I first began to watch Huddersfield Town during the 1947-48 season where, in those far-off days the fixture list always included a match on Christmas Day.
Football was just as much a part of the Christmas Tradition as the Queen’s Speech and mince pies. If you went out to watch Town on Christmas Day, you weren’t able to listen to the Queen on the radio, but you could have a mince pie when you got home.
Football had been played on Christmas Day from the earliest beginnings of the League. Christmas Day was a rare Public Holiday and football was virtually the only entertainment available, so it was logical that December 25th was a special day in the fixtures. When the next season’s list came out, people always asked, “Who have we got at Christmas then?”
It became established practice for the two Christmas matches (for there was a Boxing Day match as well) to be against the same team, home and away.
In theory, the matches were local derbies, so that travelling was reduced to a minimum but looking at the Town fixtures in the fifties, however, there was no such advantage for us:
1950 - December 25-26: Wolverhampton Wanderers
1951 - December 25-26: Derby County
1952 - December 25-27: Swansea Town
1953 - December 25-26: Sunderland
1954 - December 25-27:Sunderland
1955 - December 26-27: Blackpool
1956 - December 24-26: Notts County
1957 - December 25-26: Middlesbrough
1958 - December 25-27: Charlton Athletic
1959 - December 26-28: Stoke City
1960 - December 24-26: Stoke City
In 1955, Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, so Town played on the Monday and Tuesday, and in 1960, for the same reason, Town played on the Saturday and the Monday. Younger readers might be astonished to learn that Sunday football was not allowed in the UK until 1974.
(You will see that that, in 1952, Town played their pair of seasonal fixtures against Swansea Town. Is that a mistake? No: the township of Swansea was not granted City status until 1969).
For fans, going to a match on Christmas Day was a very special experience. The gate-men might have a bit of tinsel round their cloth-caps and there was always a whiff of rum on the terrace as hip-flasks were passed around. The weather could be bad, of course, but I don’t remember a Christmas Day match ever being postponed.
In those pre-floodlights days, the kick-off time had to be early. Whilst 3pm was the standard kick-off time at the start of the season, matches started at 2.45 pm, then at 2.30pm and finally at 2.15pm as the days got shorter and shorter.
The early 2.15pm was not a family-friendly time for me to have a football match to go to on Christmas Day. Furthermore, I needed to set off no later than 1pm to get there in time. My mother, slaving away in our tiny kitchen to produce the Perfect Christmas Dinner, was not best pleased whenever Town were at home on Christmas Day. I can’t now remember the special arrangements made just for me. I may have bolted down a small portion of dinner and then had a warmed-up plateful when I eventually came home.
My travel arrangements were identical to those for normal matches, because in those days the trains and buses were not curtailed as they are today. In those teenage times I always went with my best mate from school, who lived just down the road in Honley. We used to walk to Honley Station, which was about a mile away from my house, and then catch the train into Huddersfield.
A southern visitor once unwisely asked a local “Why is the station so far from the village?” to which the old Honleyer replied, “’appen they thowt they’d build it near t’lines like”.
The train went through the Honley Tunnel and the Robin Hood Tunnel, stopped at Berry Brow Station, clanked over Lockwood Viaduct, stopped at Lockwood Station and passed through the Springwood Tunnel and arrived at Huddersfield Station. Soon we were hurrying out of the station and through St George’s Square. Past the George Hotel we went, across John William Street and down Northumberland Street. We then turned first left into Wood Street and there were the trolley-buses. Their destination blinds said Football Special. We always went on the top-deck if we could.
As soon as our trolley was full, it set off, turning right past the market hall and heading back to Northumberland St and its continuation Leeds Road. In those days there was no Ring Road or complex traffic system: everything seemed so much simpler. There were very few other vehicles on the road and we soon reached the ground.
We always went in through the entrance marked Boys. This was on the narrow back lane behind the terrace of houses fronting Leeds Road. Over twenty years before decimalisation, we were firmly in the “pounds, shillings and pence era”. When we first started going regularly, we paid ten old pence to go in. That is about 4p in today’s money.
We always stood (if we could find a place) in the middle of the big terrace side, halfway along and halfway up. If we could, we “bagged a barrier”, just below the path that ran along the terracing. There was no cover when we first went, so we were open to the elements, but we got a roof in 1955.
I can’t remember really foul weather on Christmas Day, but there must have been, I suppose. There would be ice and snow from time to time. In those days, however, matches were rarely postponed: referees might have to inspect the pitch beforehand, but they usually “deemed it fit for play”.
If the weather was good, there would usually be one of the best attendances of the season. On December 27, 1954 Huddersfield Town played Sunderland at Leeds Road. They were at the height of their powers. They had finished third in the First Division the previous season and were still playing some very good stuff. They had beaten Manchester City 4-2 at Maine Road and Arsenal 5-3 at Highbury, so 47,450 turned up that day. That’s the biggest Christmas Season crowd that I ever stood in.
My friend and I would leave the ground by the big gates that opened on to Bradley Mills Road. Trolley buses were lined up, tightly against one another, all the way back along the road, past the Main Stand entrance.
We usually walked back into the town centre, rather than wait for a trolley. Then it was back on the train to Honley, a brisk walk home and an opportunity to see if there was any Christmas Pudding left.