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Boxing Day football memories: Sportsmail remembers the festive fun from past years

Boxing Day football memories: Sportsmail remembers the festive fun from past years

PUBLISHED:

21:00 GMT, 24 December 2012

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UPDATED:

10:12 GMT, 25 December 2012

While most of Europe sits back and enjoys a winter break, the English football season cranks up into overdrive over the festive period. Here, Sportsmail reflects on Boxing Day brilliance from the past.

Christmas cheer: Boxing Day traditionally throws up some classic encounters

Christmas cheer: Boxing Day traditionally throws up some classic encounters

Neil Ashton
Crystal Palace 2 Brighton 0, 1986

Alan Mullery was returning to Selhurst Park with his beloved Brighton – two years after he was fired as Palace manager.

This time he couldn't turn the south coast club's fortunes around and they ran into an upwardly mobile Palace team managed by Steve Coppell at the age of just 31.

The Eagles, playing in their legendary red and blue sash strip – this one produced by Hummel – went ahead through winger Alan Irvine, who is now David Moyes' academy director at Everton.

In front of just over 8,000 supporters Palace scored a second through former Aylesbury striker Phil Barber.

Matt Barlow
Sheffield Wednesday 3 Manchester United 3, 1992

Two of the best teams in the country produced a Boxing Day classic with 37,000 inside Hillsborough.

Boxing on Boxing Day: Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday played out a thriller in 1992

Boxing on Boxing Day: Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday played out a thriller in 1992

Boxing on Boxing Day: Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday played out a thriller in 1992

A David Hirst-inspired Wednesday were three up by half-time but United fought back with Cantona, whose legend was in its infancy, grabbing the equaliser six minutes from time.

United went on to win the Premier League and Wednesday suffered double cup final heartache to Arsenal.

Chris Wheeler
Everton 2 Man United 6, Boxing Day 1977

An Everton team going for the title were favourites at home to a United side languishing in 14th place in the First Division table – even more so because Paddy Roche was deputising in goal for the injured Alex Stepney.

It was asking too much for Roche to keep a clean sheet, and Martin Dobson and Bob Latchford scored for Gordon Lee’s side. But goals from Lou Macari (2), Steve Coppell, Jimmy Greenhoff, Gordon Hill and Sammy McIlroy gave United a comprehensive win in front of nearly 50,000 at Goodison and a Boxing Day to remember.

Dominic King
Liverpool 5 West Brom 0, 2004

Boxing Day is curious with regards football. There is always a crackle in the atmosphere at games and the mood is generally good but despite racking my brains, I'm struggling to remember one humdinger of a game that stands out above everything else.

Captain marvel: Steven Gerrard was on the scoresheet as Liverpool ran riot in 2004

Captain marvel: Steven Gerrard was on the scoresheet as Liverpool ran riot in 2004

Saying that, Boxing Day 2004 was pretty good. Harchibald won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, Kicking obliged half an hour later in the King George and Liverpool then demolished West Brom in the evening kick-off, winning 5-0 with Jon Arne Riise nearly ripping the net apart with one thunderbolt.

Laura Williamson
Lincoln City 1-2 Grimsby Town, 2011

One of the genuinely good things about playing in the Blue Square Premier has been the emphasis on holding local derbies over the festive period.

It’s a fantastic way to increase attendances and attention while people are at home with their families over Christmas, which is why the programme is dominated by derbies again in 2012.

Grimsby's 2-1 win at Lincoln last year was a highlight (although not quite as sweet as the 3-1 in the ‘return leg’ on New Year’s Day): let’s have the same again this time around, please.

Neil Moxley
Birmingham City 3 Aston Villa 0, 1982

Looking at the record books, it was 24 hours after Boxing Day, but I think every Birmingham City supporter worth his salt remembers what took place in 1982 in the Second City derby.

Aston Villa were, after all, the reigning European Champions. Birmingham City were rooted to the foot of the old First Division.

However, that didn't stop over 40,000 supporters packing out the ground, including 6-7,000 Villa fans housed in the Tilton Road End of the ground. It made for a cracking atmosphere.

Goals from Noel Blake, the late Ian Handysides and a scrambled effort from Mick Ferguson unexpectedly lifted the Blues from the foot of the table.

Birmingham City had taught the reigning European Champions a lesson. It's not a sentence they hear too often at St Andrew's…

Janine Self
Blackburn 2 Aston Villa 1, 1998

Brash, cocky, utterly confident, John Gregory brought second-placed Aston Villa to Blackburn on Boxing Day 1998.

Upsetting the odds: Blackburn turned the tables on John Gregory's Aston Villa in 1998

Upsetting the odds: Blackburn turned the tables on John Gregory's Aston Villa in 1998

Upsetting the odds: Blackburn turned the tables on John Gregory's Aston Villa in 1998

Struggling Rovers had just
sacked Roy Hodgson and recruited Brian Kidd, who had made a decent start
although the appointment would turn out to be disastrous.

At
the time I was working in the north-west and Blackburn were one of 'my'
teams. In a season of unmitigating lows, this was a rare high.

Kevin
Gallacher and Tim Sherwood got the goals in a 2-1 win, aided by the
sending-off of Michael Oakes. Riccardo Scimeca scored for Villa.

My
memory Gregory was superbly entertaining in the post-match press
conference. And one year later, I had moved to the Midlands and Villa
had become one of 'my' teams. Strange world.

Sami Mokbel
Coventry 0 Crystal Palace 2, 2007

This is a bit of an obscure one, but it sticks in my mind because it was my first Boxing Day game as a working journalist.

It wasn't memorable, Palace cruising to a 2-0 win at the Ricoh Arena thanks to goals from Clinton Morrison and Paul Ifill.

Handily, I was covering the Eagles for a local newspaper which means post-match player interviews were a hell of a lot easier to come by. A pretty Merry Christmas all round.

Laurie Whitwell
Stoke City 0 Manchester United 1, 2008

A personal rather than professional memory for me, given I have yet to work a Boxing Day fixture.

Argy bargy: Carlos Tevez was the hero in the closing stages for Manchester United at Stoke

Argy bargy: Carlos Tevez was the hero in the closing stages for Manchester United at Stoke

The Britannia Stadium on 2008 was the setting and another stubborn performance from Stoke the context. United had just returned from winning the Club World Cup in Japan and were showing signs of jet-lag, with the score 0-0 into the final ten minutes.

No hangovers from Christmas indulgence in the stands though, with the atmosphere in both home and away sections particularly lively. A reminder of football’s raw pleasure.

When it seemed United would let two points slip, Carlos Tevez struck to send visiting bodies sprawling. A vital win on the way to a record-equalling 18th title.

Ian Ladyman
Everywhere

It’s
hard to be specific but part of my love of English football stems from
Boxing Days visits with my Dad to any one of the grounds in the
north-west close to where I grew up.

Deepdale,
Ewood Park, Turf Moor, Goodison, Anfield and Maine Road all got a visit
at one stage or another over the years. Turn up, pay on the gate, stand
(on tiptoes) on the terrace and go home again. Not quite as easy these
days.

Demba Ba escapes fine for radio interview

No fine for Ba despite Newcastle striker critising club in radio interview

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UPDATED:

16:19 GMT, 20 December 2012

Newcastle United striker Demba Ba has escaped a club fine for his controversial interview with a French television station this week.

The Senegal international, who appeared to indicate he was looking to join Arsenal and was critical of the team’s style of football, has avoided punishment for the interview with L'Equipe du Dimanche, a show on Canal+.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, and club executives, have studied the interview this week and decided he has not breached any club rules.

Blunder: Ba criticised Newcastle on a French radio station

Blunder: Ba criticised Newcastle on a French radio station

Ba, who is refusing to sign a new deal with Newcastle to replace the 7.5million release clause in his current deal, claimed the team's 'long ball football' had damaged their league campaign this season.

Last season Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa was fined after he criticised the team's style of play following a 3-0 win over Manchester United.

But Pardew said then: 'I didn’t see anything wrong with his interview.

'I don’t think any player at any football club is going to say their philosophy is the same as the manager.

No fine: Pardew was understanding of his star striker

No fine: Pardew was understanding of his star striker

'I didn’t when I was working with Steve Coppell (at Crystal Palace) I was the same but I still admired him and understood what he is about and learned a great deal off him.'

As doubts remain over Ba’s future at St James’s Park, Newcastle have again be linked with a reunion with England striker Andy Carroll.

According to newspaper reports, the Geordie striker is keen on a return to Tyneside after an unhappy move to Liverpool and his current loan spell with West Ham.

But he would need special dispensation to return to Newcastle in the next transfer window because he has played for two Premier League teams.

Sean O"Driscoll is the new Crawley manager

New boss O'Driscoll impressed with Crawley set-up

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UPDATED:

18:03 GMT, 16 May 2012

Sean O'Driscoll has been appointed as the new manager of Crawley.

The 54-year-old ex-Doncaster boss had been working as first-team coach at Nottingham Forest since January but has agreed to take over at Broadfield Stadium with immediate effect.

In a statement released by the club, O'Driscoll said: 'I did a lot of due diligence on Crawley Town before I decided to accept the club's offer.

Appointed: Sean O'Driscoll has been named new Crawley manager

Appointed: Sean O'Driscoll has been named new Crawley manager

'I have been impressed with the owners and people behind the scenes and I am looking forward to helping the club establish itself in League One.'

Craig Brewster assumed control of the side on an interim basis following Steve Evans' move to Rotherham, but remains on the coaching staff, while Steve Coppell continues in his role of Director of Football.

O'Driscoll added: 'Crawley is a good fit for me. They are a club trying to do things the right way.

'I came to the club and the area three times before I decided to take the job and spoke to a lot of people.

'I got a very good feel for what has been achieved in the last two years and the potential there is to develop Crawley Town still further.

'This is a challenge I am really looking forward to. My football philosophy is to improve players and the way they think about the game. It is going to be a busy summer.'

David James to leave Bristol City

End of the road for James Former England keeper released by Bristol City

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UPDATED:

15:33 GMT, 1 May 2012

Former England goalkeeper David James has been told he can leave npower Championship club Bristol City.

The Robins announced their retained list on Tuesday and revealed the 41-year-old, capped 53 times by his country, would not be offered a new deal.

End of the road: James has been told he can leave Bristol

End of the road: James has been told he can leave Bristol

James, who counts Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City among his former clubs, was signed by Steve Coppell in August 2010 during the former City manager's four-month spell in charge.

The ex-Watford trainee had only recently returned from the World Cup in South Africa, where he featured in three of England's four matches, keeping two clean sheets.

No deal: James won't be offered a new contract

No deal: James won't be offered a new contract

Robins manager Derek McInnes has decided to consider alternative options and James was among eight players informed their futures lie away from Ashton Gate.

During his two seasons with the club, James made 81 league appearances and played a substantial part in their successful battle against the drop in this campaign.

As a sign of McInnes' desire to look to the future, youth team keeper Lewis Carey has been offered a professional deal.

Leon McKenzie on suicide attempt and depression – interview

Leon McKenzie: I tried to end it all… now I want to help others cope with the pain

Leon McKenzie knows that some people will read the story of his journey back to life and say: “15,000 a week and you were depressed Get over it.”

Professional footballers are fair game and he knows it, a price the public and the media expect him to pay for acting out our childhood fantasies.

Fresh start: McKenzie is settling into a more modest lifestyle, befitting a player winding down his playing days

Fresh start: McKenzie is settling into a more modest lifestyle, befitting a player winding down his playing days

McKenzie lived the high life at Norwich, Coventry and Charlton, squandering money on fast cars, gambling, nights out with the boys and a bitter, acrimonious divorce from his first wife.

But no-one really knows what goes on when footballers close their front doors, isolated from the rest of the world and wrestling with their insecurities.

Fear. Injuries. Form. Confusion. Friendship. Cash. Fame. Wife. Family. Trust. Faith. McKenzie will tell you it swallowed him whole, leading to a bottle of Jack Daniel”s and 40-odd sleeping tablets in a hotel room in Bexleyheath.

Premier talent: McKenzie shared a pitch - and swapped shirts - with English football

Premier talent: McKenzie shared a pitch – and swapped shirts – with English football”s elite

McKenzie, 33, slides back into his favourite sofa at his mid-sized detached home in Northampton and retraces the steps that nearly took his life. At times he is close to tears. There is no holding back, not now that he has come this far.

The son of Clinton McKenzie, the former British light-welterweight champion, he grew up in south London and fought his way into the Crystal Palace first team.

In black and white: Leon with his father Clinton McKenzie

In black and white: Leon with his father Clinton McKenzie

Leon was a dad at 19 and already there was confusion. The youth-team coach at Palace told the young striker he had ruined his career; the first-team manager Steve Coppell simply asked McKenzie if he was happy.

“I was confused – someone at the club was telling me I”d made a mess of things and someone else was making sure I was happy. I was happy.”

He moved on to Peterborough in 2000, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances under Barry Fry. Life was sweet. And then came the phone call from his mother that ripped his life apart.

“My sister Tracey had called me a couple of days before. She said she wasn”t happy, she had an identity crisis. She had skin like me, she said she couldn”t fit in with her white friends, she couldn”t fit in with her black friends and it messed her up.

“I told her not to worry, I would be down to see her soon. Then my mum rang me, in tears. Gone. At 23.

Up for the battle: McKenzie playing for Northampton Town earlier this year

Up for the battle: McKenzie playing for Northampton Town earlier this year

“My clubs taught me how to score goals, but I was a kid – they never taught me how to deal with something like that.”

The week after Tracey”s death, he played for Peterborough and carried on as if nothing had happened. That is what was expected of him. He got a move to Norwich and was in the team that won promotion to the Premier League. He formed a formidable strike partnership with Dean Ashton the following season.

“I was in a place where I didn”t want to be and I wouldn”t wish it on anyone”

“In the dressing room I can be loud and aggressive, one of the boys, showing no sign of what”s really going on. Halfway through that Premier League season at Norwich I was getting divorced. I couldn”t see my children and they are my life.

“I used to go home, call my mum in tears. I was spending too much time alone. Divorce was another trigger. I spent a lot of money on it. It might have been my fault, but it didn”t feel fair.

“I didn”t have the best people around me. When things are going well they are by your side – I call them hangers-on.

On target: McKenzie formed a deadly relationship with Dean Ashton at Norwich

On target: McKenzie formed a deadly relationship with Dean Ashton at Norwich

“I”m generous and I was earning good money at Norwich. I lent people money because I thought, “If that is going to make you happy then I will give it to you”. But of course I never saw the money back.”

He moved to Coventry in 2006, making a fresh start there after a turbulent, wretched final year spent injured at Norwich.

Moving on: McKenzie is keen to help others

Moving on: McKenzie is keen to help others

Coventry gave him a pay rise, lining his pockets again after an expensive settlement with his ex-wife.

“I had to start again. Then the injuries really set in. I broke my ankle at Norwich, but I got a thigh strain at Coventry and then I ruptured my achilles. I never really got back from that.

“Then it started. “Ah, you”re injured again, you”re injury-prone”. Media, fans, the manager were all on my case.

“People think you are paid thousands so you just get on with it. I love scoring goals, but it was being taken away from me. When you leave the training ground, who knows that I lost my sister, went through a divorce or worry that I will never play again

“When you play, the crowd expect you to score the winner – that”s why they worship you. That”s one reason it can make people depressed – you can”t always give them what they want.”

He was desperate to prove himself again, signing for Charlton in 2009 when Phil Parkinson was in charge. He spent most of his time on the treatment table, riven with niggles that kept him away from the first team. Then he hit rock bottom.

Flying high: McKenzie started his professional career with Crystal Palace

Flying high: McKenzie started his professional career with Crystal Palace

“I was in a hotel in Bexleyheath for four or five months, I wasn”t even training because I was injured all the time. My family were back in Northampton, my wife, my kids, my life… I wasn”t well, but I didn”t know it. I would sit there, crying for a couple of hours, not calling anyone, not having anyone to speak to. I thought it would pass, but it got worse. When you”re injured it”s a lonely world.

“The manager brought me in and it didn”t work because I was injured. Sometimes they look at you in a certain way – but no-one means to be injured or to go through what I went through in my life.

“As much as this is a business, we are all humans. I called my mum, crying, telling her it was driving me crazy. I didn”t know what to do, she started crying, she hates seeing me like this. I told her I loved her loads and that it would be all right.”

Yellow peril: The striker enjoyed successful spell at Carrow Road

Yellow peril: The striker enjoyed a successful spell at Carrow Road

Except he was not all right. He was on his own, alone with his thoughts and scared of a future without football. His darkest day.

“I felt I had done all the things I wanted to do in my life. Got married to my second wife, my kids, professional football, Premier League, scoring 100 goals…

“I was in a place where I didn”t want to be and I wouldn”t wish it on anyone. I wanted to end it, to end the pain. I got a bottle of Jack Daniel”s, a load of sleeping pills and anti-inflammatories and must have knocked back 40 tablets.”

People will say, “Oh, he”s on 200,000 a week, get on with it”

He knew what he had done, calling his father Clinton in the moments before he spiralled out of control, stumbling around the room until he lost consciousness.

“I woke up in hospital in Dartford and my family were in tears. The doctors told me I was lucky, a couple more pills and that would be me done. I was lost, cut off from the outside world. I was numb, I didn”t know what to do any more, but I knew I wasn”t happy and I don”t know why. I just knew my career was coming to an end and I couldn”t handle everything else that was going on in my life. The hospital let me go that day, they told me I was lucky to be alive. I felt terrible.” He drove straight to training at Charlton and did not tell a soul.

Two years on and McKenzie is determined to pass on the benefit of his experience, challenging himself and channelling his emotions in the direction of young players.

McKenzie, now at Kettering, had professional counselling, accepting help after he realised the full extent of his actions.

He has started to work with the PFA, offering guidance and one-on-one talks with players about the problems facing footballers.

“I hit rock bottom. I was scared to own up to feeling depressed because it”s a male, macho environment and you”re not supposed to show any weakness.

“Now I know that the bravest thing to do is to call for help – that is a strength.

“There is no-one for the players to speak with. They need someone they can relate to, passing on the benefit of their experience.

“In sport we don”t trust anyone. I can count my friends on one hand now. Some of the top guys in the Premier League will be suffering depression, but if they knew they had someone to talk to, they could find help.

“People will say, “Oh, he”s on 200,000 a week, get on with it”, but that kind of money creates its own pressure. I lost money, I gambled, I got divorced and then I tried to take my own life. I look back and regret what I did, but others cannot say the same.”

Leon lives at home with wife Sofia and two of his children (the other two are in Norwich with his first wife), planning a successful life away from football. In a few weeks he will retire, calling family and friends to Kettering to watch him play one last time.

Like the rest of the squad, he is unpaid. He is concentrating on his future. He loves music, finding a talent for singing, and is about to release a record, Feel the Flow. That”s his passion, spending time in the recording studio and funding the project that will lead to a music video and EP. He is enjoying life again, free from the treatment table and full of enthusiasm.

FOOTBALL IS FINALLY REALISING THAT IT CAN”T FORGET ITS TORTURED SOULS

For eon McKenzie to tell his life story and become a torchbearer for the game”s troubled souls took huge courage. His account of his sister”s suicide, along with his desperate plea for help when he was at Charlton, highlights some of the sport”s tragic off-field issues.

Player welfare has been neglected, but change is afoot, with the Elite Players Performance Programme offering a support network. The top academies will have programmes tailor-made to the players and the Premier League offers modules to prepare them mentally for their career.

Some clubs have mentoring projects, with former Manchester City star Jeff Whitley, a victim of depression himself, working with players at Wolves. Having taken media mentoring seminars on behalf of the Premier League”s players programme, I am fortunate to have met some of the game”s raw recruits. Many are confused and misguided, lacking the skills to cope with their environment.

The PFA have sent out guides on depression to 4,000 current members and 50,000 past players. It is a starting point, but more needs to be done.
Neil Ashton