When mathematician Edward Lorenz ran repeated computer simulation on weather conditions, he made a startling observation. He termed it the ‘Butterfly Effect’, stating that a flap of a butterfly’s wings in one location could cause a weather change half-way around the world. In chaos theory, it meant that the future states of a complex dynamic system such as the weather, for example, were not predictable because an infinitesimally small change in the starting point could result in a large change over time.
Even though it was in the same decade when the discovery was made by Edward Lorenz, English football’s First Division proved to be one such complex dynamic system on Boxing Day 1963. When the referee blew the final whistle and the last game of the day ended, Britain had witnessed something chaotically beautiful, out of the ordinary and unpredictable. The results were so unexpected that no amount of mathematical modeling using our current technology would have succeeded in accurately predicting what transpired that day. With 66 goals scored in just 10 games, Boxing Day 1963 entered history books for being one of the most mental match days in English football.
The previous season’s snowfall had caused the football fixtures to be cancelled for several weeks, leaving fans asking for more. So, when the Boxing Day fixtures finally took place in 1963, it was as if the lost time was finally being made up for during the festive period. The weather Gods had made up for the previous season’s loss with a spectacle that has not been replicated since.
Fulham reached double goal figures when they hammered Ipswich Town 10-1 at Craven Cottage. Fulham were on a 5-match unbeaten streak going into the Boxing Day game but sitting just 5 places above the relegation zone. Ipswich, on the other hand, had been crowned champions of England in the 1961-62 season under Alf Ramsey, but following his departure had struggled under new manager Jackie Milburn.
Maurice Cook put Fulham ahead after quarter of an hour when he dived to head home a cross from Johnny Key. There was little that Ipswich keeper Roy Bailey could do when a few minutes later Graham Leggat scored the quickest top flight hat-trick (at the time) within a 3-minute window. Bobby Howfield’s corner led to a fumble by Roy Bailey resulting in Fulham’s fifth goal in the first half. Ipswich’s only consolation came through a Gerry Baker goal just before half time.
Howfield picked up where he left off, scoring his second at the other side of the break. Bobby Robson made it 7-1 to Fulham when he scored against the club he would eventually go on to successfully manage from 1969 to 1982. At the 71st minute mark, Howfield completed his hat-trick with Alan Mullery and Graham Leggat helping Fulham reach double figures. This was the club’s record win and Ipswich’s worst defeat ever but despite that, Joe Broadfoot received a standing ovation from both sets of fans for his display.
The East Anglian club had been defensively woeful under Milburn and had went into the game having already conceded 58 goals. By the time the season ended, that figure rocketed to 121 and unsurprisingly they were relegated after finishing bottom of the pile.
On the opposite side of London at the Boleyn Ground, Blackburn Rovers were proving their worth as league leaders. They had not lost a single game since October and had already scored seven against Tottenham Hotspur and four against Arsenal in the League that season, thus establishing their league dominance. Winning against a team that had lost eight times that season when going into the fixture looked a certainty, it was just a question of how many they could score. Blackburn wasted no time in imposing themselves as Fred Pickering scored after a mere 7 minutes with Bryan Douglas doubling the lead soon after. Andy McEvoy and Mike Ferguson ensured that Rovers had a safety cushion as they added a goal each to make it 4-0 going into half-time.
Johnny Byrne’s two goals for the Hammers did precious little as Pickering and McEvoy both bagged their hat-tricks. West Ham, like Ipswich, had suffered their worst defeat ever on a rain soaked pitch owing to their hopeless defensive display. Blackburn demonstrated the elegance of a team that deserved the top spot. However, they could not sustain their form, failing to win a single league game in January. Five consecutive league defeats in March saw them eventually drop to finish seventh in the table.
In the north west, Liverpool – who would eventually go on to win the league that season – hosted Stoke City at Anfield. The Reds had lost just one more game than Blackburn leading up to Boxing Day and had drawn only twice. Stoke had struggled initially but managed to steady the ship by October and November but a string of poor results saw them come into the Boxing Day fixture off the back of consecutive league defeats to Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves. Liverpool opened the scoring through Ian St John who made it 1-0 at half time. It was only on the other side of the break that Liverpool really fired up their engines, scoring 5 goals in their quest for the title. Roger Hunt’s heroics saw him score a brace either side of Alf Arrowsmith’s goal; his first two coming in a matter of 180 seconds.
Hunt was signed for Liverpool at the age of just 20 by manager Phil Taylor. When Bill Shankly replaced Taylor, he showed faith in the youngster by retaining him in the squad during his gradual overhaul. That faith was repaid when Liverpool won promotion back to Division One in 1962 after languishing in the lower tier for 6 years. Hunt would go on to become a Liverpool legend finishing as the top scorer in eight straight seasons. In the 1963-64 season, he scored more than a third of Liverpool’s 92 league goals.
Boxing Day 1963 witnessed a similar scoreline in Manchester United’s fixture, but it was Burnley who won 6-1 at home against Manchester United. Matt Busby’s team had lost 7 games and drawn 4 going into the match while Burnley had lost 8 and drawn 6. Just like Liverpool’s Hunt, Andy Lochhead scored four goals for Burnley to put the game to bed with a lone goal by Herd for United. But it wasn’t Lochhead in the limelight that day, it was a teenager called Willie Morgan who had been given a trial with the Clarets. Burnley played astutely as they went about demolishing the FA Cup holders. Eighteen-year-old Morgan took complete control of the game along with Lochhead and the defeat at Turf Moor was a monumental one as Manchester United finished the league 4 points behind bitter rivals Liverpool.
Morgan had caught the attention of the big clubs after that Boxing Day performance. He had joined Burnley as a replacement for John Connelly who ironically moved to Manchester United. Eight seasons, 22 goals and 231 appearances later, Morgan also left Burnley for Manchester United, replacing John Connelly once again, this time scoring 25 goals in 236 appearances.
While the chaos unfolded across the rest of England, another game being played 54 miles north of Anfield witnessed big numbers on the score sheet. The Daily Mirror’s match report stated, ‘This was a massacre. Everyone could have gone home at half-time.’ This was not far from the truth but considering the other matches that were played in the top flight, this was quite an exaggeration. Bloomfield Road hosted Chelsea who dismantled Blackpool in their backyard. Barry Bridges scored a beautiful header after Albert Murray had opened the scoring for Chelsea. A goal from Peter Houseman and another for Bridges made it 4-0 at half time. The final score was 5-1 to Chelsea. This was their biggest win that season but three consecutive defeats in early Spring saw them finish in 5th place with 50 points.
Between the action in London and the north west, there was a thrilling encounter in the West Midlands. Tottenham visited The Hawthorns having lost just 3 league games since the beginning of September. In contrast, West Bromwich Albion had won just once in October and November. Fans expected Tottenham to take all points. To add to West Brom’s problems, the players were embroiled in a row with their manager regarding their kit. Manager Jimmy Hagan wanted the players to wear shorts while training in the cold which led to several of them revolting against the decision. The players preferred to train with tracksuit pants and their choice of boots which was denied by the manager.
“We are fed up with old-fashioned training methods and being treated like schoolboys instead of intelligent individuals” said club captain Don Howe in an interview. “There is far too much unnecessary dictation and discipline, and not enough time devoted to players putting their own points of view.” It turned out that the off field issues at West Brom did not affect their performance on the pitch that day, as they made a stellar comeback to draw the game after going 4-2 down.
Jimmy Greaves put Tottenham ahead but the chance to equalise was squandered when Howe missed a penalty for West Brom. Bobby Smith doubled the lead but the Baggies fought back to make it 2-1 with a John Kaye header. Cliff Jones’ goal gave Spurs a 2-goal lead but the hosts again pulled one back through Clive Clark’s goal. It seemed as though each time Spurs made an effort to pull away, West Brom fought back to reduce their lead. A goal from Greaves restored Tottenham’s 2-goal advantage for the third time in the game. The thousands of fans in the ground expected that to be the end, but West Brom were not ready to give up so easily. Mickey Fudge scored the third for West Brom before skipper Howe atoned for his earlier mistake by scoring the equaliser to make it 4-4. The draw was not enough for Tottenham who finished the league season with 51 points in 4th, 6 points behind champions Liverpool.
By no means did any of the other games going on that day carry even a hint of monotony. On the contrary, the other games would have been labeled as exciting had this been just another regular match day. But it wasn’t meant to be a normal match day, which made the other games look mediocre in comparison. Nottingham Forest drew 3-3 at home against Sheffield United. The Blades were 3 goals down and made an outstanding comeback to take a point. Aston Villa drew 3-3 away at Wolves and reigning champions Everton lost 2-0 to Leicester City at Filbert Street. Sheffield Wednesday put 3 past Bolton at home; the Trotters ended the season with just 28 points and were relegated. Seventeen goals were scored in those remaining games.
In all, 66 goals were scored by 10 sides within a span of few hours on Boxing Day in 1963. Out of these, just 2 sides failed to join in the goal glut. Throughout the top four divisions in England, 160 goals were scored with 7 players scoring hat-tricks. What’s ironic is the fact that just 2 days later, the reverse fixture was played which resulted in a completely different set of outcomes producing unexpected results once again. Some of the losers from Boxing Day avenged their humiliation on December 28th.
If Edward Lorenz’s chaos theory is even remotely true, then Boxing Day 1963 is one of the biggest case studies for that. It may not have been the wings of a flapping butterfly, but there might have been an unquantifiable variable that led to the madness.
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