On Christmas Day 100 years ago, Crystal Palace fans braved the south coast’s December elements and watched their club enact the first of three matches across three days against teams who would become fierce rivals in years to come.
For the first clash, the turkey dinners were left behind for an afternoon at the Goldstone Ground, Brighton & Hove Albion’s former home of 95 years.
While today’s footballing schedule may seem hectic, matches on Christmas Day are a relic of the past for Palace, who haven’t played on December 25th since 1957. But at one point it was commonplace – and games against the same opponent on Boxing Day typically followed. Even by the standards of the early 20th Century, though, the fledgeling south Londoners put modern footballers to shame with their efforts in 1919.
Playing five days after holding Swindon Town to a 2-2 draw, Palace travelled south for a clash with Brighton on Christmas, a relatively mild Thursday that year. It was the first full season after World War Two’s conclusion and the club had played on the 25th for the last eight campaigns.
The quirk in 1919, however, was that Palace wouldn’t just play on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but on the 27th as well. Furthermore, their adversaries for the three matches would be Brighton and Millwall, today historic rivals for the south Londoners.
The trio of matches sandwiched together got off to a fine start when Edmund Goodman’s men overcame Brighton 2-3 via an Edwin ‘Ted’ Smith brace and John Whibley effort.
The next day, 15,000 spectators filled The Nest – Palace’s former ground in Selhurst - to watch the fixture enacted for the second time in as many days.
Despite the weariness of legs, Palace did the double and defeated Brighton again, this time 4-0. Edwin Smith again bagged a goal and was joined by John ‘Jack’ Conner and Tom Barber, who scored twice.
Of course, while Albion didn’t become a notable adversary of Palace’s until the mid-1970s, the south Londoners could suggest some kind of foe in Millwall, who were transitioning to the Old Den at the time, just eight miles away from the Nest.
And so, due to a bizarre congestion in the fixture list, Goodman’s charges would find themselves pitted against their south London opponents three games in to a game-per-day run.
But, as with Brighton, Millwall would prove no threat to the workhorse Palace squad, who defeated their guests 1-0. This time Dick Cracknell fired Palace to victory.
After three triumphant matches in three gruelling days, Goodman and his players had enjoyed no time to themselves across Christmas in 1919. Their reward? A six-day break before facing Northampton Town on January 3rd, 1920. The Northampton game saw Palace win their fourth of five consecutive victories and preceded a two-week spell of inactivity, where they wouldn’t play a single game.
It begs the question of why playing on the 27th was necessary at all…