One of the things I really used to enjoy about Christmas as a child was getting a Selection Box of confectionery.
For some reason, the dull assortment of everyday sweets and chocolate bars seemed special and exciting simply because they came packaged in a stocking made of plastic netting so tough that it would lacerate the fingers of any kid foolish enough to try and open it without scissors. (Yes, I mean me.)
In that spirit, I hereby present my own festive Selection Box. It's the usual unsatisfying fare, but I'm hoping that presenting it in a slightly different format will trick you into thinking it's interesting…
The first Christmas present I ever remember getting was a bright orange Wembley football made of plastic so thick and heavy that it hurt my foot every time kicked it. (Why did 1960s plastic manufacturers hate kids so much?) Like City's corner takers at Colchester last Saturday, I could barely get it off the ground.
My elder brother could, though ? and when he booted it against a brick wall, it made a kind of clanging sound on impact rather than a thud. One day he unleashed one of his thunderbolts when I was in goal and the ball hit me full in the face. My head made a kind of clanging sound and I burst into tears.
'Why are you crying? You saved it,' he said, not altogether sympathetically.
The odd thing about this incident, though, is that it was witnessed by my brother's then girlfriend and later wife who told me some years later, 'That was the moment I knew I wanted to marry him'.
I still don't understand that.
Talking of Colchester, that was the venue the last time City played a fixture on Christmas Day. It was in 1956, and the score was 1-1 on that occasion too. Of course, the idea of playing on Christmas Day seems preposterous now ? but I bet they didn't kick off at 5.20 in the afternoon.
The first Christmas present I ever remember not getting was a pair of Stylo Matchmakers ? the football boots endorsed by George Best.
They were sleek, stylish, aerodynamic ? everything my old boots with reinforced toecaps were not. They were the boots of the future. I nagged my parents for a pair for months, convinced that they were the secret of Best's success. If only I had some, I would be able to do similar things with a ball. Maybe even lift it more than six inches off the ground.
What did I actually find in my stocking that year? A box of Matchmakers ? not the boots, but the thin sticks of chocolate presented in a plastic tray.
It was several years later before I got a decent pair of boots and realised they made no difference to my game at all.
A seasonal message to our back four regarding our new manager:
'He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness sake…'
The worst football-related Christmas present I ever received was an Ipswich Town calendar, given to me by a Secret Santa at work a few years ago. It was in the bin before anyone could say 'Ho, ho, ho…!'
The second worst was probably the board game Soccerama, endorsed by Alan Ball. It was so dull and long-winded, it made Monopoly look like Buck-a-roo. We never did manage to complete a full game? cough? Luke Chadwick? cough?
Gloves make a pretty dull Christmas present too, of course. And the chances are that the recipient already has a pair they like anyway.
Like Darel Russell, who evidently likes his so much that he keeps them on even when he's at work.
It may be a useful advertisement for club shop merchandise, but I don't think it strikes fear into the opposition when they see them.
In 1951, City played a derby match at Ipswich on Christmas Day and won 2-0 in front of 16,000 fans. (The following day saw a repeat of the scoreline at Carrow Road ? in front of 32,000 fans.) Of course, the idea of playing Ipswich on Christmas Day seems preposterous now ? but I bet they didn't kick off at 11.30 in the morning.
The Christmas present I received most often in my youth (well, tying with the slightly manky orange Santa always used to leave me ? I never knew why he bothered, as we had plenty in the fruit bowl on the sideboard) was a football annual.
Usually this would be the Charles Buchan Football Annual. I had no idea who he was, and still don't. But after delving around in the darkest recesses of the loft, I've just unearthed The Boys' Book of Soccer for 1969.
While some of the articles are of little general interest now ('Spotlight on Jim Iley', anyone?), a surprising number are still relevant today.
There are features on football 'rowdyism', on players play-acting and on the burgeoning professional league in the USA. Another, titled 'The Rich Get Richer', begins: 'Is the gap between First and Fourth Division football widening season by season?' It concludes with the gloomy prediction that one day all the domestic honours will be shared by 'an elite of the top nine or ten clubs in the country'. Nine or ten? Today it's hard to see how it could ever be that many.
But the most entertaining article looks at the fabulous riches suddenly being earned by top players. '(Liverpool winger) Peter Thompson is still in his early twenties, yet he has an interest in a caravan business…' Oooh!
'On your way to White Hart Lane to see Spurs, you might pass two shops, one selling ties, the other meat. They're owned by two of the Tottenham team, Dave Mackay and Cliff Jones.' Double oooh!
And then there's 'one of our top stars, Jimmy Greaves? Over the past six years it is reasonable to assume that Greaves has averaged something like ?5,000 a year from wages, bonuses and international match fees.'
'He owns a fine house and car, and is a smart dresser, but he hasn't wasted his money. His high earnings have enabled him to start, build up and maintain a flourishing business dealing with cartons and other packaging materials.'
Rather poignant when you think what sort of containers he went on to invest in.
And finally? a very happy Christmas to everyone and goodwill to all men.*
* Exclusions apply.
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