap. Once the referee had stopped laughing, he could think of no law which had been infringed; and a couple of minutes and the inevitable panicky goal line clearance later Oxford were celebrating a much-needed victory.

Astonishingly, this proved not to be the end of the evening’s excitement, for who should be sitting in the pub round the corner but the glamorous actress Susan George. (We know this for a fact because my friend Mike engaged her in conversation. It went “Are you Susan George?” “Yes.”)

29th December, 1976. Christmas, football, snow and sex. It may never happen again.

From WSC 131 January 1998. What was happening this month